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Magical, mystical Glastonbury

Magical, mystical Glastonbury

GLASTONBURY TOWN

Glastonbury Town is home to the eclectic, the unusual and the simply fantastic. Mention ‘Glastonbury’ to many people outside Somerset and they will probably only associate the area with the world famous music festival. (The Glastonbury Festival actually takes place on Worthy Farm in the village of Pilton but that’s another story…) It’s a shame that many miss out on a visit to Glastonbury town. It has got a lot going for it.

Glastonbury Town

glastonbury town and the abbey

Is Glastonbury the burial place of King Arthur? Was the first church built here? Did Joseph of Arimathea really travel to Glastonbury bearing the Grail? (How did Indiana Jones get it so wrong?!) But more of that a little later.

While Glastonbury town may be swathed in mystic, it is certainly of great historical importance and home to Glastonbury Abbey and Glastonbury Tor.

Glastonbury Tor. Pic by Nick James

Glastonbury history

When people first settled in the area is a mystery. While it isn’t possible to confirm if the earliest settlers arrived half a million years ago, (apparently it’s difficult to quantify the age of the flint found here) there is proof that people were living in the area during the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Glastonbury Abbey

The Abbey has been a feature for many a century. Over the years, the buildings on the site have been demolished, re-built, extended, ravaged by fire and re-built again. In late Saxon times the Abbey was one of the richest Benedictine houses in England. Back in 1535, the Abbey’s property was valued at over £3300 – the wealthiest in the land.

The picture above shows the remains of the crossing and the adjacent bays of the transept. Originally, the Great Church had three stories; the arcade, the triforium and the clerestory.

Today, there are regular events in the grounds. One of the most popular is the Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza. Tickets get snapped up quickly, but if you’re quick enough to bag one, then you can listen to a great act or two play a one-off concert.

Glastonbury Town

The grounds at Glastonbury Abbey

May Day celebrations in GLASTONBURY TOWN

Visit Glastonbury Town on the 1 May and enjoy numerous events as the ancient pagan, rite of Spring is celebrated. During the Beltane Celebrations the sacred waters at the White Spring are blessed and a maypole is raised at Bushey Combe (with plenty of music and dancing).

The Dragon Celebrations usually take place at this time of year too. There’s a procession down the High Street (featuring plenty of costumed folk and a dragon or two obviously), street performances and music.

GLASTONBURY TOR

Glastonbury Tor is surrounded by mystery and legend and is just a short(ish) walk from Glastonbury town high street. The Tor rises around 500 feet from the Somerset Levels and on a clear day it can be seen from miles around. The Tor is free to visit. You can park for a couple of pounds in the car park of Draper of Glastonbury which is virtually opposite the main gate. (This shoemaker is also worth a visit.)

Glastonbury Town

Glastonbury Tor

Take the signposted path and steps will lead you through a field all the way to the Tor. There is a handy bench halfway up should you need a breather. There are two paths, so you could take another route down.

The views from the top are fantastic. Be sure to take a coat as the breeze up here can make it chilly.

The views from the Tor are fantastic

GLASTONBURY town AND ITS FAMOUS VISITORS

It is the potential past visitors to Glastonbury and the Abbey that are of real intrigue. Did Joseph of Arimathea (the Uncle of Jesus Christ) really set foot in the Abbey’s grounds?

By the late 12th century, Joseph had become associated with legends in which he was said to have journeyed to Glastonbury bearing the Grail. Travel weary, Joseph is said to have thrust his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill (sometimes known as Wirral Hill) whereby it burst into bloom and became a Holy Thorn. (A sprig of the Glastonbury Thorn is sent to the Royal family at Christmas. An image of it has even been put on a stamp.)

The Glastonbury Thorn is unusual in that it flowers twice a year – in Spring and in the depths of Winter. In 2010, the bush was vandalised and a team at Kew Gardens propagated a number of new trees from the damaged branches. The Glastonbury Thorn now lives on in many other locations!

The Glastonbury Thorn at Kew Gardens

When Joseph is alleged to have arrived in around AD63, it is also claimed that a wattle church was built in honour of the Blessed Mary. This could have been the very first church. However, Joseph’s visit (and his alleged burial in the Abbey) were not recorded in historical documents until hundreds of years later. So, separating fact from fiction is impossible.

Glastonbury town

The lovely church of St. John sits in Glastonbury High Street today. It has a long history stretching back many centuries.

Glastonbury and the legend of king arthur

Arguments also rage as to whether the body of King Arthur and his second wife, Guinevere were buried here.  Stories abound of the exhumations of these bodies from a site in Glastonbury in 1191. In 1480, William of Worcester was certainly keen to find out. He arrived in Glastonbury to ask the monks for anything concerning King Arthur.  He could well have been shown memorials outside the church, known as the ‘Pyramids’ which allegedly included one where King Arthur’s bones were laid. Again, any cast iron proof is yet to be discovered.

GLASTONBURY TOWN SHOPS & Markets

Glastonbury town certainly has an air of mystic about it and a great range of unusual, independent shops.

The town hosts regular markets. Glastonbury Market is held at St Dunstan’s Car Park on a Tuesday 9am – 2.00pm while Glastonbury Country Market is in the Town Hall on a Tuesday morning. 9.30am – 12.30pm.

Glastonbury town

An eclectic mix of shops

Aside from a visit to the shops, a trip to the Abbey and a walk up to the Tor (perhaps the remains of a Neolithic labyrinth), you can also visit the Chalice Well.

Here, Joseph is said to have washed the vessels of the Passion after his arrival. This ancient well is said to flow at a constant rate and temperature. It has been a site for gatherings for around two thousand years! 

glastonbury festivals

Time your visit to Glastonbury town right and you could find yourself surrounded by zombies! The annual Glastonbury Zombie Walk is open to all. Just slap on the makeup, dress in appropriate attire and walk as if you had a role in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. It’s all done to raise money for worthwhile causes.

Glastonbury town

Somerset carnivals have to be seen to be believed!

Glastonbury carnival

Another sight not to be missed is Glastonbury carnival. This forms part of the ‘Magnificent Seven‘ – said to be the largest illuminated processions in the world! Glastonbury carnival takes place in mid November and is just a few miles from The Cross at Croscombe. (Find out more about Somerset carnivals and other festivals in Somerset.)

Let’s raise a glass to Glastonbury town. A truly remarkable place and well worth a visit.

Find out more about;

The village of Mells

The city of Wells

Historic Wedmore

Porlock Weir

Chew Valley Lake

 

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