Updated: Jun 26
Glastonbury, England, UK is known for its music festival, spiritual connections, and mythical history. This is a great vacation/staycation spot for exploring ancient ruins and hiking through National Trust parks. Explore the mystical Dark Ages with King Arthur and meditate on the magnetic healing energy of Mother Earth.
Going to the Reading Festival last month made me think of all the other UK festivals I have never experienced. The Glastonbury Festival, with its mud bogs and hippy-dippy revelers, is the most famous. Founded in 1970, Glasto picked up where Woodstock left off and was the coolest before Coachella was a thing. This is the place to go to release your inner druid.
I have no intention of going to Glasto. Well, I would love to go to Glasto, but getting tickets is a killer, and I don't want to go that badly. Update: 2022 Glastonbury Festival was a monumental event, with Billie Eilish, the youngest person to perform ever, opening the show, and Paul McCartney, the oldest person to perform ever, closing the event. I wish I had been there!
But I did want to go to the town of Glastonbury, hike the Tor, and visit Glastonbury Abbey. I have been reading Stephen Fry's mythology series, and have rediscovered my love of myths, folklore, and legends. Glastonbury is known as ‘The Isle of Avalon’ where King Arthur went after his last battle. The monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found his grave in 1191.
I've recently read 'Crossing to Avalon: A Woman's Quest for the Sacred Feminine by Dr. Jean Bolen. It is the story of her pilgrimage to European goddess sites which have connections to the Holy Grail. Dr. Bolen traveled to Amsterdam and to Charters and Paris, France. In Scotland, she visited Iona, Pindhorn, Pluscarden, Clara Cairns then Inverness, and Edinburgh. She then went to London and Glastonbury in England. These sites are all considered to have strong ley lines and are related to feminine divinity. Streams of energy that span the entire earth create a grid forming a magnetic field stemming from the iron core of the earth. They must do something special as pyramids, ancient cities, and modern cities are all built upon these lines.
When considering the Holy Grail, one might think of Merlin & Arthur, Jesus & Mary, the Kennedys (Camelot), or, Tom Hanks. The legend of the grail has long been a fruitful subject for film and novels. Monty Python's Legend of the Holy Grail always tops 'best of' rankings. Lancelot and Guinevere's creepy, naked woodland embrace is unforgettable in Excalibur. And then there is Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, outrunning the monk in the Da Vinci Code. In the course of the book/film, Langdon discovered that the Holy Grail was not a vessel or cup, but a womb or a woman. This is the theory discussed in Crossing to Avalon, which predates the Da Vinci Code by nine years.
Glastonbury is 133.5 miles from London via the M3 and A303. You know you are getting close to Glastonbury when Stone Henge comes into view.
The monument is an odd sight, casually punctuating the farmland off the A303. You wouldn't expect it to be 'just there.'
I stayed in Wells, Somerset County. Wells is England's smallest city and is close to Glastonbury, the Wookie Caves, and the Mendip Hills. It has a population of 12,000, is 2.11 square miles in size, and has a very busy street market. Its cathedral dates back to 1176, and it is because of the cathedral that Wells is a city. In England, settlement hierarchy is not determined by size or population but by the services the area provides.
Chalice Well Gardens
The first stop on my Glastonbury quest was the Chalice Well Garden, beneath Glastonbury Tor. Also known as the Well of Avalon, the Chalice Well Garden is a Living Sanctuary that celebrates the mysterious and Divine. Goddess sites often feature natural springs. Here, the spring water contains iron and is believed to have healing and restorative properties. The water runs clear, though the shallow watercourse and pools through which it flows are stained red.
The well is also known as the Blood Well as the red iron deposits in the water stain anything it touches. Legend also tells that Joseph of Arimathea buried the cup used at the Last Supper in the well, which then sprang forth with the blood of Christ.
The spring rises within a well shaft at the top of the garden and flows twenty-five thousand gallons a day.
The lid of the well, fitted in 1919, features a wrought iron vesica piscis with a lance passing through it. The lance, a nod to King Arthur's Excalibur.
The vesica piscis is an ancient symbol of two interlocking circles that symbolize Heaven, Earth, spirit, and matter. It is also considered a universal symbol of the Mother Goddess.
The healing waters run through two more pools until it flows into the Vesica pool, which is two interlocking circular pools in the lawned expanse at the bottom of the garden.
My mindfulness practice (otherwise known as taking a break in the shade) at the well was interrupted by some heated ruckus outside the garden walls. I had assumed this sacred land was a place for peaceful contemplation, so I couldn't imagine what all the noise was about. I left the Chalice Well Garden and turned onto Glastonbury Lane to the White Spring, expecting to witness fisticuffs over parking. What I saw was much more frightening. It was a gang of hippies. What could these harem-panted, tie-dyed, bead-wearing peaceniks be fighting over? Weak pot, loud bongos, poseur chanting? Whatever could go wrong on a quiet lane next to a mythical spring was definitely going wrong. Instead of running, I video-called my daughter so we could mock the uptight, throwback hippies together. Modern Technology in an ancient land!
