Glastonbury - The Tour of The Tor
The weekend of 21-23 July 2006 was scheduled as Ghost Connections ‘Field Trip’ for 2006. Our destination was the mystical and spiritual centre of England – Glastonbury in Somerset. Our aim was to explore the sights of this legendary town and encompass some nearby attractions too, as many as we could fit in within the three days we were there.
Glastonbury itself is steeped in history but where this is different to any other English town is that the majority of it is intermingled with legend. It also abounds with stories of faeries and other creatures.
The Tor itself, a natural outcrop of stone among the Somerset levels, has long been associated with the Isle Of Avalon made famous by Thomas Mallory’s poem Morte D’Arthur. Here he describes how after the Battle of Camlan, King Arthur is taken by Galahad by boat to the Isle Of Avalon and buried to rise again in Englands hour of need. Due to the geography of the region, prior to the reclamation of the marshes, this has been interpreted as Glastonbury Tor. Rising to over 500 feet it is visible from miles around. This is even more pronounced given that the top is surmounted by the tower of the church of St Michael, the remains of an early mediaeval church probably built on the site of a pagan site. Joseph of Arimathea is also reputed to have buried the Holy Grail near here. The Tor overlooks the whole town and from it can be seen the other three mystical sites – Glastonbury Abbey, Wearyall Hill, and the Chalice Well.
The Chalice Well on the slopes of the Tor is another site believed to be the final resting place of the Grail. The red / brown natural waters are reputed to have healing properties.
Wearyall Hill is another natural feature which can be seen on the way towards the village of Street to the South West. It is here that Joseph of Arimathea (busy chap!) is supposed to have struck his staff into the ground causing it to take root and then flower twice a year as what is known as The Glastonbury Thorn. The original tree was destroyed during the Commonwealth. A cutting has grown for some years in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.
The Abbey itself was establish from the earliest days of Christianity although the buildings that can be seen today are early-mid mediaeval. In 1191 monks are said to have found a tomb in the grounds where a leaden cross with a latin inscription proclaiming this to be the resting place of Arturius Rex. The remains found beneath were exhumed and re-interred inside the abbey church in the centre of the Choir. The exhumation was witnessed by Edward I. The abbey suffered the fate of all the others during the Dissolution under Henry VIII and now only partial ruins remain. Unusually it is still the centre of Christian Worship in these parts with a large annual festival and service.
This ‘report’ will give an insight into this town from our perspective and give the reader some idea what we got up to while we were there – ‘all work and no play…’ etc!
Kim, Ian and Dave set off early to make the most of the first day. Leaving Kent at 7:00am we aimed to be there about 10:00. Travelling in air conditoned style in Kim’s new car (thanks for driving Kim) we set the Sat Nav and we were off finding the M25 not too bad, M3 easy and then paused on the A303 for a cigarette break. No smoking in new cars is endorsed by Ghost Connections. This would be the first opportunity for the public to witness the ‘tour’ T shirts made up by Ian. Thanks Ian. After a shorter journey a stop was made at the Little Chef on the A36 for some food. Disposable, chewable toothbrushes were trailed by the team – findings negligible.
Our destination was the Isle of Avalon (there it is again!) campsite booked by Ian in advance. Arriving just before 11:00 we set too erecting Ian’s tent. Kim put the kettle on whilst we toiled. Tent up it was time to explore the town which was billed as ten minutes walk away.
The campsite is just outside the town and is well equipped with a well maintained shower, washing, and toilet block – its won awards for its cleanliness! The site also has a small shop for those things you had forgotten. The ground was even and our tent was pitched near a watercourse the other side of which we would later find out was a collection of chicken with obligatory cockerel for those early morning wake up calls. The watercourse would later mean mosquito’s in the night and a large invader in Kim’s car when packing on the final day. That’s the countryside for you. We would recommend this site and they can be contacted on 01458 833618.
The walk into town is exactly as advertised, about 10mins, and you find yourself in the market square. The mission here was simple – shop, pub, tattooist. Oh yes there was a previous plan that would see Kim have the Eye of Horus tattooed, Ian was after something Celtic. Dave being tattooed already was not going for an initiation into the art.
A walk around the town found it to be what Glastonbury is good at – loads of shops selling ethnic, Celtic, spiritual and pagan items. Now this may stem from the origins of the town, the importance of it as a place of pilgrimage for music or from an onset of tourism although we suspect a combination of all three. A tour of these premises would become known for the search for tat! This is unfair as there is very little tat here although it is very samey! The other thing noted was the abundance of clairvoyants, tarot readers, healers, holistic treatments and the like. You can have this in a café, shop, local hall or their own little premises in the side alleys. One wonders if there are many people with a skill born hereabouts or if they move here because of it. We didn’t try any and wondered how many were actually genuine.
A first alcohol stop found us in the Queens Head where the helpful landlord pointed us in the direction of the local tattooist.
