Leaving London early Saturday morning, heading for the west country, did not start off too well - the train trundled through thick fog and gloom for what seemed like forever, robbing me of the usual soothing views of urban sprawl giving way to rolling hills.
Luckily the fog lifted just past Newbury and the stage was set for two glorious days of autumnal sunshine in Somerset and surrounds. This time of year is the season for the illuminated carnivals in the west country, and although we didn't attend the Glastonbury parade on Saturday night, preparations were evident as we passed through. It seemed like every burger van in the west country was setting up along the route!
I've been to the Glastonbury carnival in the past, it's an amazing spectacle which consists of a huge parade of illuminated carts each of which can be up to 30m long. The carts - which are designed and created over the preceding year by local carnival clubs - are usually themed and carry dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, speakers blaring out very loud music, and literally hundreds of light bulbs. The carts that you see at Glastonbury also visit other towns in the area during a two-week carnival circuit, with Bridgwater being the biggest and most famous - and the town where the tradition originates.
Apparently the origin of the west country carnivals was as a celebration of the failure of the gunpowder plot - it's a kind of alternative and much more elaborate Guy Fawkes night! The instigator of the plot was a Jesuit priest named Robert Parsons who came from Nether Stowey, a short distance from Bridgwater. Towns in the south west of England were predominantly Protestant, which is why the failure of this Catholic plot was so enthusiastically celebrated in the area. These days you'd be very hard pushed to work that out - same for bonfire night I guess! And it's all in the name of charity anyway, with the carnivals these days being a way of raising money for local charities.
Sunday was a glorious sunny day so we, along with what seemed like most of the rest of the west country population, headed over the county border to Stourhead in Wiltshire.
It was a perfect day for a walk around the lake - the autumnal colours were glorious and the size of the estate does at least make it possible to escape the madding crowds from time to time when you step off the beaten track.