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Why There Is More To Glastonbury Than The Festival

Matt Crisp April 15, 2022

Glastonbury is a small town with world-wide fame, thanks to the huge annual music festival. However, most people couldn’t tell you much about it beyond this, which is a shame. Glastonbury and the surrounding area are packed with interest at any time of year. Here are some essential things for non-festival visitors to do.

 

Walk round the Abbey

The remains of Glastonbury Abbey dominate the town, a reminder of a rich and turbulent past. The earliest historical evidence of a monastery dates from the late 7th century, although the religious connections to the site are believed to go back to the 1st century.

The Norman Abbey from 1066 onwards was the wealthiest in England. In 1184, most of the original structure was destroyed by a fire. King Henry II provided funding for it to be rebuilt, complete with the Lady Chapel, which still survives today. In 1191, it was claimed that the tomb of the mythical King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were discovered at the Abbey.

The Abbey continued to thrive until the 16th century, when it fell victim to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries order. The Abbot Richard Whiting was arrested under false charges, and hanged on Glastonbury Tor in 1539.

The ruins of the Abbey and the land eventually passed to the Church of England at the beginning of the 20th century, and the site was restored and opened to the public. It is now maintained by a charitable trust, and there is a visitor centre packed with information about the history and legends of the Abbey.

 

Walk up the Tor

Glastonbury is a familiar landmark in the area, which is relatively easy to climb, with carved steps most of the way. Since pre-Christian times, the hill has been imbued with spiritual significance, and was said to have been visited by Jesus when he was a boy. This was the inspiration for William Blake’s famous poem ‘Jerusalem.’

The 518ft peak is surrounded by flat land, and offers excellent views over Somerset.  At its summit stands the 14th century tower of the church of St Michael, which is thought to have replaced an even earlier structure. Inside, carvings survive of religious icons.

The National Trust website explains that the Tor is also connected to the legend of King Arthur. According to the myths, Glastonbury is the site of the Island of Avalon, where Arthur was taken to heal after his last battle. This belief may have arisen because the town and the Tor are areas of high ground amid a floodplain.

Beneath the Tor, legend has it that there is a fairy portal to the Celtic underworld, where the lord Gwyn ab Nudd guards the Cauldron of Rebirth.

 

Visit the Somerset Rural Life Museum

For a day out for all the family, the Rural Life Museum is packed with interesting artefacts of country life throughout history. It is home to a beautifully well-preserved 14th century Abbey Barn, which is made from local limestone. The Museum also hosts various exhibitions, workshops, and talks throughout the year.

 

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