Glastonbury - a place where mythology, legends and religious lore overlay and entwine, reaching far back in time. Said to be the burial place of King Arthur, there are legends which tell of St Patrick, St Columba, Joseph of Arimathea and even Jesus Christ himself visiting this place.
The town is now a mecca for every potential witch, wizard and warlock in the south west. Where else can you find places with names like the ‘Cat and Cauldron’, the ‘Speaking Tree’ bookshop and the ‘Wonky Broomstick’? New Age shops dominate the high street where you can purchase spells and crystals and perhaps some chocolate from the ‘Chocolate Love Temple’, washed down with some herbal tea. Check out the ‘House of Tea and Chi’ for a great cup of tea and a Thai curry!
On the High Street do look out for Glastonbury Tribunal – a beautiful 15th century town house of honey-coloured stone which is now home to the Tourist Information Centre and the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum (the Lake village was an Iron Age village on the Somerset levels and the museum displays artefacts of the one-time inhabitants of this ancient settlement).
Leaving the witches and wizards behind and at the more peaceful lower end of the town is the magnificent Glastonbury Abbey, one of England's greatest and oldest Christian buildings. Founded back in the 7th century, three English Kings are buried here (Edmund, Edgar and Edmund Ironside) and by the 10th century it was the richest Benedictine monastery in the country. When the end came during the dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, the destruction of the abbey was pretty savage, even by Henry's standards, with the Abbot dragged to the top of Glastonbury Tor with two of his monks and hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor.
Now the remains of the abbey and its beautifully kept grounds are a peaceful haven to wander around. The remains of the Lady Chapel are more substantial than the rest and in the grounds, you can see the remains of the Abbot's Kitchen. Near the entrance to the Abbey grows the Glastonbury Thorn, said to be from the original thorn tree on Wearyall Hill where legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea and his disciples stopped to rest and he drove his staff into the ground, only to find in the morning that it had taken root. Joseph of Arimathea, a merchant, was said to have been a wealthy supporter of Jesus and one story has it he visited England several times and on one occasion brought a young Jesus with him to Glastonbury. The story is just one of the many ancient tales which swirl around this mysterious place.
In 1190 monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, buried in front of the high altar. According to local lore, Camelot was at the nearby Saxon fort of Cadbury Castle. A Welsh monk, Caradoc of Llancarfan, writing earlier in the 12th century had recorded that Glastonbury had been besieged by Arthur with a huge army because his wife Guinevere had been carried off there by the wicked King Melwas after searching for her for a whole year - so perhaps there is some truth behind the legend!
To the south of the town, the Chalice Well is a tranquil garden and a place to quietly contemplate, and is said to be the hiding place for the fabled Holy Grail, buried here by Joseph of Arimathea at the foot of Glastonbury Tor in a place where a spring of blood flowed (its red water caused by a rich iron content was no doubt the foundation for this tale). Nearby, and in contrast to the bright garden is the Well House, a Victorian vaulted building, dark and cool inside, which houses the White Spring, a natural well which drops into a series of pools. While the spring of the Chalice Well runs red, this runs white, due to the calcium in the water here. You can swim in the pools but please note, people often bathe naked here as an act of cleansing, so this is only for the more open minded!
The White Well is at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, a dramatic conical hill which stands tall and proud as a sentry amidst the flat expanses of the Somerset marshes. Like the Abbey, the Tor has been a place of pilgrimage since prehistoric times. Somerset means 'Land of the Summer People' as in times of flood the waters would have swept in from the sea and the high ground of the Tor must have been a sanctuary for the people here.
St Michael's Tower, on the top of the hill, is the remaining ruin of a church which once stood here; the previous church having been destroyed by an earthquake (yes really!) in 1275. It’s a twenty-minute climb to the top and if you are keen enough for a very early morning walk it's a fabulous place to catch the sunrise.
After all that, it could be time to get your feet back on the ground with a visit to the Somerset Rural Life Museum based in a beautifully intact ancient tithe barn (tithe barns were storage units belonging to the abbeys.) It houses a fascinating array of artefacts related to the local industries. The museum reopened in 2017 after a three-year refurbishment programme and you can learn about cider making, willow growing, peat digging and mud horse fishing (you'll have to visit to find out what that is!) and there is also a cafe on the premises.