What to See in England
By Gordon Home
Public Domain Books
The Isle of Athelney, and Sedgemoor
THE SCENE OF MONMOUTH’S DEFEAT
=How to get there.=–Train from Paddington. Great Western Rly. =Nearest Station.=–Athelney. =Distance from London.=–150-1/2 miles. =Average Time.=–Varies between 4-1/2 to 5-3/4 hours.
1st 2nd 3rd =Fares.=–Single 26s. 8d. 16s. 8d. 13s. 4d. Return 53s. 4d. 33s. 4d. 26s. 8d.
=Accommodation Obtainable.=–"Railway Hotel.”
The Isle of Athelney, the hiding-place of Alfred the Great, at the time when the fortunes of England lay trembling in the balance, is a slightly elevated plot of land where the river Parret joins the Tone. In Alfred’s days it was a small island surrounded by an impenetrable morass, and thickly grown with alders. Here tradition places the hut in which the king, deep in thought, allowed the good wife’s cakes to burn. Soon a little band of faithful followers joined Alfred, and together they built a causeway over the marshes, eventually constructing a fort from which successful sallies were made against the Danes in the vicinity. The rally of the Saxons round their intrepid king resulted in the victory of Ethandune, and out of gratitude for his success, Alfred built on the island an abbey, of which a few relics, including the famous Alfred Jewel, remain to-day. A monument erected by Mr. John Slade marks the spot.
A mile to the north is Boroughbridge with its solitary hill, on which many believe that Alfred built his chief fort. The hill is now crowned by the ruins of St. Michael’s Church, St. Michael being the saint whose name is associated with most of our hill-top shrines. Ling, the next village, is thought to be a corruption of Atheling.
Athelney is on the edge of the flat valley of Sedgemoor, the scene of Monmouth’s defeat in 1685. The royal troops were quartered in the villages of Weston Zoyland, Middlezoy, and Chedzoy, their headquarters being Weston Zoyland, round which the battle raged most fiercely. Knowing the carelessness that prevailed in the royal camp, Monmouth attempted a night attack. On Sunday night, July 5, therefore, his troops stole out. But they were foiled and trapped by the broad ditches called “rhines,” in which they lost their way in a helpless fashion, and a pistol that went off in the confusion roused the Royalists, with the result that Monmouth’s followers were hopelessly routed, a thousand being slain.
[Illustration: THE “ISLAND” OF ATHELNEY.
The Alfred memorial is in the foreground, and in the distance is the “Mump,” the lonely hill surmounted by the ruined church of Boroughbridge.]