Let's Go! Glastonbury, England
Getting back to posts about our trip to England, I wish to share a special place: Glastonbury. It is the site of so much spirituality dating back millennia, that the land seems infused with magic and ancient lore. I had visited years ago with a knowledgeable friend, and I am so grateful she introduced me to Glastonbury, as it has played an important role in connecting me with the land.
Glastonbury lies in the county of Somerset in the Southwest of England. The "levels" of Somerset are a coastal wetland area and quite flat. At one time, before the levels were drained, the Glastonbury Tor (the hillock pictured here) was an island, surrounded by incoming tides. The Tor is believed to be the Isle of Avalon made popular in Arthurian lore where not only King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged, but where he also went to pass into the underworld. Avalon is said to mean "isle of apples," and true to form, there is an orchard here. In Welsh it is called Ynys Afallon, literally "isle of fruit."
It is quite possible that the Tor was a place of special significance to ancient peoples, as there are terraces carved into its sides and it is thought to have been a labyrinth of some kind. Perhaps it was a special gathering place for holidays on the Celtic calendar. There is a cave at its base suggested to be the entrance to the underworld, the land of the faeries. The whole site, it is speculated, was a place where ancient Celtic rites may have been performed, being a magic place where the dualities of our human nature are reconciled - death and rebirth, male and female, heaven and earth, and so on.
The Tor itself is a natural feature of the land, although the terraces are man-made.
The tower on the top of the Tor is the remaining 14th-century tower of Saint Michael's, which has been partially restored.
In addition to the Tor's association with Arthurian legend, Glastonbury Abbey, now in ruins after the Dissolution by King Henry VIII in the 16th century, is also steeped with tales of King Arthur. In fact, it is said Arthur's remains are buried here. Because the abbey (which had been a significant site for at least as far back as Roman and Saxon settlements) had associated itself with the legends of King Arthur, it brought in much wealth from visiting pilgrims in its day. The Gothic-style ruins among fields of grass and gardens have a romantic air, and it is said that this could be the site of one of the oldest churches in Christianity, a simple wooden hut built by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus' uncle. A more likely history is that second century Roman missionaries built a simple hut on this site and it has been a holy site ever since, and is the site of the oldest monastic tradition in England.
Even without knowing any histories or legends, it is a wonderful place to wander.
The site of King Arthur's tomb, according to monks who clung onto Arthurian tales. The high altar of the cathedral is the chained off site behind the tomb.
The Medieval Abbot's kitchen, built in 1334, survived the Dissolution and still stands today and is an impressive structure with a working chimney.
The arch of the Saint Mary's Chapel doorway.
Joseph of Arimathea has a large part to play in the mythology of Glastonbury. It is said that he was a merchant and came to Glastonbury by boat (remember it used to be surrounded by water), so he would have been familiar with the area. It is also said that later when he came to Glastonbury bearing the Holy Grail, he struck his staff in the ground on what is now Wearyall Hill and it miraculously bloomed. This thorn tree, Crataegus monogyna 'Biflora' blooms twice a year - once in winter and again in spring. The tree shown here is one of a few around Glastonbury, having grown from a cutting from the original tree on Wearyall Hill.
A lovely pond where the waters from the nearby Chalice Well flow.
There is an ancient apple orchard within the walls of the abbey; it was such a delight to roam among them. I immediately picked one and ate it, whereby FM said "Umm . . . you're not supposed to eat the apples." - Well, d'uh, it's the garden of eden, and I'm wicked, so I'll eat one. "Um. No, there's a sign - Do Not Eat the Apples."
I regret nothing.
This fabulous goddess sculpture with a womb of apples made me smile. It made FM do weird things with his arms.
One of the several things I wanted to treat FM to on this Glastonbury trip was to hike to the top of the Tor, which we did right after our visit to the Abbey.
It's just such an amazing shape on the landscape, to see it in person is very moving.
There really is an orchard on Avalon, in fact, there really are many physical manifestations of the myth of Avalon throughout Glastonbury.
A view of the Somerset Levels as seen from the side of the Tor. Such rich countryside.
Saint Michael's tower.
The town of Glastonbury from the Tor. The hill in the center left is Wearyall Hill.
A bit difficult to read, but informative all the same.
Inside the roofless Saint Michael's tower.
