On a recent staycation in Somerset, I took the opportunity to climb Little Solsbury Hill. It’s a flat-topped hill with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the spa town of Bath in the distance. Now, since this is a music website and not a travel blog, you might ask why I’m putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) on this matter? Well, Solsbury Hill was also the title of the debut solo single by Peter Gabriel. Released in 1977, it climbed to number 13 in the UK charts and also made it into the Billboard 100 in the USA.
Even if you weren’t around in 1977 you’ve doubtless heard the song, which has been featured in numerous movies and TV adverts. Or perhaps you’ve heard one of the cover versions from artists such as Lou Reed or Erasure. The song has recently taken on new meaning, as it was written by Gabriel to reflect the mental struggle he was having over the decision to leave the rock band Genesis, who he’d been with since their inception in 1967. Gabriel wanted to start a solo career and said that climbing Solsbury Hill was something of an epiphany, which helped him get his head around the decision.
In these days of COVID anxiety and mental angst, I was intrigued to climb Solsbury Hill myself and see if I felt something of what Gabriel experienced.
The climb takes about 30 minutes if you are reasonably fit. It starts in the village of Batheaston and winds its way up a narrow country road until you reach a grassy path, which marks the start of the final ascent. It’s a fairly steep climb in parts, and certainly gives you a good cardio workout. On the way up I met a woman who was doing the climb for the same reason as me. A long time Peter Gabriel fan, she left her partner half way down the slope in his Porsche whilst she pushed on to the summit.
I experienced a tremendous sense of anticipation as I reached the top. The weather was beautiful; with pillows of white cloud and pencil thin jet trails in the sky. The sun was bright, and bathed the idyllic green countryside in a golden hue. It was the best of late summer.
There were perhaps three or four people on the hill top. It was quiet, with the faintest breeze. I made my way to the triangulation point, which offers the best views, and could see the house where Peter Gabriel lived when he wrote Solsbury Hill.
I was touched by an inner calm; a fleeting respite from the dramas of daily life. Thoughts drifted towards the following week and where I would be at the same time on the same day. Perhaps what I experienced most from my time on Solsbury Hill was less an epiphany, and more an overall sense of peace.
After forty minutes or so wondering around the hill top it was time to descend. The legs seemed to find it much easier going down. At the bottom I reflected on the climb and came to the conclusion that we could all benefit from a regular change of scenery. It doesn’t have to be Solsbury Hill, but somewhere with distant views is definitely an advantage. Even just a short time in such a place will do wonders for your mental health and well-being. Give it a go.