The British duo of Flanders and Swann are remembered for their comedic songs such as “The Gnu”, “The Sloth”, and, one of my personal favourites, “The Armadillo”. Yes, they had a thing for songs about animals, and the best known is probably “The Hippopotamus”, in which the title character sings a chorus of “Mud, mud, glorious mud!” From my recent experience in the town of Malmesbury, I was left with a very different impression of the sticky substance.
It was, I admit, entirely my fault. After several weeks kept more or less indoors by cold, grey weather, I was completely beguiled by the blue sky, dazzled by the sun, and didn’t even think to throw on a pair of wellies when we decided to investigate a new walk. After all, how bad could a two-mile circuit of the town be on such a gorgeous day? It wasn’t like we were in the middle of the countryside.
It certainly started well enough. A pair of juvenile swans had staked out their territory along the river, and we spent some time watching them before heading off on a (mud-free) path through the Conigre Mead Nature Reserve. This provided some lovely views of the back of the Abbey House and a peaceful walk until we crossed a road and climbed over a stile.
From there it was into a field pockmarked with the footprints of previous walkers who I imagine were shod better than we were. At this point the mud was still semi-frozen, more slushy soil than anything found along the banks of the Shalimar. We navigated it to the best of our ability, coming out on a quiet side street with 18th and 19th century houses. Once back on solid land we performed the dance of the ill-prepared, scraping our shoes against the pavement and clean grass before continuing on our way.
We enjoyed taking in the sights that we never had the chance to appreciate when driving through the town, like a 17th century engraving and an old mill building perched in the perfect location over the river. However, our guidebook soon led us to more fields, where the ice had melted and we were left to carefully pick our way through ankle deep mud. It could not in any way, shape, or form be considered glorious.
However, upon emerging from the fields we were rewarded with a different perspective over Malmesbury, a view we had all to ourselves before pressing on back to civilization and paved roads. We finished off the trip by popping into the Norman abbey, which was a first for us despite a number of visits to the town centre. Although it is now partially in ruins, this 12th century building still dominates the middle of town and is well worth a visit.
One of the great things about a walk like this is that it changes with every season, from the stark landscape of winter, the blooming of spring flowers, the many shades of green in summer, and autumn’s fiery colours. I am looking forward to doing it at different times of the year, and with different footwear.