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The Hanging Maze

Welcome to The Hanging Maze in Dunster.

This walk starts at Packhorse Bridge, which is at the southern edge of the village and is signposted.

'Sometimes there is only one path through life and though it weaves and turns, it will always draws you to its heart.'

The gallows themselves once stood on a hill nearby to warn against wrong doing, and the consequences if you did. But the maze is thought to have been here longer and used for much the same purpose as I shall explain.

Walk this coiled path now, and marvel at it's compactness, you may then understand why this maze is here and it's true purpose for the good villagers of Dunster and justice for all.

As you approach Gallox bridge in Dunster, cross over to the green sward beyond.

When you have all completed the labyrinth then we shall begin.

Enjoy C Jelley

Instructions

 
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Chapter one

Chapter 1

On the door of the maze stands the accused, and all about the good villagers of Dunster and a fair share from further afield are screaming and cajoling him. Mud and dirt are thrown amidst the curses, and the accused is shaking in fear, almost broken by the task ahead. For this is the hanging maze, and a criminal who has been found guilty of theft or worse, must walk this coiled path, for if they can do this, and walk it straight and true all the way to the heart, then in the eyes of the law by the lords of Dunster they can earn their pardon.

For here in the village rather than throwing flax cord about the neck of a criminal after the trial, they also use the maze to divinate whether justice had truly been done.

So today, the trial is over and at the door of the maze stands the guilty party shaking and hunched beneath the screaming and cacophony, for not only the locals are going crazy but the birds are doing so too, beaking and heeling, squawking to and fro, on the frenzy of the day.
Chapter two

But the boy

But the criminal here is but a boy of perhaps 11 years old, and the noise is terrible for a grown man never mind a child. But justice is justice, he has been found guilty, caught red handed, and it is the noose for him unless he can walk the coiled path without putting a foot wrong.

Oh easy you say, even with dirt and worse being thrown, but I ask you this could you walk the path blind fold? Could you walk it when the clods of earth pound into you from all angles, and the noise itself makes you dizzy, I wonder if any of us could walk the line under those conditions.

But this is the end of the story rather than the beginning, so come with me into the forest and we shall see who is guilty or no.
Walk up the path past the cottages and into the foot of the forest, this is the Deer Park. On your left is a large gate which leads into an open field, pass through this and into the field.Diagonally across the grass (and up the slope) there is a small gate, wide enough for a person, but too small for a cart. This leads into the wood, head over towards it and the next chapter will reveal.
 
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Chapter three

Chapter 2

Now before we step into the forest I should explain that the woods in those days were busy industrial places with tanners, coppicers and charcoal burners all about. They lived in shelters shanty style, making a thin living on the edge of society. But even those who worked wood knew there were parts of this wild forest where you must not go, places where you must not tread, this was the closed wood, the wild wood.

Rolling bramble and sucker growth are the measure of the place, here the forest says 'no' to strangers, and closes it's goal doors. If anyone trespasses into them, then the paths would fold back around and then spit them out with a teasel on their tail for good measure, and that's if it ever let them go at all!

Well when the boy was barely a year old he could not walk as easy as others for his foot was twisted and clubbed, but rather than taking this as their lot, the mother took advice on what could be done for no doctor or herb poultice had made any difference to him. So against her better judgement, and in desperation she took them both into the thickness of the forest. This was past the tanners and charcoal burners, this was past the wood cutters and the fumbling hovels they lived in, and way beyond into the veiled woods, into the closed wild wood itself.
For the next chapter please pass through the gate and along into the woods, it will run parallel to the one in the valley to your right.At first it is quite steep then runs for quite a way along a narrow track. Watch the counter below get smaller as you approach the next chapter.As the path comes to an end, head left and up towards a large Oak just off the path, there are great swings in these trees so thats where we will tell the next chapter.
 
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Chapter four

Chapter 3

As they entered the veiled forest their path twisted and flummoxed them at every turn, they stooped and ducked, weaved and crawled, through deer and badger tracks, rarely did they actually walk, and as the legend said the wild wood tried to turn them about and lick a teasel to their tails. She was ready for this though and worked it into their journey, until at last she found what she was searching for, a young ash tree which was reaching up towards the sky through a fresh break in the canopy.

