Thursday, 10 March 2016

Road to Glastonbury

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

Climbing Glastonbury Tor felt to me like a pilgrimage. On the one hand there is a belief that King Arthur and his knights are buried beneath the hill (admittedly, only one of several locations throughout the UK.) On the other hand I was walking with my eldest daughter and I was reminded of Mat Johnson’s words in the novel Loving Day:
“A man's daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world.”
The 360° view from the tower of St Michael’s was wonderful and the sky was dramatically blue and cloudy. The hill has an ancient history and has been agricultural, military and religious, as well as Celtic, Saxon and Christian. It could be a giant sacred labyrinth. It could be the gateway to the underworld kingdom of the Lord of the Wild Hunt, Gwynn ap Nud, who haunts the hills around Glastonbury. Whatever it has ever been, it is a rewarding hill to climb.
Lord of the Wild Hunt, Gwynn ap Nud


The Celtic name of the Tor was Ynys Wydryn or “The Isle of Glass” and later Britons called it Yns Yr Afalon or “The Isle of Avalon.” Although it might seem fanciful to imagine the hill as an island, myths are often founded on historical fact and archaeology has revealed that the Tor was at one time a peninsula surrounded by the large River Brue. In Neolithic times, it was almost completely surrounded by water because of the river’s course. Even now, the low-lying damp ground often produces a mist which floods the plain beneath the Tor, so that the Tor rises from the white smoke, eerily, like a spooky island. This mirage is called Fata Morgana named after King Arthur’s half-sister, the sorceress Morgan le Fey.
Chalice Well in Glastonbury

Chalice Well

Glastonbury, whilst we were there, was hosting the 2015 Goddess Conference and passers-by were often dressed in robes, cloaks, tunics and ethereal fabrics. Even our lunch was hosted in a “slow food” café; the lunch was deliciously tasty but cooked and served by otherworldly beings in a Rivendell atmosphere. Visiting the Chalice Well was essential. Did Joseph of Aramathea wash the blood from the Holy Grail in the flowing waters there? Is the well head the source of the life force of Mother Earth? Is the Blood Spring only coloured the way it is because it travels through iron deposits in the hills above Glastonbury? Was there ever a more peaceful spot for contemplation?

Abbey Habit

And so to an afternoon at Glastonbury Abbey where monks apparently found the graves of Arthur and Guenevere in the Middle Ages. It was probably a tourist scam to increase the footfall (and hence the abbey coffers) but it was an atmospheric place to visit, not least because of the presence of the so-called Glastonbury Thorn – or a tree growing from a cutting from the original Thorn – that sprouted from where Joseph of Arimethea plunged his staff when visiting Glastonbury with the Holy Grail.
Glastonbury Abbey
From the swirl of myths, legends and tourist artefacts in Glastonbury (an evocative place to visit, that’s for sure) the road trip continued by leaving Somerset and heading to Wiltshire for what turned out to be the place that (for me) had the most impact on our trip…. Stonehenge!