Glastonbury in a Day
On my last visit to England I was determined to find the ghost of King Arthur. Maybe even Camelot itself. So, I thought, what better place to chase the enchanted Arthurian legend than Glastonbury. Located in Somerset, in southwest England, Glastonbury is known for many things. It’s home to Glastonbury Abbey, Tor, and the world-famous Glastonbury Festival. But it’s also steeped in many myths and legends.
I set myself in Bristol for five day. On one day I decided to take a day trip to Glastonbury. After an hour and a half long bus ride, that took me through some of England’s picturesque countryside, I arrived in the heart of wee Glastonbury. And right across from my first stop of the day, Glastonbury Abbey. Glastonbury Abbey was once the richest monastery in the country. Founded in the 7th century, the Abbey and its buildings have been built and rebuilt over the centuries. My main cause for visiting Glastonbury Abbey was that it is the alleged site where King Arthur was buried. But I was also excited to explore its history and ruins.
I wandered into the main building to pay my entrance fee and headed out onto the grounds. There standing tall in the middle of a large, well-manicured field was the ruins of the Abbey. Even though its roof and more are long gone, what remains still holds a mighty presence. I paused in the Lady Chapel, trying to conjure up what it must have been like in its glory days. For the most part I had the grounds to myself, creating even more of a surreal experience.
Before I even caught sight of Arthur’s alleged grave, there was a strong air of bewitching intrigue over the site. Then I walked over to this lone sign sticking out of the ground. It read; Site of King Arthur’s Tomb. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. There before me might have lain the man, the legend, King Arthur himself. I say might as historians generally dismiss any truth in the tale. Leaning more toward a hoax on the part of 12th century monks to bring in more pilgrims and in turn more money. Whatever the truth is, this dreamer chooses to believe. I bowed my head before the grave, gave a small curtsy and thanks for all the wondrous tales from my youth of him and his Knights of the Round Table.
“I must ride with my knights to defend what was, and the dream of what could be.”
~ King Arthur (from Excalibur by Rospo Pallenberg & John Boorman)
Before exploring the wilds of the Abbeys’ 36 beautiful acres I strolled through the Abbot’s Kitchen. Home to four huge fire places and still set up like it once was, the Abbot’s Kitchen is one of the best preserved medieval kitchens in Europe. And its the most intact building on the grounds today.
I then set of to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Abbey’s awesome parkland. Happy to have it all to myself, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the small scattering of visitors who stuck to the Abbey and never ventured further. The expansive grounds are home to winding trails, ponds rich with waterfowl, and even a patch of forest with a trail leading through it. This patch of forest is home to the Abbey’s infamous badgers, who they protect and take care to conserve their wild space.
After roaming the Abbey’s gorgeous green spaces I realized I’d already been there for over two hours and opted to take a quick browse of the Abbey’s museum before I left. The museum, though small, is full of artifacts from the Abbey, varying exhibits on those who were once prominent figures here and even a model of what the Abbey would have looked like in 1539. Massive and awe-inspiring! The church here was the longest known monastic church in the country, at 580 feet and had a central tower that stood over 200 feet.
Noon had struck and with a grumble in my belly I headed down Glastonbury’s charming main street. Hanging flowers lined the narrow street. The strong, intoxicating smell of incense wafted out of many of the new-age shops. Books, crystals and tie dye clothing graced shop windows. But I was on the hunt for food. I found a quaint little bakery, Burns the Bread, and was overwhelmed with the mouth-watering selection. I grabbed a couple of pastries, one for now and one for later.
My next stop was Tor. A short 15 to 20 minute walk from the city centre, Tor, at over 500 feet, is the highest point in the Isle of Avalon. Atop this perfect mound sits a lone stone tower, St. Michael’s Tower. It was once home to a wooden church that was destroyed by an earthquake. Then the stone church of St. Michael was built in the 13th century. Tor is another of Glastonbury’s sites shrouded in mystery and Arthurian legends. Said to be one of the possible sites of Avalon, as well as where the Holy Grail was buried deep below Tor feeding Glastonbury’s Chalice Well. It’s also said to be the home of the King of the Fairies.
I approached the hill and realized it was still being used as pasture lands for local farmers. Today’s guests were large, fluffy sheep. I scaled the narrow steep path up the mound, dodging sheep and their dung, towards the eerie ruins of the tower. From atop I was rewarded with unobstructed 360 degree views of southwestern England and even out to Wales. I couldn’t help but pause and smile. England never ceases to amaze me. I sat, on a dung free patch of grass, and enjoyed my last pastry as I took in the glorious view.
When I finally saunted back into town it was mid afternoon. I decided to grab a coffee before catching the next bus to Bristol. On my way I stumbled upon an awesome piece of street art. It fit right in with the fairy tale vibe of Glastonbury and reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Strangely, right after I found a café called The Looking Glass Café. Fate or the Fairy King working his magic? This small, family owned café was so adorable I couldn’t help but be drawn in. With coffee and a spot of ice cream in hand I said cheers to Glastonbury and the rich legends that lurked here.
Have you explore Glastonbury and its legend of King Arthur?
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