After our visit to the Tor, we trekked down to the base of the Tor to Chalice Hill and the Chalice Well. This, another intriguing place of a magical nature, is a beautiful garden tended to by people that really love it. It's not some touristy place. None of Glastonbury is, for that matter, unless you count the myriad of crystal shops. This spring, the Red Spring, is said to have miraculously sprung when Joseph of Arimathea buried the chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper. This is also when the adjacent white spring miraculously appeared. This red coloring is iron in the water, the white spring is calcium-rich. They are to represent the blood and tears of Christ or alternatively, the red and white colors of the mystic underworld. They also represent, according to their website, "The essence of life, the gift of Mother Earth and are a direct expression of an unbound life force."
The gardens are lush and inviting, cool areas as well as sunny meadows are there to explore in quiet contemplation.
This is the actual Chalice Well well-head. It is a special place. We said a prayer for our Lucy here, the place of rebirth.
From the Chalice Well website about the well cover:
The cover of the well donated by famous Glastonbury archaeologist, Frederick Bligh Bond in 1919, features a wrought iron vesica piscis, with a lance passing through it and is based on a mediaeval design.
The Vesica Piscis is an ancient sacred symbol of two interlocking circles where the circumference of one circle goes through the center of another identical circle. Its geometry symbolises a union, of heaven and earth or spirit and matter and appears throughout the gardens.
Spirals abound in Glastonbury.
In case you were wondering, yes, you can drink the water. Glasses are offered for you to help yourself. We filled our water bottles a few times while visiting.
The pair of guardian yew trees, marking the entrance to the Inner Garden Paths.
Mahonias and asters, the garden was full of wonderful plants.
Walking in quiet contemplation through a rose arch.
Another descendant of the original Holy Thorn.
More of the gardens.
This is the white spring located across the road from the Chalice Well gardens, only recently uncovered from its Victorian-era well house cover. Although it does not have the same gardenesque surroundings, it is significant to the whole story of Glastonbury.
I would be remiss if I did not mention our bed-and-breakfast in Glastonbury, The 19th century building now a b and b, the Covenstead. Located across the street from the Abbey ruins, it is truly a dream of a place.
Our room was huge, as was the bathroom. It is a living museum of sorts with all manner of spiritual collections from Christianity, witchcraft, tarot, palmistry, voodoo, and on and on. They have a wonderful breakfast and many rooms throughout to read a book or gain some peace and quiet or visit with guests. I really enjoyed the Covenstead, especially the staff and the other guests who seemed to be on similar quests for all things magical.
This is a detail of a mural along a stairwell up to the third floor and common kitchen area.
FM waiting for me, as usual, to finish my photograph. You can just get a sense of the collection of artifacts here in the foyer. FM said it made him a little dizzy.
Downtown Glastonbury has some rather old structures. This is the 15th-century Tribunal building with a fine exhibit of early lake inhabitants who resided in the areas known as the Somerset Levels.
The last sacred place I'm going to show you is Wearyall Hill, the site of the original Holy Thorn. FM was napping so I took the opportunity to take a short walk and rediscover this place where I had seen the original tree some years ago.
The original tree had cuttings taken so as to keep the line alive, the results of which we have seen in two other locations in Glastonbury. The original tree, burned down during the English Civil War, was replaced by a descendant and was planted on the hill. That one died, but another was immediately planted in its place. That tree, planted in 1951, shown here, has been vandalized again, this time its branches cut off in 2010.
It is still sacred and adorned with ribbons and wishes. Even if the tree is dead, the legend lives on.
The meadow path to the top of the hill.
Abbey ruins as seen from the hill top.
A final parting shot of the Tor as seen from Wearyall Hill.
I suppose the real parting shot should be of this, FM's first real English cream tea with real scones and real clotted cream and jam. Oh my gawd. They even had gluten-free scones for me. Heaven. Can pastry be spiritual?
Glastonbury is a place to discover on your own terms at your own pace. There is a lot of mythology, legend, history and magic here, so take from it what you like. While I am not an inherently religious person, I count myself as a spiritual one and am deeply fascinated with mythology and history, especially ancient history. This wonderful place is loaded with it, originating from the land itself. It too, like Tintagel, is a place on this earth that feels like a sacred garden - tended to and loved by the generations.
If you are ever in Somerset, I encourage you to visit Glastonbury and make your own pilgrimage by your own design. If I had to do our trip over again, I would add on a couple extra days to spend wandering around the many other special sites in Glastonbury such as the ancient Druid oak trees Gog and Magog, I'd visit the cave, I would go back to the Tor a hundred times and watch the sunset. I think I shall return again one day.
That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you for traveling along with us, and as always, happy gardening, one and all, whether it's gardening in the soil or in your heart.