Many people will know Somerset, people tend to associate Somerset with the accent. And going more specific, the majority of Brits will have heard of Glastonbury, from the festival.
Every July thousands of people descend on Glastonbury Festival, but what else does that small town have to offer?
As someone who grew up within a ten minutes’ drive from Glastonbury town, I may be a bit bias when it comes to the area, but I do believe that Glastonbury is an amazing place to visit, and has so much more to offer than the festival.
For so many people, the name ‘Glastonbury’ brings about images of camping, the Pyramid Stage, huge headliners, mud and general festival antics.
However, there is so much more to the beautiful town than the festival (which isn’t actually in Glastonbury). And of course, any piece about the history of Glastonbury needs to start with Glastonbury Tor.
An iconic monument, wherefrom the top you can get the most gorgeous views across Somerset. Despite common misconception, the tower on the top of the hill is actually called St Michael’s Tower, and the hill itself is called the Tor.
The tower dates back as far as the 14thCentury, and excavations have found Neolithic flint tools and Roman artifacts, including pottery.
However, it’s not so much the archaeological findings that make this a great place of historical significance, but more the legends and myths that surround the building.
King Arthur’s Legacy
Glastonbury itself is a very surreal place to visit, once you enter the little town, you feel as if you stepped into a different dimension.
Glastonbury is very much a spiritual place, with links to pagan beliefs and the legacy and legend surrounding King Arthur, many believing that the King is buried in Glastonbury.
In the late 12thCentury, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have found King Arthurs remains; reportedly finding a stone with the inscription ‘Here lies, Arthur, King’, and below was the skeleton of a large man, with the bones of a much smaller woman, Guinevere.
It’s then said that the monks reburied King Arthurs remains within the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, which can still be found today.
However, the truth of this still remains unknown, as many people critic this theory, suggesting that it was very convenient for the monks to find the remains, as it then drew a lot of pilgrims into the abbey and into Glastonbury.
Since the 12thCentury, the medieval monks also strongly connected Glastonbury to Avalon, and Glastonbury is still used as a place of Pilgrimage for many people.
Glastonbury Tor being the Isle of Avalon may not make too much sense to us today, however back in those times, the water levels were much higher, and the tor would have actually been an island, which makes the connection seem not so far-fetched.
In fact, the nearby hills at South Cadbury have even been suggested as the location of Camelot, which matches up with the timeline we know about King Arthur, as according to excavation work, South Cadbury was in use during the early 6thCentury.
Going back to king Arthur for a moment, and the legendary Holy Grail. Many people believe that the Holy Grail is actually buried beneath the Tor.
The Holy Grail is something of a myth, and if this myth is to believed it is the chalice in which Jesus drunk from in the last supper. The quest for the Holy Grail became the primary focus of the knights of King Arthur, so you can see the connections here.
The Holy Thorn
Yet another legend, you have the Holy Thorn tree. According to the story, Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury, coming here by boat along with the flooded Somerset Levels, and upon reaching, placed his staff into Wearyall Hill, which then grew into the original thorn tree.
The staff that Joseph carried, was supposedly formed from the same tree in which the Roman soldiers cut the humiliating crown of thorns they placed on Jesus’ head during his crucifixion.
The infamous thorn tree differs from usual thorn trees, in that it flowers twice a year, once during winter and once in the warmer time of year.
It’s this Christmas blossoming that has partly made the tree famous, as a tradition formed that still goes to this day includes cutting off a budded branch of the tree, and sending it to the Queen at Christmas, a tradition that goes back to the early 16thCentury.
The tradition has varied throughout the years, but it has managed to remain strong to this day.
Of course, I do have to mention Glastonbury Festival, despite the fact that is in fact hosted in Pilton. The festival was founded in September of 1970 by Michael Eavis, and has since grown enormously in size, and can now be likened to a small city.
The festival has welcomed so many huge names in music, welcoming the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey (2007), Kanye West (2015), Beyoncé (2011), and Oasis (1994).
If you do decide to take a trip to see one of the biggest festivals, please do be conscious of the fact that people live there all year round.
The festival has caused controversy on the roads of Somerset every year, with huge traffic delays and huge amounts of rubbish along the roads and at the campsite.
But the festival offers so much for a person to do, and I may even go as far as to say that some people go not just for the music.
Every year as the festival grows, more and more stalls and tent will open up, so there’s always something for everyone.
The High Street
Glastonbury high street itself features St. Pauls, a beautiful church, and a variety of independent shops. Going along with their mythical theme, there are many quirky little shops that embrace the label.
Yin Yang of Glastonbury is a gorgeous little shop that sells some beautiful and unique jewellery. The Goddess and the Green Man is an authentic one-of-a-kind book shop that sells a large variety of books, including those on witchcraft.
Many shops sell crystals, and it’s a great place to learn about other cultures and beliefs. If you get peckish, the high street also offers a variety of food places- notably the Blue Note Café, a gorgeous café that specialising in vegetarian and vegan food.
Logistics wise, Glastonbury is easy to get to via public transport, with a direct bus service from Temple Meads, in the day time the 376 bus runs every 30 minutes and will take you directly into Glasto high street.
Glastonbury is also situated very close to Street, with wonderful shops; more mainstream if that’s what you’re into!
But the most important thing to remember when visiting Glastonbury is that the people who live there and own these shops are still people who have feelings.
It’s very easy to walk into it and be in awe of this way of life and certainly some of the beliefs the people hold, and Glastonbury is certainly a place like no other, and you’ll always be surprised.
But that being said, it’s important to remain respectful of the people whose beautiful town you’re visiting, and you may even discover a new way of life for yourself!
Hi there! My name is Eloise, and I’m one of the arts and history writers for iThink Magazine. I’ve recently graduated from Birmingham City University with an English degree, and I’m a lover of all things Shakespeare. I love classical music and at the weekend you can often find me watching a play.
Image respects to - Somerset Live, Glastonbury Festival, Geograph