There may be no other location in the British Isles with quite so many mystical legends and spiritual speculation attached to it as this ancient market town. Part of the mystique is a result of geography; the striking shape of Glastonbury Tor which rises above the nearby Somerset Levels like a beacon, topped with its solitary medieval tower, is a striking landmark, visible for miles in all directions. To see the Tor rising above the mists that cover the Levels in the early morning is a visual treat.
It is hard to imagine it today, but hundreds of years ago Glastonbury was an island; the sea covered the Somerset Levels, creating a world of marshes and small hillocks that rose above the water level. The largest of the hills was that upon which Glastonbury was founded. According to which myth you believe, Glastonbury was founded by St Patrick, or, even earlier, by Joseph of Arimathea, who was granted land here by a local king. The tale goies that Joseph brough with him the Holy Grail, which was buried with im in a secret place when he died, and there it waits to be discovered.
Also waiting is King Arthur,
who, if the legends are to be believed, is buried with his queen, Guinivere, in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey
. The Abbey is located off Magdalene Street, and offers lovely grounds with excellent views of the Tor. In the Abbey grounds is the Abbot's Kitchen, a strking medieval building that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries largely unscathed.
On the High Street are two buildings of note; the Tribunal, which now houses the local Tourist Information Centre, and the George Hotel. The latter was built to act as accommodation for pilgrims during the Middle Ages. From the High Street a town walking trail is laid out, with plaques at points of interest along the way. A short walk leads to the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which is housed in a huge stone building that was once a barn for Glastonbury Abbey. The size of the barn gives some clue to the prosperity of the Abbey during the medieval period.
If you continue on past the Rural Life Museum you will soon reach Chalice Well, at the base of the Tor. This peaceful oasis of gardens and winding paths is owned by a private trust. There is, naturally, a legend associated with the Chalice Well. The waters of the well have a distinct reddish tinge, and the story goes that this red colour is the blood of Christ. The scientific explanation is that the water has a high iron content, and it is this that accounts for the colouring. Many people bring containers to fill from the waters of the Well.
A few yards from the Chalice Well a public footpath leads up Glastonbury Tor, which has long been identified as the mystical Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur was said to have been taken to rest until his country needed him. As you ascend you can clearly see the signs of medieval terracing; ledges cut into the slopes of the Tor. One legend says that the terracing forms a spiral to the summit, or a maze, which, if you follow it consciously to the top, will act as a source of spiritual inspiration. At the top of the Tor is a St. Michael's Tower, all that remains of a medieval chapel on this spot. The views are truly wonderful; if the weather is clear the Mendips are easily visible, as are the towers of Wells Cathedral a few miles away, and further to the west the expanse of Exmoor National Park.
If you have the time, walk out onto the Somerset Levels to get a really good view of the Tor. For an equally striking view, visit Wearyall Hill (see photo below) on the south west outskirts of Glastonbury. Here you will see a thorn tree, said to mark the spot where Joseph of Arimathea came ashore on his arrival in Glastonbury. The current thorn often has offerings hanging from its branches, the contribution of modern pilgrims.
Images of Glastonbury
Wearyall Hill, with the old thorn tree in the foreground and the Tor lit by the setting sun
The path winding up the Tor to the medieval tower at the summit. The views from the top of the Tor make the climb well worth the exertion.
St Michael's Tower at the peak of Glastonbury Tor. Even in summer the wind at the summit can be quite chilly, so dress accordingly!
The Somerset Rural Life Museum, housed in a medieval barn belonging to the monks of Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury High Street
The George Hotel on High Street in Glastonbury. This was built by the monks of Glastonbury as accommodation for pilgrims coming to the Abbey.
The Tribunal on High Street; one of the oldest buildings in Glastonbury, now used by the Tourist Information Centre.
Detail of the coat of arms above the door of the Tribunal
Myths and Legends
Attraction Type: Town
OS: ST498 389
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.
Historic Time Periods:
Find other attractions tagged with:
Medieval (Time Period) -