Glynn and Wendy at Twilight Zone were very friendly and offered Kim an appointment that afternoon. Ian would have to wait. To fill some time we found the King Arthur public house, almost opposite a very friendly establishment. Live music is a regular occurrence and they stock some fine local ales. Returning to the tattooist Kims design had been made and it was on with the pain and bloodletting! Done by Glynn's trainee tattooist it took a little longer but the result was well done. Ian and Dave would add some piercings here. Ian meanwhile would return the following day for his tattoo – a very intricate Celtic cross done by Glynn. Twilight Zone is very friendly and helpful not to mention cheaper than Kent tattooists - www.twilightzonetattoo.co.uk/index.html
A couple more jars and it was back to the campsite having purchased some food and drink for the evening.
A pleasant evening was had chatting until we retired.
Day two had been planned as a sight seeing day combining Ian's tattoo appointment. First stop The Tor. There is very limited parking around it and it is probably easier to walk there from the town – it’s a mile from the centre. The weather was close humid and close on 30deg Celsius. Not the weather for an energetic hike! Despite this we managed to get to the base of the Tor and found the footpath and notice board on the north side. There is a marker in the field by the gate which appears to be part of a way marked trail. It is not apparent what it is or why it is here. An informative board about the restoration of the church tower is also at the bottom. The path snakes up the hill and a convenient pause was taken half way up for a cigarette. Does anyone else get tired and worn out walking so stop for a cigarette or is it just us? We made it to the top and found that it is entirely populated by cattle. Their sense of balance here on the sides of the hill must make them a breed apart. It also means you need to be careful where you tread! The church tower is particularly impressive with intricate carvings in the niches on the west side. The views are impressive and you are so much higher than everything else. There was a tray of refreshments in the tower with a tin for payments – very trusting and consideration has to be give to the fit soul who trudges up the hill with the heavy tray each day, unless the faeries bring it! Clearly some people go for the view or to practice their religious beliefs, tai chi included as witnessed! There is a certain ambience about the place. It is very peaceful and a ‘must see’ location. Another path leads down the west side of the hill emerging near the Chalice Well and a short walk towards the town finds The Rifleman public house. www.glastonburytor.org.uk/
A little more shopping, after a visit to the ‘self timing’ toilets. These facilities kindly tell you on arrival that you have a prescribed time limit to fulfil all functions. We wonder what happens when it expires!
Ian’s tattoo completed we make our way out of the town and find a local public house for dinner. The Camelot does a range of ‘pub grub’ and possesses a large children's playground and therefore children.
A short car trip away is Wells. A beautiful market square leads through an ancient arch with smelly harmonica player to the Cathedral green. The west front of the Cathedral is one of the most complete mediaeval sculptured facades in England. Being open until 7pm we took advantage of a walk around inside. The curved and worn stairs to the famous chapterhouse with its superb fan vaulted ceiling are often photographed and you can see why. www.wellscathedral.org.uk/
We returned to the campsite for an evening of psychic experimentation and general jollity in traditional GC style! On our return we found that the downpour that caught us earlier in Glastonbury had soaked the towels we had left to dry. They were wetter than when we had showered that morning and took some drying out in the tumble dryer.
Day three was set for the return journey but we planned to visit the abbey before leaving. The tent was packed fairly easily and a large green water beetle was ejected with chair and whip from Kim’s car. We believe him to be a Spangled Water Beetle (Graphoderus zonatus) which is only native to one area of Hampshire and appropriate sources are being consulted.
Glastonbury Abbey is ruinous apart from the Abbots Kitchen. The ruins are set among a well maintained park and are well preserved. The level of architecture is not quite what may be found at others and the location itself is not as impressive as some more rural abbeys. This said there is certain tranquillity about a town centre location. The Glastonbury Thorn is preserved and gloating signed as is Arthur's Grave. The thing with Glastonbury is that all legends are quickly found to be ‘fact’. Tourism obviously takes a hold over the difference between conjecture and reality. The lawns are nice tho! If you wanted a guided tour by Sir Galahad complete with dressed head wound then you could have although one of your party would have to carry a large St George's flag around the grounds on a lance. Watching the party walking around following this sack cloth clad knight you could almost hear the flag carrying serf banging two coconut shells together to keep it. Did the Pythons see it here first? www.glastonburyabbey.com/
A bit of shopping for the folks back home and it was off for the journey back via a stop at Stonehenge. Well you have to don’t you!
This giant Neolithic construction is like our local Kits Coty on steroids! The quality of the construction down to mortice and tenon joints is second to none and whatever your interests I would challenge anyone to fail to be impressed by this monument. What you may not find so impressive is the entrance fee. English Heritage boasts of 850,000 visitors a year and they must make a mint out of this. Having said that it is worth seeing and the comprehensive guide book is good value. The view from the A303 pales into insignificance when you see these up close and despite rumours to the contrary you actually get quite close to the stones. Very impressive. www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge/
So a great time had by all – lots of sights taken in and a good laugh had. Did we encounter any paranormal activity? No. Is Glastonbury a haunted? Possibly. Is Glastonbury the home to King Arthur, The Holy Grail, Faeries or aliens? We think not.
Glastonbury Tor – worth the climb for the atmosphere and views but take a drink!
Glastonbury Abbey – Touristed up to the hilt but atmospheric.
Wells Cathedral – Impressive architecture and a rare clock.
Glastonbury Town – Full of the sort of shops you would expect to find there and home to some great pubs and a good tattooist.
Stonehenge – A national treasure which is over priced.
©2004/2007 Ghost Connections UK