Stunning South West: Glastonbury

I've mentioned a few times on this blog that I had three aims for living in England when I moved back here six years ago. The first to eat a lot of fish and chips, the second to get my driver's licence and the third to go to Glastonbury Festivals. I never quite managed the third until this year, and granted I will be working my hiney off whilst I'm there, but I will still get some time to enjoy the festival. 

The thing people don't realise about Glastonbury Festival is, it's not actually in Glastonbury. It's held on a farm in a little village called Pilton, about three miles away from Shepton Mallet. Glastonbury is in fact six miles away. However, Shepton Mallet festival doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? 

Rainy Somerset Evening

Glastonbury is a small town in Somerset, with less than 10,000 residents. It sits on a dry point of the Somerset Levels. Festival aside, Glastonbury has a whole host of other history. Some of which is truth and some of which is legend, but let's start with the truth. Most of the history revolves around its Abbey, one of the most important in the country. |It dominated the town for around 700 years, and other surviving buildings including the Tribunal, The George Hotel & Pilgrims Inn and the Somerset Rural Life Museum were all associated with the Abbey. This was also the place of Edmund Ironside's (doesn't that sound really Game of Thrones-esque?) coronation. These days, tho' in ruin, the Abbey presents itself as "traditionally the oldest above-ground Christian Church in the world", having been built only 65 years after Jesus's death. 

The legends surrounding Glastonbury tends to attract a so- called "New Age" crowd, with some folk having neopagan beliefs. The myths and legends often refer to the Tor. The town is one of the few places in the country to have a landscape zodiac, altho' there is no exact evidence for this. It is known as the The Temple of Stars. 

Glastonbury Abbey ruins

Legends surrounding the Tor mostly involve The Holy Grail. Various story's and so- called accounts of Joseph of Arimathea, the grails keeper, bringing it across to England. Tho' the earliest accounts found make no mention of the Grail being Holy or having had the blood of Jesus in it, or Joseph having had it, or even Glastonbury. It was in 1191 when monks "found" the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere on a site to the south of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey Church. Tho' these were lost during the Reformation-- fanning the flames that the whole thing was a hoax to increase Glastonbury's renown. 

It is said when Joseph arrived in Glastonbury he struck his staff into the ground, and it flowered. This supposedly explains the Holy Thorn, or Glastobury Thorn, that grows just a few miles away, a hybrid Hawthorn type plant that flowers twice a year, once in the Spring and again at Christmas. Various examples can be seen around Glastonbury, but the original Holy Thorn was a place of Pilgrimage until it was chopped down during the English Civil War. It was replaced in the early 20th century, but got vandalised, and is now thought to be entirely dead in spite of efforts to save it. A sapling has been planted nearby.

Most people visiting Glastonbury are doing so for religious reasons, whether that's to do with the Abbey or the legends surrounding the town. It's how the town makes its money. People want to walk up the Tor to the top and the partially restored hill-- oddly I could see the Tor on my ride to work on a clear day, in spite of living around 45 minutes away. I suppose it's the joy of the Somerset Levels being just so.... level(!). It's thought the areas around the Tor were once permanently flooded, and the tor, and other formations similar would have been islands. The low lying areas can be up 20ft below sea level.

Have you visited Glastonbury? What did you think of this Somerset town?


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