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A pilgrim's guide to Mells

With such a rich history that blends facts with folklore, it is perhaps unsurprising that Somerset is home to several ancient pilgrim routes. For centuries, travellers have journeyed from far and wide to experience the area’s natural beauty, and visit the county’s numerous holy sites that date back to the early years of Christianity and before. The village of Mells, situated between the holy springs of Bath and the sacred Glastonbury Tor, is on the route of many of these historic pilgrimages.

One famous route that passes by Mells is St Aldhelm’s Way. 74 miles long, this scenic walk can be done within a week. Beginning in Malmesbury, the route follows the funeral procession of St Aldhelm, a 7th Century bishop who built a number of monasteries and churches across the South West, including a monastery in Frome. After passing through Mells, the route finishes near Shepton Mallet, where pilgrims can enjoy a drink from the Doulting Holy Well, an ancient sacred spring. It is said that St Aldhelm sat by the well on the day of his death, singing psalms before being carried up to the village church where he died.

Travellers also pass through Mells when following Glastonbury Water Way, a (relatively) short walk that can be tackled in under six days. Beginning in the holy springs of Bath, this route follows a number of rivers and streams across Somerset to arrive at the ancient holy site of Glastonbury Tor. Archaeological evidence suggests that Glastonbury has been an area of spiritual significance since 5,000 BCE, and likely earlier. At the foot of Glastonbury Tor, the Chalice Well is an ancient water source said to have healing properties, and is a welcome sight for the many tired and thirsty pilgrims arriving in the town.

The Michael and Mary Lines:

For travellers looking for a longer, more challenging route, the village of Mells is also passed by the Mary and Michael Pilgrim’s Way. The 350 mile route begins in Carn Les Boel in Cornwall and, over the course of five weeks, stretches to the village of Avebury in Wiltshire. Some believe that the route runs between two parallel energy lines, the Mary and Michael lines, which together form a sacred union of feminine and masculine power. Following these sacred channels as they weave across the country, the pilgrimage passes through several holy sites, both Christian and pre-Christian. Interestingly, St Andrew’s Church is crossed directly by the Michael line, supposedly making Mells a powerful place for those hoping to experience the route’s positive energy.

The village of Mells - a place with a rich history stretching back to the mesolithic era - has a lot to offer weary travellers in search of rest and reflection. Pilgrims can find quiet in the historic St Andrew’s Church and the beautiful graveyard that surrounds it, home to the grave of WW1 poet Siegfried Sassoon. Across the road, travellers can find food and refreshments in the Walled Garden. Planted in the ruins of a 15th Century rectory, the garden is a tranquil spot where pilgrims can fill up their water bottles, indulge in a slice of cake, or simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The village is also home to a number of other lovely cafes, pubs and comfortable places to stay, particularly for travellers partial to a bit of luxury.

With history as ancient and fascinating as many of the pilgrimages that pass through it - and a few creature comforts for the less ascetic travellers - Mells can be a restful and rewarding station for those tackling Somerset by foot.

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