Glastonbury more than just a music festival

In a few weeks time, thousands of music lovers will again be descending on the small Somerset town of Glastonbury for the music festival. Local rumour has it that Paul McCartney might take to the pyramid stage this year. For a few days a huge tented city will appear and ageing hippies and others will be able to escape their everyday lives.

However today I am going to introduce you to the town of Glastonbury rather than Michael Eavis’s farm. Tickets to the festival sold out long ago and you can no longer gain entry to Worthy farm by climbing the fence.

People climbing to the top of the Tor
The church tower at the top of Glastonbury Tor. photo W.J. Fraser

Glastonbury is situated on the Somerset levels a few miles from Wells. A round grass covered outcrop of sandstone known as Glastonbury tor rises to over 500 feet nearby and is visible for miles around. people have lived in the area since Neolithic times and  one of the oldest roads ever discovered is close by. It is known as the sweet track after Ray Sweet who discovered it in the 1970’s.    Tree trunks which were laid to provide a track over nearby marshes have been dated by dendrochronology to   3,800 BC. The peat soil preserved the wood.

Glastonbury abbey is the earliest Christian monastic site in Britain and by Domesday it was the wealthiest abbey in England. One of its abbots St. Dunstan devised the coronation service that is still used today including that for Queen Elizabeth 11. It featured in Mathew Paris’s map of the world of 1250 and continues to attract visitors from around the globe.

Glastonbury, Myths and Legends

A sign showing where the tombs of Arthur and Guivivere were found
The monks of Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

According to local folklore the nearby camp at Cadbury was the Camelot of Arthurian legend. When Cadbury camp was excavated archaeologists found evidence  that it had indeed once housed an important person. Glastonbury itself has been associated with Avalon where Arthur is said to have fought his last battle.

Monks at Glastonbury abbey claimed to have found the coffins of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century. However this was shortly after a fire at the abbey and the more cynical among us might think that they saw it as a good way to raise funds for the restoration.  Part of the myth is that Arthur is still sleeping and that if England is in danger he will awake to save the day. There was renewed interest in this during the second world war.

Another legend about Glastonbury is that Joseph of Arimathea the man who looked after Christ’s  body after the crucifixion visited Glastonbury and where he touched the ground with his walking stick a holy tree grew.

A blooming Hawthorne in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey said to be a descendent of the original Glastonbury thorn
A Glastonbury thorn in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey

The Glastonbury thorn is a hybrid Hawthorne tree and there is a specimen in the abbey grounds.

Not your average high street

A lady offering tarot readings
A tarot reader had set up stall outside the church

Nowadays Glastonbury is a strange mixture of Christian and Pagan. You can still visit the ruins of Glastonbury abbey and say a quiet prayer in St. Patrick’s chapel. But  in the high street, shops sell crystals and magic potions. When we were there this week a group of men dressed as Morris dancers were parading through the town carrying a tree trunk which was destined to become the new maypole. Many of the female onlookers had colourful long skirts, embroidered blouses and flowers in their hair and the men had long hair and beards. We climbed up the Tor and were accompanied by a group performing some sort of eastern meditation to the sound of a single drum.

The cat and Cauldron.
Supplies for any visiting witches
A narrow shopping arcade
The viaduct shopping passage

May day is an important date in the pagan calendar and I felt Harry Potter and friends would have felt at home.

If you want to find out more I recommend this website Normal for Glastonbury

If you enjoyed this post please leave me a comment.

19 Replies to “Glastonbury more than just a music festival”

  1. Wow, I had no idea about, well, pretty much any of the history if I’m totally honest. The theories around Arthur & Guinevere and other legends, like with Joseph of Arimathea, are fascinating! I really like the sound of Glastonbury as a place to visit, especially the diversity and colour and laid-back vibe. I’ve never been but it’s going on my bucket list of places to check out. Nicely covered in your post 🙂
    Caz xx

  2. As I am hoping to have many recurring trips to England (our youngest son lives there), I have added this Music Fest to my Bucket List. I greatly appreciate vicariously traveling through England with you, and look forward to more!

  3. Love that purple shaded building at the top. I can just smell the wonderful aromas that are inside!!

  4. When I was a young teenager I fell in love with the tales of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and Merlin the Magician. I would love to visit this area someday.

  5. As our eldest daughter lives in nearby Cheddar, we always make a trip to Glastonbury to walk up the Tor and take in the sights! It’s such an interesting place with so much history and many stories to tell. Thanks for the trip back to Glastonbury, it’s a long way to go from Australia 🙂

  6. I had no idea about much of this, but then I’ve never really ventured to this part of the UK much – I love the fact there was a tarot reader out on the street though, that’s so cool! Great post, thank you!

I would love to hear from you.