Sacred Sites | Maesbury Castle and Downside Abbey - Glastonbury | Map of its Ancient Landscape and Ley Alignments

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Sacred Sites | Maesbury Castle and Downside Abbey

Sacred Sites

Maesbury Castle

This is a hilltop-settlement from the Iron Age or Celtic period, above Croscombe near Shepton Mallet. It has not been well cared for by the farmer and, rather bizarrely, abuts a golf course, so the immediate location isn't outstanding without a dose of imagination to see how it might once have looked.

But the view, on a clear day, is fantastic and offers almost a 360-degree panorama. On most sites on the Mendip scarp you can see east, south and west, but here, uniquely, you can see north too, to the Avon valley and southern Cotswolds.

It was probably a fine place to live, with ample living resources and fine country around it, up on the Mendip plateau and below it in the mid-Somerset lowlands. It is located near the intersection of ancient, later Roman, roads - the Fosse Way and the road following the Mendip scarp - so some trading and hosting will have gone on here two millennia ago too, especially with the wealthy lead mines not far along the scarp. Many Roman roads actually followed pre-Roman tracks and roads.

Maesbury would have provided a home for a few hundred people. Its precise location is interesting - there are high places around it, but its position in relation to them is crucial. It would have been surrounded by beechwoods northwards on the Mendips.

Nicholas Mann in Glastonbury, researching the likely megalithic mound on top of Windmill Hill, Glastonbury, has found that Maesbury Castle stands exactly on the lunar maximum rising point alignment as seen from the mound.

Other such alignments from the mound point to Brean Down, Cadbury Castle and Turn Hill. This makes Maesbury Castle more important than it looks - part of the larger astronomical landscape alignments system around Glastonbury, which will have dated back further to at least the Bronze Age, older than the normal assignment of hillforts such as Maesbury to the Iron Age (Celtic) period.

Access is a bit tricky, with no footpath. To get there from Glastonbury, go through West Pennard, take a left to North Wootton, and weave through the lanes to Croscombe. Follow the main road to Shepton for just over 100yds, and turn left up a steep lane. After a mile or more, Maesbury Castle appears in front of you. Turn right, park by the side of the road and head up from there.

Alternatively, drive to Wells, follow the A39 some miles toward Bristol to Green Ore (traffic lights). Turn right. At the crossroads, straight on. Before long, there is a sign pointing right to Maesbury. Follow that road, turn next left and, after 150yds, Maesbury Castle is just up on your left. Enter the field at the public footpath sign. Parking is a little tricky. Try to visit when visibility conditions are clear - you can then see for fifty miles.

Downside Abbey

This is a relatively recent Benedictine monastery and school at Stratton-on-the-Fosse between Shepton Mallet and Bath, with 31 monks. The abbey was built in neo-gothic style between 1882 and 1925. To find out more about the abbey, visit www.downsideabbey.co.uk.

Interestingly, although this is a relatively modern sacred site, ley alignments passing through the abbey suggest much older origins, or that the abbey was sited using medieval locational methods now lost to most people. See the alignment on the map leading to Glastonbury Abbey via Maesbury Castle hillfort and Dinder church, and another alignment leading to the much older Muchelney Abbey in the Somerset Levels via Oak Hill.

NEXT: Stony Littleton long barrow

 
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