The White Spring
The water in the White Spring brims with calcite and leaves traces of white behind as it flows. A Victorian pump house, constructed in 1919, creates cover for the well. The interior consists of three domed vaults 16ft high, with beautiful bowed floors. The pump house is dark and windowless, lit only by slivers of light that escape through the decorative doorway. Dim motive candles line the walls adorning handcrafted pagan shrines dedicated to fire goddess Bridget, Our Lady of Avalon, and the King of Faerie.
The healing water, enhanced by the energy of the Michael ley-line, flows out of the back wall and passes through a series of pools and channels before collecting in a wide central basin. Bathing, including nude, is permitted. Benches provide resting places to enjoy quiet contemplation if you can enjoy quiet contemplation with naked hippies bobbing about in the water. Visitors should be aware that the water is cold, and the pathway is uneven and slippery.
Glastonbury Tor & St. Michael's Tower
The next day I woke with the sun to conquer the Glastonbury Tor. I have the usual argument with myself over whether to wear sneakers or hiking boots and once again the sneakers prevail.
The morning was bright and clear as I relaxed into my walk. I felt more energy and my heart began to lighten.
The ley-lines were already soothing my soul. For a moment I thought that a spiritual retreat at the foot of Glastonbury Tor was a purchase well worth looking into.
Peace, quiet and the healing energy of Mother Gaia. Passing a row of adorable bungalows, I stopped to admire a large Bentley in a tiny driveway, when a massive rat darted out from under the car, charging at me. I yelped and the rat-monster about-faced and ran back toward the house like it lived there, which in fact, it might have. The magnetic energy of Glastonbury must have worked a treat on this rat because it could not have grown as large as it was on a scavenger's diet. We are talking small dog-sized.
Tor hill has been a spiritual magnet for centuries, for both Pagans and Christians. It is thought a hidden cave lies beneath the hill, through which you can pass into the fairy realm of Annwn. It is here that Gwyn ab Nudd, Lord of the Celtic underworld, guards the Cauldron of Rebirth.
Furthermore, some believe that Jesus came to Glastonbury as a boy, traveling with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a tin merchant and had traveled to the South-West for this valuable metal, and it is thought he buried the Grail here. This legend inspired William Blake to write the famous poem ‘Jerusalem’.
The tower at the top of the Tor is all that remains of the 14th-century church of St Michael.
There are carvings inside the tower that have survived through time. One of the carvings is of St Bridget milking a cow.
During the Reformation, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Richard Whiting, was hung, drawn and quartered at the Tor tower along with two of his monks in 1539.
From the top of the hill, you can see Glastonbury and the Mendip Hills. The view is spectacular. There were a few people doing yoga, some meditating, and a large collection of men drinking coffee. Was a hike to the top of Glastonbury Tor a quick stop off between the school run and the home office for these guys? Down below, there was a man standing in the exact center of a grazing field. He stood stock-still for 20 minutes. He was either on a phone call or getting his spiritual on, right there with the cows.
It took me 39 minutes from the car park to the top of the Tor. This might seem quick, but I was trying to outpace that giant rat. I walked down the front of the Tor, stealing evil eyes at Otto the entire time. At the bottom of the Tor, which exits at the White Spring, I, once again, again encountered the hippie contingent. What were they doing there? Why drums so early in the morning? No one under 60 should dress like a hippie! ARRGGHH!
A word about Glastonbury: What?
A sentence about Glastonbury: This is a place where snake oil salesmen come to die.
A questioning paragraph about Glastonbury: If this is a time warp, can I go to a decade besides the 60s? I'm bored with crystals and patchouli. Why can't the locals and visitors dress in leather tunics and long swords to channel the area's ancient spirit? Why always harem pants??!!
Enough said about the town of Glastonbury.
Glastonbury Abbey is a place is of history, solitude, myth, magic, and beauty.
Joseph of Arimathea, according to the Gospel, was a wealthy follower of Christ who buried Christ's body in his tomb after the Crucifixion. He became connected with the Arthurian legend in the 12th century as the Keeper of the Holy Grail.
He received the Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper) from an apparition of Jesus, brought it with him to Britain, and buried it under the Tor at the entrance of the underworld.
One version of the myth has Jesus accompanying Joseph and his 12 followers to build the first church.
According to another legend, Arthur Pendragon became king after pulling the sword from the stone in 512. He later led the defense of England against the invading Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries. Glastonbury is thought to be the site of his last battle and his final resting place.
A fire in 1184 destroyed most of the abbey. While it was being restored, resident monks claimed to have found the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. When work was completed 116 years later, the bones of the couple were reburied in a lavish ceremony attended by King Edward I and Queen Eleanor.
When Henry VIII dissolved the churches in 1534, Glastonbury Abbey was stripped of its valuables and left to ruin. It was private property until the Church of England gained ownership in 1907, and the monastery was made available to the public.
From Glastonbury, I set off for my hike in the Spectacular Mendip Hills and Ebbor Gorge.
*The Chalice Well Garden is on Chilkwell Street, which is a busy two-lane road. Disabled parking is available onsite, but the Draper of Glastonbury shoe factory across the street offers paid parking.
**I parked at the Silver Street parking lot, which uses a phone app payment system, for my hike up the Tor. It is a good location for both the Tor and Glastonbury Abbey.