The church ruins can be seen from far away. Perched high above the Somerset Levels, an area notorious for flooding and a place which was once a swampy marshland during the Middle Ages, what you see before you is not Glastonbury Tor. Instead, just a few miles away from the tourist hotspot, is a long forgotten set of ecclesiastical ruins, those of Burrow Mump.
Both parts of the name ‘Burrow Mump’ derive from words meaning hill, and once upon a time, the naturally formed hill was an island in its own right. Nearby other former islands of note include that of Glastonbury Tor, as well as the Abbey at Athelney (King Alfred the Great’s personal isle).
During the Middle Ages, monks drained the swamp of water so that they could cultivate the land. Another widescale swamp drainage in Medieval Europe by monks comes in the form of Le Marais, a now-trendy district in Paris, France.
Today, ‘Hill Hill’ can be found above the quintessentially Somerset village of Burrowbridge. While in the settlement, be sure to check out the Alfred Inn. Named for the Wessex King, Alfred the Great, local legend tells of the ruler himself ascending the hill so that he might scan the landscape for the Danes.
Some sources even go as far as to call Burrow Mump ‘King Alfred’s Fort’. With this being said, there’s no concrete evidence that Alfred ever did make his way to this historic little hill!
A history of Burrow Mump
For millennia, the Somerset Levels have been used by people in both wartime, and in peace. Though no evidence of permanent human inhabitation has been found at Burrow Mump for the classical era, Roman pottery has been found on site.
And it would make sense. What was once an island can be found roughly halfway between the Roman cities of Exeter and Bath. Although the hill was once thought to have been the site of a Norman-era castle, no evidence to backup the theory has ever been found.
Indeed, the earliest attestation of a solid building on site comes in the form of a 12th-century Church to St Michael. During the English Civil War, Royalist soldiers sought refuge in the church. Today, the ruins of St Michael date back to the 15th-century, though they were heavily modified during the 18th-century.
In seafaring locations, as well as particularly high hills, the church in question is often dedicated to St Michael, and the ecclesiastical building of Burrow Mump is no different. Other English examples include the dramatic church of Brentor in Devon and the hermitage of Rame Head in Cornwall. Burrow Mump also allegedly lies along the St Michael Ley Line, a theory suggested by John Mitchell in the 20th-century.
How and when to visit Burrow Mump
If you’re looking to visit the Mump, then it’s worth noting that there’s a fairly large car park to the base of the hill. Even when visiting mid-week during the height of peak season (mid-August), we were the only ones to visit the Mump, making this a secret, and especially secluded hidden gem.
As it’s never too busy, the Mump makes for the perfect alternative to visiting nearby (and incredibly busy) Glastonbury Tor! Both the hill and car park are free. Should you plan a visit, be sure to pack a picnic and wear suitable walking shoes; the hike up to the tor is hard, steep, and can become incredibly muddy following rain.
Today, the church and surrounding land are owned and managed by the National Trust. Donated as a war memorial in 1946, the hill serves as a reminder of all those who lost their lives during the Second World War. The best time to visit the hill and ecclesiastical ruins is at sunset when the light is at its best and the most beautiful photographs can be taken.