It is a while since we visited Burrow Mump, not far from Glastonbury. I had driven past with a friend and almost took the car into the hedge at the surprise of this ruin-topped hill looming up out of the Somerset levels. My friend and I were on a quest for accommodation, so we couldn’t stop. But Stuart and I were obviously going to have to come here and investigate at some point.
It wasn’t too long after that we got the opportunity. The fateful exploding coffee pot incident that would delay our proposed Scottish trip by a year or so gave us a few days in Dorset in compensation… and it would have been rude to be so close to the Tor at Glastonbury and not pay our respects, so Burrow Mump was pretty much on our way.
Neolithic traces have been found in the area, a serpentine path has left its shadow in the earth and, although once this would have been little more than an island in a flooded landscape, the hand of man has left its mark. There have been a few traces of the Romans found here, masonry from the twelfth century was found during excavations and the first fortifications seem to date back to Norman times.
The mound itself is an outcrop of Triassic sandstone capped by Keuper marl, now softened and greened with grazing and trees. It has been known as King Alfred’s Fort, St Michael’s Borough and Tutteyate. Overlooking the bridge across the River Parrett and the tiny village of Burrowbridge, the church has sheltered Royalist troops during the Civil War and King’s men during the Monmouth Rebellion.
The church was partially rebuilt during the eighteenth century, but as funds ran low, a community church was built at the foot of the hill and the earth now takes back its stone.
On our first visit, we had chosen to detour and headed northwest to see a dog’s nose. The Nose in question forms part of the famed, if controversial, Glastonbury Zodiac; terrestrial zodiacs are monumental representations of the heavens in the earth. The Glastonbury Zodiac was brought to public notice in the 1920’s by the visionary, Katherine Maltwood. The object of our quest was the Nose of the Girt Dog… Canis Major… otherwise known as Burrow Mump.
Whatever your opinion of the Zodiac in question, the Mump is a startling feature in the landscape. Rising steeply to seventy-nine feet high, the conical mound stands in sharp contrast to the flat plain. Crowned with the ruined fifteenth century church of St Michael, it is a surprising sight as you round a bend in the road. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking you are imagining things, so similar does it seem to another St Michael’s tower on the Tor not far away in Glastonbury.
We parked and climbed in the heat of the early afternoon sun. There is a stark beauty in the lines of a ruined church, framing nothing but the azure of the sky in its arched windows and empty doorways. Through the ravaged archways the horizon is framed in colours more brilliant than any glass and on a day as clear as this, even the Tor itself can be seen in the distance.
At a purely practical level it seems entirely odd to have built a church here in such an inaccessible place, yet it is somehow also very fitting that it links the earth and the heavens with its fabric of faith and memory. There is also the theory that links many of these St Michael’s on the high and holy places of the old ones with his role as subduer of dragons…
Burrow Mump now serves a different purpose… no longer a place of worship, but a place of memory, given to the National Trust in 1946, by Major Alexander Gould Barrett, to be a memorial to the 11,281 men of Somerset who lost their lives in the two World Wars.
Originally posted October 2015