The sapling was straight and true pointing sharply up to the sky way above, looking more like a wooden tent pole or line prop. It was not very thick which was important as you will see. Close by the child sat with a crust, the going had been hard for him with his clubbed foot, and the path so low that his mother could not carry him, but now he watched her as she made two cuts in the trunk, one above the other, and into those cuts she pushed a good wooden wedge.
Chapter five

The tree then split open

The tree then split open right up the middle making a hole all the way through which she continued working on until it was wide enough for the child to clamber through. The child slid though the tiny hole without difficulty and then sat back down on the earth watching as she removed the wedges and bound it back together. It was important that the tree keep growing straight and true, so she took her time and dressed the wound well.

Their passage out of the wild wood was also a tricky one, for the bramble tunnels and closed under story were barely enough for roe deer to slide through, and at every point there were three new choices of directions. Which way were they to go? Which path would lead them from this veiled place, or would they be trapped here captive for ever!

Well the mother had prepared for this, and at every junction she had left a small twist of wool in the thorns to mark their route, and this they traced as they traveled.
As you approached the Oak tree there is a path to its right which climbs up further.It is quite steep but we are nearly at the highest point. Go up here and you will come to a large gate on your left, large enough for a horse and cart to go through. It is often very muddy here too so watch your step!This is where the next chapter will reveal.
 
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Chapter six

Chapter 4

It is far too muddy here to stop and read a chapter so.
Go through the gate and head down the hill a little, when you are out in the open we can carry on the story.The next stop is at horse pond.
 
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Chapter seven

Chapter 5

Over the coming year as the tree healed so did the boys foot, until at last he walked as straight and true as the next child. Now you would think that this process would bind the child to that very tree in the forest, entwine their souls some how, and perhaps it did for as the tree rose into the full canopy height and became good and strong, so did the boy.

Rather than be put off by the wild wood, they became beholden upon it for it had provided them with health and therefore strength. So it was only natural for the boy and the mother to return to forage, and as the secret wood invited no strangers they found that it's stores were theirs for the taking. He could trap rabbits and squirrels, and she would root for mushrooms, wild garlic, whortleberries, cob nuts, and crab apples. All this in the wild wood, all this were no wood cutter could walk, all this just for the boy and his mother. So they foraged and traded their goods for clothes and lodging, but it was hard work for little pay and so it wasn't long until the boy and his mother made their home in the wild forest itself.

A majestic hollow Oak became their sanctuary, and they busied themselves shaping it more pleasant with moss pillows and a piece of sack cloth across the entrance. This was propped up by a branch and then held taught with smooth river stones to keep the north wind at bay. It was drier and warmer than the ditch or frost hollow, but they shared it with bat droppings, and field mice.

There they felt safe and secure, there they knew that the forest would take care of them, and that the wood cutters superstitions would hold all unwelcome folk at bay.
Head down the hill towards the ant hills, the path weaves a little and heads round to the right into the valley.Our next stop is the hummock fields.
 
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Chapter eight

Chapter 6

Stand up on a hummock and we shall continue the story.

One cold morning the boy found a magpie with an injured wing, and though his mother thought their was meat to be had off it, he would hear none of this and instead tucked the bird in his shirt, and fed it and kept it warm day and night. Remarkably enough, over the next few weeks the bird heeled well, and was soon flapping about in his pocket, and when it was strong enough to fly away, it did nothing of the kind but stayed close by, roosting in the oak tree and would chatter about as they foraged.

Then one day the boy came to Horse Pond, and then down the field to the hummocks as you have done, the chattering bird was hopping about close by but it's actions seemed more urgent and different. Now there is no way that anyone cannot step up on one of these hummocks without then trying to jump to the next without touching the ground beneath, and this is what the boy did, but he found he was jumping on to the turf that the eager bird had just vacated.

Down, across, back and forth they went, and at no point did they touch the grass beneath. It was like a little maze, a twisting labyrinth on the hill side, and finally when he wanted to collapse with exhaustion at the bottom of the hill, he saw on the last hummock a tiny shell amidst pink mushrooms that looked like baby rats ears!

Now perhaps I think you should jump on a few mounds to see if you can find the pink mushrooms that look like rats ears? But if you do find a shell, hold it close and listen in, but what ever you do, don't push it inside your ear!
The next piece of the story is near the bottom of this field, and whatever you do remember you must not step on the earth between the mounds on your way!
 
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Chapter nine

Chapter 7

The boy picked the tiny shell up and looked inside but could see nothing, it didn't smell of anything either, but when he put it to his ear he could hear tiny far away chattering voices. The closer he listened the more chattering he could hear, so closer still held the shell, and listened even more intensely but could not make out the words, so even closer he pushed it until it was actually inside his ear and then he could hear properly!

As he looked up he could see that the chattering voices were coming from the Magpie, but even more incredible was that he could understand what the bird was saying!
Head back towards Dunster Castle now, the next point has a wonderful vista. This is to the left as you were going down the hill.
 
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Chapter ten

Chapter 8

Now once a year the Squire would ride through these woods, checking on the Tanners and Coppicers, keeping his estate in good order, and on his ride he passed this place with commendable views of the village and the sea. So the very next day he came for a stately picnic, the company ate from metal plates and wicker tables, with a score of servants carrying and waiting upon them for the Squire wanted this to be a momentous occasion.

At the opportune moment, when the food had been eaten and cleared away, and a light summery breeze blessed them, he proposed a toast to a lady within the company. The toast was that of marriage, and as he made the proposition he drew from a box a magnificent broach the shape of an ivy leaf in white gold, and nesting upon it a simple blue stone that was neat and smooth like a transparent pearl. The ladies eyes grew wide at the jewel and immediately accepted, for the treasure was worth more than the whole of Dunster Estate and all the people and animals in it.

Well there was much jubilation and cheering, and the servants were all given a measure to toast with and so soon the whole village was bubbling with the news of the great gift and the marriage to be.

But the following morning a scream came from the ladies chambers, and the scream was that of THEIF! For the magnificent blue stone had been taken and the white gold leaf had an ugly scar where the gem had been mounted.

Well there was a great hullabaloo, servants and villagers, tanners and coppicers ran back and forth trying to find the thief, and locate the sapphire, but to no joy. The Squire was beside himself, and pledged a reward to the apprehension of the thief, and he swore that the gallows would rock to dispense justice in Dunster and its curtilage.

Well it wasn't long before the boy heard all about the jewel, and though it was interesting it did not fill his belly, nor keep him warm at night, neither did it help him reach for larger fruits, nor trap tastier squirrels. But when next he returned to the wild wood he heard the magpies chattering and he knew they spoke about the jewel. Now I must say at this point that just because you can understand what the birds are saying, it does not necessarily follow that you can speak their the tongue.

So this was the problem the boy had, for he could hear them chatter about the 'inedible berry' but could not then ask them where it might be. But the birds chattered on, and the boy listened in

Now as you know, magpies are famous for collecting shiny things, and taking them to their nests, and this is what had happened for the jewel had not been stolen at all, just lost in the lawns on the ride back to the village. Well birds, and Magpies specifically have the natural eye for this kind of thing and she found the sapphire immediately, and took it up to her nest, and this is where the boy retrieved it.
Head around the hill to your left making your way back to the Deer Park Gate, there is only one more stop before we return to the maze at Gallox bridge.As we round the hill, in the edge of the wood on your left there is an oak tree with a hollow inside much like the one that the boy and his mother lived in. It often wears an apron of nettles so take a little care getting to it but if you can read the next chapter there then please do.
 
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Chapter eleven

Chapter 9

Well with the jewel in hand, he wove through the wild wood like a fish in a reed bed, then ran and ran to the village, passing the gallows on the hill, passing the maze on the sward, over the pack horse bridge, and on to the Squires house. There he pounded on the door until a servant opened it, 'please sir,' he said, all out of breath, 'I have to see the Squire,' But the servant was not going to let a foraging boy into the proud hall, so he said down his nose 'why should I do that,' and in the boy's innocence he opened his hand and showed the servant the jewel.

