Glastonbury, England: Where King Arthur Meets Bruce Springsteen

Glastonbury, England in Somerset about 120 miles from London, has a long history —  a mixture of legends, sacred sites, mysteries and folklore. Today the mystique of the small town is stronger than ever, with visitors flocking in to feel the magic. It’s a magic that comes in many forms.

the-torSeveral hills surround Glastonbury; the Tor is the highest. Paths wind up the grassy hill to a tower, all that’s left of a ruined medieval church.  Some consider the terracing around the Tor to be a maze based on an ancient mystical pattern.  A lake once surrounded the Tor, which some consider to be the mystical Isle of Avalon.

glastonbury-abbeyAccording to legend, King Arthur and his queen Guinevere are buried in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.  The ruins of the great abbey, which was largely destroyed in the 16th century, remain today, along with tales that may even be true. They’re bound up with Holy Grail lore. It’s said that Joseph of Arimathea brought the cup used at Jesus’ Last Supper to the Isle of Avalon and buried it near the Tor.

chalice-well-coverWhere the cup was buried, it was said that a spring began to flow in a place now called the Chalice Well. The garden where the stream flows is indeed enchanting, and it’s not hard to believe that the waters bring eternal youth, as the tale claims. Many years later, they say, King Arthur and his knights came here in search of the Holy Grail.

chalice-wallNot surprisingly, there’s a host of shops in Glastonbury selling artifacts and books associated with old myths, King Arthur, ley lines, sacred geometry, and spiritual healing. A related attraction is the Museum of Pagan Heritage.  More prosaic is the Somerset Rural Life Museum, showing a history of local country life.

glastoIf King Arthur’s knights came looking for the Grail today, they might be distracted by Pilton, a short distance from Glastonbury. Here is quite a different magic, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts (known as “Glasto”). It’s the largest music and performing arts festival in the world. It is most famous for contemporary music, but there’s much more: dance, theatre, jugglers, comedy, circus acts. The first Glasto was held in 1970, with an audience of 1500. It now draws about 177,000 to see and hear 700 acts played on 80 stages.

The festival is held near the end of June, and tickets sell out soon after they are available. In 2009 the lead acts are Bruce Springsteen, Blur and Neil Young.  A dazzling array of musicians is scheduled every year.

hawthorn-hotelThere’s no shortage of lodging for the area’s many tourists. Some 40 bed-and-breakfasts are scattered around Glastonbury, along with a few hotels. Hawthorns Hotel, in the heart of town, is a favorite, with 7 pleasant rooms and a restaurant serving good Indian food. It’s renowned for its lunchtime curry buffets.

hillside-bbTwo excellent bed-and-breakfast choices are Parsnips B&B and Hillside B&B. Parsnips adjoins the Abbey ruins and offers friendly hospitality, spotless rooms, and a good breakfast. Hillside has comfortable lodging in 3 bedrooms and an annex by the Tor. The hospitable hosts provide tips on walks and restaurants. Hillside B&B also has self-catering Primrose Cottage across the road, with 2 bedrooms and a lovely garden.

For the full British experience, stop in at Abbey Tea Room for traditional Somerset cream teas with scones. The tea room also serves light meals.  The Cafe Galatea serves fine vegetarian food, while the Saffron is one of the best for Indian dishes.  Rainbow’s End is another popular lunch spot.  Of course Glastonbury has several inviting pubs; it wouldn’t be a proper English town without them.

Glastonbury isn’t particularly easy to get to from London, unless you have a car. (I took the train from Paddington Station to Castle Cary, then a taxi for the remaining 16 miles.)  Bus service is available. A late-afternoon National Express coach goes from Heathrow airport through the lovely Somerset countryside to Glastonbury.

Share on StumbleUponDigg thisShare on RedditShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on YummlyEmail this to someonePrint this page


  1. Olson Daniel says

    I would like to get a genuine history of the Chalice that Jesus to serve the last Supper. Where is it today?

  2. Marilyn McFarlane says

    Daniel, I doubt if there is such a thing as a “genuine history” of the Chalice, or Holy Grail. It’s shrouded in legend and lore. No one knows if there was even an actual cup saved. A good source for a summary is
    After centuries of speculation, the story remains a fascinating mystery.

  3. curtis wright says

    There is one storyline which places a young Jesus with

    Joseph of Arimathea to have journeyed here when Jesus was

    age sometime after 12 years old and prior to his ministry

    beginning about Jesus’ 30rh year. I believe I stilll have the

    published book in my library. Very interesting read, though

    like so many accounts is inherently highly speculative. One

    highlight which suggest such a journey [and possible residency]

    points to the non-record of Jesus life anywhere else during

    perhaps 15 to 10 years prior to Biblical accounts of his activity

    in the Middle East. Of course, the furnishing of Joseph of

    Arimethea’s tomb for burial of the cruxified Jesus suggest an

    important relationship between Jesus and Joseph of Arimethea.

    Glastonbury is indeed a place of many historical mysteries!

  4. Marilyn says

    Curtis, that Joseph of Arimathea connection does raise interesting speculation. Theories abound on Jesus’ life between the ages of 12 and 30. Did he go to England? No one knows. And Glastonbury is not giving up its mysteries. It has a fascinating hold on our imagination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *