Pilgrimage to Malmesbury

Dead Centre of Malmesbury © David Forward

Dead Centre of Malmesbury © David Forward

I wandered lonely from the Cloud and through many an iPad out across the Flat Screens until I found myself upon the Silbury Hill flood meadows, it had been a few seven league bounds since I set off from my home at Stonehenge, where I had left all the windows and doors open to the Wiltshire plains of Salisbury north. Now on top of Silbury with the stones of Avebury whirling in my mind, I cast my eyes in the direction of Malmesbury.

It was now noon in the Old Station Yard car park, my arrival in Malmesbury’s Long Stay car park was greeted by the tolling of the bells of St Paul’s church tower in the far corner of the Abbey grounds. I found a Council Bandit and poured all my loose change into it, buying a ticked that allowed me to set foot into the town. First I had to get there.

I strode across the tarmac, with its wonderful design of tyre marks left by last nights youth performance, until the Abbey Mill Bridge was just in front of me, to my right an old derelict building with the welcoming country smells of white lightening, cannabis and ammonia, emanating from its old mattress strewn rooms.

A quick hop over the troll’s bridge and there ahead of me, the world famous, legless man’s steps, arranged in such a fashion that only an Olympic athlete could tackle them without the aid of crutches or ropes and the comforting thought of the Automated External Defibrillator station at the top. If that isn’t too much of a challenge for the able-bodied, then you may wish, that the defibrillator was located further down the steps, for if you peer to your left, you may just catch the naked buttocks of one of Malmesbury’s Naked Gardeners in amongst the bushes.

Having reached the summit I found a patch of grass to the right with some sort of garden shed arrangement running along its length, either the stone tile thieves had been here, or funds hadn’t stretched further than some old rafters. I have a feeling this structure, obviously used as a play area by the local youths, was intended to represent the boundary of the long gone cloister gardens of the original abbey. I quickened pace and passed it by.

Cloister Gardens Malmesbury © David Forward

Cloister Gardens Malmesbury © David Forward

Ahead of me was a narrow alleyway with some sort of ruin to its right. Enough scaffolding for a new build housing estate, but all in one and going straight up. I’m reliably informed by a very honest looking gentleman, that this is all that held the abbey up, and behind this hideous steel cage lay all that remains of Malmesbury’s third and last abbey, the previous two, also having either fallen down or burnt to the ground. I took a few steps back to a safe distance.

Having bid the knowledgeable local resident good day, I came to the end of the lane, and there before me, down a narrow street I could see something of the town centre. Yes it looked very enticing, half of my field of vision was consumed with various modern motor vehicles all at a stand still, the other a blur. Maybe it was a two minute silence in progress or some other ritual or custom. It then became obvious that nothing moved, unless a space in the road was freed up, like a giant child’s sliding tile puzzle.

Well here I was in the centre, on the day that the magic roundabout had broken down. Old men, young girls with push chairs and toddlers, all sat in the eight sided old stone looking structure, and it wasn’t moving around at all. I asked if it would be repaired soon and how you booked rides in it, but the old man sat inside just muttered something back in some old country dialect, something which sounded like, bin-init yung-un arrrggh and pointed with his stick. Disappointed I set off in the direction of his gaze.

This looked to me to be the High Street, although it had no recognisable centre of attraction, just strangely small, one roomed shops without any customers. It looked as if all the people were here to play some sort of game, of squeeze past the next person on the pavement, or walk around the parked cars. Others, made other complicated game moves, like walking back and forth across the road in between all the cars at a stand still. Whenever a space became available in the sliding tile traffic, some one would jump out of a vehicle and run into one of the tiny shops. This really was puzzling to watch.

I now found a gap between two shops that led down an alleyway, so I decided to explore the hidden truths of this strange little town. What did I find at the alley’s end, well yes more cars, it looked as if someone had entered a competition, to see just how many cars they could fit into this square, by leaving no gaps for passengers or drivers to get in or out. The road running around this auto-mobile artwork was relatively free, except for outside a large garage called Himyums, where it looked like they had a production line, throwing vehicles out into the roadway blocking the exit, in an attempt to stop any further flow around the jam in the middle.

On looking around for signs of further civilisation, I noticed one end of the square, was dominated by the largest building there and flying a flag from its highest chimney. I slid through a gap in the central car sculpture and arrived at some large sliding glass doors. Inside I found the Tourist Information Centre. On display many coloured brochures on where to escape from Malmesbury. I was tempted, but I had only just arrived. I stepped into the Museum.

Athelstan Museum © David Forward

Acid House Museum © David Forward