Here is a superb day out: Glastonbury, the ancient Avalon, the sacred isle of the Sacred Isle. These days a modern market town with a difference - paraphenalia for the spiritual seeker and just about everything alternative.
You can come and join the Goddess Conference, or the Glastonbury Symposium; find an alternative therapy to suit, or merely enjoy the ancient sites and mellow atmosphere.
Visible for miles around, the Tor appeals to our love of the mysterious and the legendary. It is said to be hollow, the home of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld, King of the Fairies. Who knows!
Some say that this is where the Lady of the Lake (a title, not a name) lived, the High Priestess of the Sacred Isle of Gramarye. In those days, the Levels were a sea marsh and so only those who knew the secret tracks, wooden pathways layed just under the water, could find their way to the sacred isle. But if you knew the way, you could ride your horse across to the Isle in perfect safety.
What is fact is that, in early medieval times, there was a small monks' retreat on the top, probably founded in the mid 400s, the time of Patrick. In the early 1100s a chapel dedicated to St Michael was built, but this was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275 and rebuilt in the early 1300s. The tower is all that remains.
Like many places in England, it has a bloody history. On Saturday, 15 November, 1539, Abbot Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury, found guilty of 'treason', was taken back to Glastonbury with two of his monks, John Thorne and Roger James, where all three were fastened upon hurdles and dragged by horses to the top of the Tor. Here they were hanged, drawn and quartered, with Whiting's head being fastened over the gate of the now deserted The labyrinthabbey and his limbs exposed at Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgwater.
Many have speculated about the significance of the terraces that can clearly be seen in the photograph here, and it is thought they form a sacred labyrinth like the illustration on the left. This pattern can be found all across Europe, dating from Cretan times. There were many such turf 'mazes' (which they are not - they are labyrinths!) around the countryside, and there is one formed in the mosaic on the floor of Chartres Cathedral.
You can still 'thread' the labyrinth at Glastonbury, using it as an aid to meditation - but it does take many hours! Since it was first suggested many thousands of people have walked it in a sacred manner.
The Isle of Avalon website says this:
"If the terraces were not built as a labyrinth, it does seem to have been built for ceremonial, sacred or geomantic reasons. The only remaining reason, agricultural terracing, makes little realistic sense, even though the National Trust and many archaeologists continue to believe it â€“ Avalon had well enough land and sunny slopes for special crops such as grapes, and the terraces stretch around the sunless and at times very exposed side of the Tor, hardly suggesting farming use."
There are many websites that will tell you about the Tor. These are some of them:
Arthur and Guinivere are probably not buried here - that was an invention of the monks to attract the punters in the C12 - but this was once the grandest and richest Abbey in England, perhaps tribute to the legend that Joseph of Aramithea and some of the disciples built the first Christian church here in England's 'Green and Pleasant Land'. It is even suggested that the young Jesus came here.
Set in 36 acres of parkland, the abbey is a fascinating place to visit. History is brought to life by costumed guides; there are snowdrops in winter, and glorious daffodils in spring; wildflowers in summer and wonderful autumn tree colours. There is an outdoor Summer Cafe, the perfect place to relax and soak up the atmosphere of this historic site. Open May until end of September.
Pronouced 'Wirral' Hill, this is the site of the Glastonbury Thorn.
The old story goes that Joseph of Aramithea travelled up the River Parret to reach Avalon, and that, on landing he stuck his staff in the ground and it become the Holy Thorn. Be that as it may, the thorn (of which is another in the Abbey) is unusual: it flowers around Christmas Day, but if you plant a cutting elsewhere then it does not!
Again, there are lots of websites; these are some of them:
This is one of the most beautiful small gardens in England, definitely worth a visit. It is the source of the Red Spring. (One of the reasons Gastonbury was felt to be sacred was that close together were the Red and the White springs, at the base of the Tor.
This from the Chalice Well website:
"The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain. Many legends are attributed to its chalybeate Chalice Wellwaters, which flow ceaselessly at a steady rate and temperature that never varies. Not least among these is that they represent the blood of Christ miraculously springing forth from the ground when Joseph of Arimathea buried or washed the cup used at the Last Supper. For others the waters are acknowledged as the essence of life, the gift from Mother Earth to sustain its living forms and so a continuous spring like Chalice Well is a direct expression of an unbounded life force.
"To be at the well head, to drink the water and absorb the atmosphere in the gardens can be a truly inspirational experience. As a Companion recently wrote to us:
"'While there are many reasons why I have returned to Chalice Well over the years, the one constant theme is peace; a deep inward peace that can carry me through the tides of life. I know of no other place that provides this so perfectly and so deeply as Chalice Well.'
"To safeguard and protect this place the Chalice Well Trust was established in 1959 by Wellesley Tudor Pole to enable visitors and pilgrims to receive inspiration and refreshment from the waters and gardens."