Do you listen to music whilst you walk? Or do you prefer the sounds of nature as you stroll? How about going on a walk which invites you to ring a bell at every mile marker? Rachel Mead follows the unique ‘pilgrimage’ route between the Somerset towns of Wells and Glastonbury …
Twenty-five years ago, two artists were commissioned to create a community sculpture project tracking the pilgrimage route between Wells and Glastonbury. The project was named ‘Syrens’ and features nine large limestone waymarkers with bronze ‘bells’ inset.
The eight-mile route is completely stile free, and aside from the hike up to Glastonbury Tor, is relatively flat and easy going as it courses across the Somerset Levels.
At every mile, you are encouraged to find a small pebble and strike the bells, all of which carry a different musical note, which together, over the miles, form a tune.
Sculptor Barry Cooper and musician and artist Laurence Parnell collaborated on the project with walking and cycling charity, Sustrans. Together they wished to create a musical instrument which could be played whilst walkers made a pilgrimage across this part of Somerset. It is without doubt the most fabulously rewarding walk – not only do the Somerset Levels shine in all their magnificent glory but you are also rewarded every mile or so with tangible access to incredible art. It’s great fun for both children, and adults alike – Ding ding!
Swans greet you at the start
You can of course walk the route in the either direction, but I chose to eco-hike the route by catching the bus to Wells. You’ll begin at the Bishops Palace which, depending on your itinerary, makes for an ideal pre-hike coffee stop whilst also giving you time to admire the swans. The first ‘Syren’ or ‘Sound Stone’ as they are also known, is located at the south west corner of the moat and has an image of Glastonbury Tor. This stone is directing you to the final destination – Glastonbury Tor. When you reach the foot of Tor, you will see the final Syren with three swans on it. This represents the swans on the moat at Bishops Palace and is directing you back to Wells.
Art continues to feature along the path.
The route weaves out through Wells predominantly following the National Cycle Network 3, a pathway which is certainly wide enough for both pedestrian and cycle usage. You’ll soon be picking up the old sunken track bed of the well-known Strawberry Line and here, not only will you find Syren II, but you will also be able to admire public artworks by renowned artists Lucy Glendinning, Mark Merer and Aaron Davies. Syren II features a dragon based on a spiral motif and represents the victory of good over evil. This walk is certainly one to be taken at a leisurely pace as you absorb the sculptures and decipher the imagery carved out on the stones. What do you see? Can you hear the difference in the musical notes?
Along the way, each stone features something to do with the county in which they stand – triple spirals, willow and shapes akin to local Somerset landmarks – I will not spoil your pilgrimage by divulging all! The route is easy to follow, and my favourite section has to be the two-mile stretch along the aptly named ‘Long Drove’. A straight road which cuts across the Somerset Levels flanked by watery rhynes and dominated by a sky which rules over the landscape. Watch how the clouds alter the sunlight on Glastonbury Tor – you can certainly see how the artists were inspired!
Glastonbury Tor is the finish line
The carving on Syren VII tells you that you have 2 ¾ miles remaining on this pilgrimage until you reach the finish line of the Tor. It certainly doesn’t look far away and you are, at this point, greeted by a sign welcoming you to the Ancient Isle of Avalon. The pathway sweeps around the outskirts of the town, past Syren VIII before heading up a lane. At this point you can follow the road, or you can stomp across fields to short cut to the Tor. You won’t miss any of the Syrens by taking this minor detour and you’ll hook back up with the official trail soon enough, it just avoids a bit of traffic and is definitely safer if you have little feet in tow.
Standing at 158 metres above sea level, Glastonbury Tor is the iconic feature of the Somerset Landscape which gifts all weary hikers the most fantastic of panoramic views. Legends and folklore are rich in this town and I heartily recommend a wander into the town for refreshment and a mystical cultural fix! Head to the Town Hall to hop on the bus which will have you back in Wells in under twenty minutes.
Definition: a journey of a pilgrim especially: one to a shrine or a sacred place. 2: the course of life on earth.