I lived for several years in the UK, and it’s still one of my favorite places where I spend much of my time. Some of my dearest friends are in London, along with some of the most special and meaningful spots for me. One of those places is Glastonbury, which is a mystical new-agey sort of town where there are a lot of crystal shops, and ancient abbey ruins, as well as being the home of one of the biggest music festivals in the UK every summer.
The first time I went there was on a rainy day in January. To start with, it’s kind of hard to get there. First you have to take a train from London Paddington to Bristol. From there, there’s a bus which only runs every half hour or so, so if you miss it, you’re screwed, especially if it’s raining. The bus ride is lovely, though, through the Somerset hills which seem to be a vibrant green all year round. You go past the Wells Cathedral on the route, which is an added bonus. I believe the bus stops to change drivers in a grocery store in Wells, so you can get off and grab a sandwich if you’re quick. The whole journey by bus takes nearly an hour.
Once you get to Glasonbury the first thing you’ll want to do is view the Abbey ruins. But what makes them so special? From at least the 12th century, monks considered Glastonbury to be the legendary Avalon, and thought it was the home (and burial place) of King Arthur. Christian legend also says that the Glastonbury Abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea (which brings me back to Monty Python, but what doesn’t?)
In fact, let’s just pause for a moment to enjoy Monty Python.
Well that was fun, wasn’t it?
Ok, back to Glastonbury.
A Wessex King (Ine) founded a monastery in Glastonbury around 712. During the 9th century the Danes totally destroyed much of Glastonbury. By the 11th century the church was thriving again. King Cnut’s charter of 1032 was written and signed in the “wooden church at Glastonbury.”
Throughout its history, Glastonbury thrived because of canals that were part of a big building boom making the stone for the cathedral available to be transported, and also providing easier access to the Bristol Channel.
The Abbey itself was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, and was in full swing by the late 13th century when there was a ceremony to rebury King Arthur’s bones. In 1191 supposedly a giant hollowed oak trunk was found 15 feet deep in which were two skeletons, and on the side was carved, “”Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon”
These days the cathedral is in ruins, but it doesn’t matter. The place has an energy around it – you can
literally feel the history underneath your feet, and in the peace and stillness (especially in the winter) you can hear the spirits swirling around. Or maybe that was just the wind. I’d like to choose to think it was the spirits.
The Glasonbury Tor is a hill with the remains of a small church a long-ish walk away. Humans have been going there to gaze at the stars since prehistoric times. It’s worth it to climb the hill, if only for the view.
If you get caught in a rainstorm the way I did, you can go into one of the lovely tea houses or sandwich shops on the high street. I got a ploughman’s lunch and scone with clotted cream, and read a book, cozy with the rain pouring down outside.
Then the sun will come out again, and if you brave the mud and go for another solitary walk around the Abbey, you will get a view like this.
Then, you’ll need to go back to the bus stop and take the long trip back to Bristol and then the train to London. But you can amuse yourself on the way back with some of the new agey products you can buy all over the place. I’ve never seen so many sets of tarot cards and incense and crystals in such a close proximity in my life, which is saying something considering I live in Southern California where there are plenty of wiccan dancing-under-the-full-moon-on-the-beach meetups.
I highly recommend winter as a time to visit Glastonbury. I’ve been there in the summer, and it’s just a bit too crowded for my tastes. Long queues just to get into the Abbey ruins, no peace to sit and ponder, kids running around playing games, etc. No, the quiet stillness of winter is the time to see Glastonbury and ponder over the magic, and listen for the spirits talking in the wind.