We have all heard about Glastonbury and its famous festival that takes place here each summer, but how many of us do know anything about this small town? I have visited Glastonbury this spring and I was surprised to find a charming little place with a very strong character and a lot of magic surrounding it.
The first thing I have to tell you is that the Glastonbury festival doesn’t really take place in the village but in a field near Pilton, a town almost 8 miles away.
Second, Glastonbury is a place like no other in the United Kingdom. Once you step into the town you will feel and see that this is a place of pilgrimage and sanctuary where people come to search their inner peace. I have traveled a lot into spiritual countries, like Peru and India, and it was a bit strange to see this entire community transposed into a town in Somerset.
However, for such a tiny town, Glastonbury has a lot to offer and often a day trip won’t be enough to experience it all.
1. Climb the Glastonbury Tor
You can see the Tor of Glastonbury rising at the horizon miles before you are approaching the town, on the road. The Tor is a steep hill on top of which there is the roofless tower of St Michael. It is believed that the tower was part of a church that collapsed during an earthquake in 1275 but archeologists haven’t found yet many information about its history. The Tor is mentioned in the Celtic mythology, in the tales related to King Arthur. Legends also say that the Glastonbury Tor might be one of the possible locations of the Holy Grail and that it is supposed to be the gateway to the “Land of the Dead”, Avalon.
In the past, the Tor was actually an island, surrounded by a shallow sea. Mythology says that the Tor is actually the sacred island of Avalon, where King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried. It is not known when this place has become sacred.
It is quite a challenge to climb the 500 feet steep hill but once there, the panorama over Somerset is worth the effort. Inside the tower, when I was there, there was a woman singing and telling stories about the Tor. She wasn’t employed by anyone to do this, it was her own will to interact with tourists and tell them her version of the story. The tower is very small and has two stone benches facing each other inside. There is no roof on top and it has a simple stone architecture, with a few windows on top through which the rays of light come in.
There is no admission fee to visit the Tor.
2. Visit the Chalice Well and Gardens
The Gardens where the Chalice Well is nested are a place of both beauty and meditation. Because I was there in spring I got the chance to witness the trees heaped with white and pink flowers and the carpet of yellow daffodils along each side of the path. The garden is designed like a small labyrinth through which the spring water flows from the well down to the small fountains at the bottom. The atmosphere in the Gardens is very peaceful, mostly because people are keeping quiet in order not to disturb the ones who choose to meditate. The Chalice Well is at the high end of the Gardens. Visitors usually gather and sit around it, in silence.
The Chalice Well is believed to be holly because the water temperature never varies and it flows at a steady rate. Pilgrims believe that the water from the well represents the blood of Christ, as the Christian mythology marks this place the one where Joseph washed the cup used at the Last Supper in. The color of the water is reddish, because of the iron oxide deposits, fact which have led to naming the water The Red Spring.
The admission to the Gardens is £4.20 and it is open every day between 10AM-6PM in summer and 10AM – 4PM in winter.
3. Visit The White Spring
We have almost missed the White Spring if it wasn’t for our curiosity to check an old industrial building out, after we came back from a short hike. An open metal door leads down a pair of stairs into the darkness of an ex waterworks building’s basement. Once our eyes have adjusted to the darkness, we noticed that the entire space was filled with water coming from different directions, alongside shrines on which candles were burning giving a warm, orange light.
We walked towards the back of the building and found a big stone pool into which the water was flowing from a hole in the wall above it. I had a chat with the woman at the entrance, a volunteer, and she told me about the mysticism of the spring. It is believed that the spring is “alive” and sometimes “moody”, but also pilgrims believe that it has the power to heal souls. She said that many people come to the spring with an object belonging to a memory that left a scar in their souls and that they want to let go of. They set the object on one of the shrines, lit a candle, drink a sip of water and pray to heal their souls. And then, they just let go. With a smile on her face, she recalled how many people leave the White Spring with hope in their eyes.
The entrance to the White Spring is free and mobile phones/cameras are not allowed.
4. Visit the The Glastonbury Experience Courtyard
No matter if you are into witchy stuff or not, you have to visit the Glastonbury Experience Courtyard. Once you enter the narrow corridor, you are stepping out from our world and enter one full of magic and spirituality. The shops here are selling different stones, crystals, candles, potions, cauldrons, even brooms! In the main courtyard there is a beautiful coffee shop guarded by the white statue of a lady with her dog. Upstairs, you will find the The Glastonbury Goddess Temple which unfortunately was just closing down when we arrived there.
Stepping further, though an uneven white passage, with crystals embedded in the walls, we found the Library of Avalon with its mighty dragon guarding it. This is the only public access esoteric library in the country, housing a collection of over 15000 books.
You will also find in the Courtyard shamans and tarot readers, and you can even take part in a Mystery School if you fancy.
The access to the Experience Courtyard is free.
5. Shop in Glastonbury
If you are always looking for quirky things to buy, Glastonbury is the perfect place to do it. Every shop is unique here, each with it’s own personality. The sellers are very friendly and helpful, laid back and happy. The shopping experience here is more like the one in an Indian market or a Turkish bazaar. The clothes are colorful and unique and the variety of different witchery products and crystals is amazing.
I had to buy something so I ended up with a blue toy devil. 🙂
6. Hike in Glastonbury
England is such a beautiful country with a lot of hiking trails, and Glastonbury has it’s own 3 miles circular walk around the town, starting from the Tor. The walk is pretty easy but muddy if it rained recently. There are a couple of steeper hills to climb which offer beautiful view of the area when you reach the top.
Even if the weather was good when I was there, I did find parts of the path challenging due to the slippery mud. I would recommend you to bring some food with you and enjoy an ad-hoc picnic in the company of lambs.
7. Have tea and cakes
You can’t leave Glastonbury without having a home made cake and a cup of tea in one of the quirky cafes along side the High Street. Because the town is such a spiritual place, most of the cafes will have organic cakes and healthy lunch options. We chose to sit down and relax after the walk at Cafe Zero, where we almost took a nap upstairs, on their comfy couches. We had raspberry cake and a good old pot of English tea with milk.
8. Walk around and enjoy the town
We did not only stick to the centre of Glastonbury but explored the side streets also. We found beautiful houses with colorful gardens in front. We also found adorable crooked houses, where no wall was the same as the other, but which contribute to the atmosphere of the place. There is something unique to discover at every corner and here, houses seem to have their own personality.