Sand Bay is the next bay up the coast from Weston-super-Mare, just the other side of Worlebury Hill. The photo shows the bay looking back towards the hill from about halfway along the beach. Although the sandy beach was deserted, there were plenty of other walkers strolling along the path between beach and roadway. It took us about twenty minutes to walk from the small car park at the southern end to where the Tarmac path petered out and became sandy underfoot; I’d had enough of the wind by then and was ready to turn and walk back!
This Google Earth image shows where I was standing when I took the photo, looking back towards Worlebury Hill. Even the old log can clearly be seen, though it looks like the line of nearby grass has moved a bit since the Google Earth image was taken — in my photo, the log is a little behind the grass, whereas in the GE image it’s a little in front of it — but I guess changing environmental conditions, such as the wind blowing the sand about, and the natural advance and retreat of the grass line over time, would explain why this should be so. (Clicking these pictures will open larger images in a separate browser tab or window.)
Here’s your Google Earth Placemark for this location — click the link, open the zipped file, click on “doc” and Google Earth will open (if you have it installed on your computer) and take you to the location.
On the way home from Sand Bay, I spotted a sign pointing to Woodspring Priory. I’m particularly interested in this place, as I’ve been considering using it as one of the locations in my novel, so we made a detour. This Google Earth image shows the priory’s location, off in the distance, relative to Sand Bay. Click for the larger image, which shows it more clearly — and here’s your Google Earth Placemark for the location as shown on the left — click the link, open the zipped file, click on “doc” and Google Earth will open (if you have it installed on your computer) and take you to the above location, from where you can navigate yourself closer to the priory.
Worspring (later known as Woodspring) Priory was founded in the early thirteeenth century by William de Courtenay, who was a grandson of Reginald Fitz Urse, one of the four knights who murdered Thomas á Becket at Canterbury Catherdral in 1170. No doubt to make amends for his grandfather’s heinous crime, de Courtenay dedicated the priory to St. Thomas the Martyr, along with the Holy Trinity and St. Mary. The monks moved to Woodspring from an earlier monastery called Dodelyng or Doddlinch, the location of which is lost to history.
The priory wasn’t particularly prosperous in its early days, and construction work was hampered in the fourteenth century by a serious fire. By the fifteenth century finances were a little healthier and much of the earlier church was re-built or remodelled in what’s known as the Perpendicular style. However, Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries brought and end to Woodspring’s canonic life in 1536. Over the next several decades the priory buildings passed from one owner to another until, in 1701, a farmhouse was added to the west end of the north aisle. The priory has been in the care of the Landmark Trust since 1969.
The barn and infirmary remain intact and parts of the cloister and some components of a fourteenth-century gateway survive. Sadly, most of the finer architectural features were stripped from the priory in earlier times. Still, the guide book makes the point that while many of Britain’s ancient monasteries are surrounded by traffic and guarded by railings, Woodspring Priory still holds its serenity and distance from the advance of the sodium-lit world beyond.
It is, indeed, a peaceful place despite being surrounded by a working farm and with some buildings converted to holiday lets managed by the Landmark Trust. We were pleasantly surprised to find it so easily accessible — from the small car park just outside the farm boundary, a short walk through two kissing gates and across a small field brings you to the priory, which is open to visitors for no entrance fee. This photo shows the window that greets you as you walk in through the old wooden door into the priory. I felt slightly awe-struck upon entering. I imagined the Augustinian monks walking on the very same ancient flagstone floor those many centuries ago; I could almost hear their prayerful voices echoing off the heavy stone walls. Apparently there were never more than thirty-five monks in residence; just prior to the Dissolution the number had dropped to around ten. The excellent guide book (for which visitors are trusted to leave a donation of £6.50) contains a wealth of information: for example, it tells us that in its early days the priory — which in turn was founded upon a chapel which had stood there for many years before — was close by an important coastal landing-point or pill called Wampullesser. The chapel seems to have served the needs of mariners, soldiers and provisioners drawn to a sheltered haven in the lee of St. Thomas’s Head. Around the year 1210, King John’s troubles with Llewellyn ap Gruffedd, Prince of North Wales, who was venturing ever further south in Wales and by this time was just across the water from Somerset, necessitated the free passage of foot soldiers, horse soldiers with wagons, carts and animals in summer, autumn and winter and all times when desired and absolutely necessary. Sheltered coves and havens on the Somerset coast became vital springboards for the King’s campaign against the Welsh usurper.
Another pleasant surprise — through an unlocked door facing you as you enter the priory, a treasure trove awaits: the Woodspring Priory Museum, a room containing many interesting photographs of the building’s restoration, along with older documents, articles and artifacts associated with the priory. To say we were amazed to find it openly and freely accessible in this day and age, and with no attendant to keep an eye on us, is an understatement. Visitors are trusted to leave donations for the guide book and other brochures and booklets. Well done, Landmark Trust!
There are more of my photographs of Woodspring Priory here at Flickr.