Friday, 4 December 2009

So am I a 'lunatic'?

I've always wondered how I would've been employed in days of yore. A farmer? A merchant? A street urchin? Nope. Turns out I would've made an excellent smuggler. But for our extended pub breaks, my need for a torch, the barbed-wire incident, the stopping every five yards to photograph the moon. And my complete reliance on a map. Or, more truthfully, my complete reliance on somebody else with a map, who can actually read a map.

On Wednesday, that man was Pete. I invested complete faith in this chap. A Long Distance Walker (never a 'rambler' - there's a difference), Pete was the man to set the route, read the map, and guide us nearly 20 miles from the heart of Salisbury Plain to Devizes, where my hunt for lunacy - and my penultimate moonwalk - would conclude.

Pete forgot the map.

Luckily, John the Compass joined us on our moonlit traipse across fields, across tank tracks, through farmyards, over bridges, through graveyards, past beautiful thatched cottages. His compass glows in the dark!

So three hardy souls crossed Salisbury Plain to recreate a version of the Wiltshire moonraker story, which a good friend told me at the end of last year. From the day I heard the story, I knew I had to walk the walk, smuggle the brandy and experience just how mad these 17th (or 18th) century fellows were. As the rain pelted against us and we found ourselves completely lost somewhere near Urchfont, I decided they were very mad.

Perhaps even lunatics.

Weather forecasters predicted 'showers'. A shower in a car is nothing. When you're on the Imber Path and it's dark around you and you know one wrong step and you could end up in the army's territory, a shower produces more fear. The moon refused to show her face. Puddles turned to lakes. And I started to wonder whether this was a moonwalk too far.


Pete 'The Mapless' and John 'The Compass'

The booty

The rain came down (photo by John the Compass)

Then we saw this

The moonraker story concludes with barrels of brandy in a pond. Is the pond the Crammer in Devizes? We hoped so, as we made it our final destination.

I managed to speak to local Devizes historian and blacksmith John Girvan at Canal Forge. The blacksmith told me the moonraker story as he's learned it. He also drove me to the graveyard of the former Wiltshire County Lunatic Asylum, where those tortured souls who suffered from 'lunacy' (ie turned mad by full moon) were buried. The night before, Pete had led us between the graves of the men and women whose lives were regulated inside the padded cells of 'Roundway Hospital' (the rebranding of 'lunatic asylums' over the years is fascinating).

John Girvan then showed me this.

John with the electro-galvanic therapy machine from the Wilts County Lunatic Asylum

The asylum is full of harrowing history.

The moonwalk was filled with wrong turns, jollity, mud, rain, more mud, ruined boots, beer, brandy, moon and more.

It was a special night and I hope this moonwalk served as a fitting tribute both to the moonrakers of legend, thought mad by those who stopped them at the pond as they raked their moon, and the troubled people in the former lunatic asylum, trapped in their own minds and thought mad by society.

But now I must stop and save the best bits for the book.

Like the encounter with the colonel. And the walk through the spooky grounds of the former lunatic asylum in the dead of night. And the slip into the barbed wire fence. And the knocking on the door of the farm in the middle of nowhere. And the final hunt for the Crammer. And the weird message outside the forge...

Huge thank you to Pete, John and John - fine fellows all.


~Cheryl said...

Fabulous read! I haven't decided if you're a lunatic .... maybe a MOONatic. The words rhyme, and I thought I was inventing a new word -- alas. :( At any rate, I pray your mysterious ailment has gone away. Take care!

Rob Self-Pierson said...

I also thought I'd coined that word earlier in the year. But no, someone had got there first. Next time! Thank you for your kind words.