Well the boy expected to be taken straight to the Squire at that point, but that is not what happened, for rough hands suddenly came about his neck and the cry of THIEF was once again upon the air.

But this time they had their culprit, caught red handed, no doubt about it.
Continue along now and you will see the Deer Park gate which you came through earlier. Pass through it and back to maze at packhorse bridge this is where our story concludes.
 
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Chapter twelve

Chapter 10

Stand at the door of the maze please, and close your eyes.

The yard here is filled with every villager and more, all venting their lungs and throwing dirt at the poor boy, his blind fold is pulled down tight, and all about the birds are squawking crazy joining in with the madness. But the good people of Dunster know that justice must be done, and before any criminal is stretched at the tree, they must walk the coiled path.

If the condemned puts a foot wrong, he will hang, if he steps across a line by even a small shuffle then he is guilty, it is the law. Nobody steps on the maze path, they all line the edge pushing and cajoling to get a better view, to get a better spot to throw something at the criminal, but no one but the boy is allowed on it, like some sacred agreement

Well perhaps his mother could help the boy and call out to her son to guide him in some pre arranged code, but the noise is too raucous, and she cannot raise hers above the threnody. But what the boy can hear are the birds, and they are making a racket too, their chattering and squawking is deafening, but to the boy they are the life line, for amidst the tension and fear all about, he can hear those birds loud and clear, and they are giving him directions!

The Hangman feels they have waited long enough, shoves the boy crudely on to the path, and so his coiled walk begins.

Well usually the criminal would stumble and fall across the lines at this point, and then be hoisted straight up the hill to the gallows, but the boy nimbly catches himself and the crowd gasp surprised at this turn of events. The screaming from the people drops a tone or two then falters completely, left only with the noise from the birds.

One step at a time he shuffles forward, and though the blindfold is tight, he listens and the birds guide him. At the first corner, one last clod of earth hits him on the shoulder but it does not throw him off balance and the perpetrator is booed and pushed away by the crowd.

To the amazement of the villagers he turns the first corner with ease, and begins the long slow navigation around the coiled path, one step at a time. Finally the only noise at gallows maze is now just the birds amidst gasps from the onlookers, stupefied by the boys feat. Eventually after what feels like an eternity the final steps are made to the centre, the heart of the maze, and the pardon that awaits him.

In an act of defiance his mother then strides valiantly across the sacred lines to meet him and remove his blindfold, and some how she breaks the spell, for then all the good people of Dunster rush at him, and lift him on to their shoulders with cheers in their mouths, for no one has ever been pardoned at the hanging maze before, and it is seen as a divine intervention.

Well even the Squire concedes to the law of the maze that the boy is innocent, but then all is not lost, for he has the jewel again and it can be reset in the mount of the white gold leaf. The wedding is back on so all is well in his world, and justice has been done.

But who stole the jewel and how the child came upon it will never sit well in the squires mind, and when the boy was hoisted upon the shoulders of the villagers, the tiny shell fell from his ear and was lost into the maze dirt.

Thanks for walking this tale trail, I hope you enjoyed it.
Chapter thirteen

The End

Now is the time for you to walk the maze, I suggest one be blindfolded and the others give guidance to see how far you can get. Remember you must not step even half a foot from the line or it will be the gallows for you!

Parts of this story are based on fact, but I shan't tell you which, except the bit about the shell in the ear which helped the boy understand the language of the birds, for that is totally true, but all the rest, well that would be telling.

You are at Gallox bridge, which was the main road from the south into Dunster in the middle ages. Wool was the main trade of the village in these times, which is why it is also called packhorse bridge. The bridge became known as Gallocksbrigge, Gallox Bridge, or Gallocks Bridge, after the gallows which stood on a hill near hear and was the symbol of authority by the Lords of Dunster who had the right to try and hang any thief caught within their area of jurisdiction.
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