It’s easy to step through a couple of centuries in a short walk down a high street with listed buildings and modern shop fronts side by side, in a town centre with history in its heart and a superstore on its edge, in the countryside with a state-of-the-art barn conversion where a farmstead used to be. This walk takes time travel even further back – it starts in the 7th Century – at Muchelney Abbey on the Somerset Levels.
Though it feels at odds to park a car near this ancient site, there’s a grassy car park if you are stopping to visit the abbey and there’s a little parking place just outside its boundaries, where the footpath alongside the River Parrett heads towards Langport, if you are just passing by. It’s at the start of a four-mile ‘there and back’ walk across the Somerset Levels and across hundreds of years.
The remaining part of Muchelney Abbey leans gently to one side but it’s clearly here to stay. All that’s left of the original buildings which go back to the 7th Century, and which were demolished courtesy of Henry VIII, is a floorplan set in stone. Now, courtesy of English Heritage, you can still go inside the Abbot’s House, and getting down to basics, you can pay a visit to the thatched reredorter – the monk’s loo to put it bluntly – it’s the only complete example in Britain.
Setting off alongside the river, you can immediately picture the landmark that the abbey would have been, standing proud in the calm flat landscape. You can see some of the rooftops of Langport, the smallest town in England, in the distance.
Accompanying the walk, the river aids and abets a quiet step forward into the present with the gentle passage of paddleboards and kayaks. More in keeping, given the history that has flowed along this route, there was even a coracle!
The water is clear, a line of cattle on the riverbank creates a mirror image on the surface, and there are lily pads and swans, wild ducks and dogs - on it and in it – respectively. Time doesn’t matter on this quiet and peaceful walk yet it’s a walk that’s all about time. Time in the sense of history, time in the sense of taking your time to follow the path, time in the sense of the timelessness of the landscape of the Somerset Levels.
Langport is a historic town that shares its history with the river. It’s the sort of place where you can stumble across a surprise. On this occasion it was a street market in the square under the watchful face of the town clock – ironically and appropriately the focus was going back in time with a collector’s treasure trove of antiques and vintage stalls.
By the old stone bridge, the lovely Kitchen at the Wharf at Great Bow Yard, served up the most appropriate of all welcomes - ‘It’s a bit busy today so we hope you don’t mind that it won’t be fast food.’ The whole point of this walk was that there was all the time in the world. This was a perfect place to stop for a while, sit in the sun and anticipate a home-grown, homemade feast, before heading slowly back upriver again.