Glastonbury (Avalon) – the mystical Isle of the Apples

I am home safe now.

We had very long days in Glastonbury and I did not get to a computer once.

Our tour guide was very well traveled and well read.

He has a wealth of knowledge about the area with a perfect blend of folklore and legend, local gossip, and historical fact, along with a great sense of humour and a natural story telling ability.  The whole week was really so enjoyable.

Now to summarise.

It is said that the first christian church in england was built in Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimethea, who was the great uncle of Mother Mary.   Local legend also says that Jesus had travelled to Glastonbury as a boy, with Joseph Arimethea, who was a trader and had journeyed there to buy tin.  During that early trading trip he and boy-Jesus built a small wattle-and-daub-‘church’.  In time it fell down, Glastonbury Abbey claims to have been then built on that exact site.

The site was long rumoured to be the Isle of Avalon, which featured in the King Arthur tales but long predated them.  One of the legends is that the Isle of Avalon was inhabited by a small community of women healers and was a sort of ‘hospital’.  At the end of the Arthurian tales the mortally wounded King Arthur is taken to Avalon, which would make sense.  He dies there.

Excavations in Glastonbury revealed an old tomb with the body of a very tall man and a shorter female and a plaque saying that it was the tomb of Arthur and his queen.  Who knows.  In the Arthurian tales it is said that Lancelot took Guinevere to France.  The grave site was dug very very deep, was unmarked, and carefully concealed amongst grave sites of the monks of the Abbey.  Only when they dug deep down, did they find a small plaque lying above the coffin stating whose remains lay there.  It is said this was because it was feared that the Saxon invaders against whom Arthur fought would desecrate his grave if they knew where it was.  By the way, history seems to show that there was in fact a very real King of the time, who did fight against the Saxons.  The legends about him and the brotherhood of the Knights and the holy grail were written much later (by a frenchman), during the crusader years when topics of chivalry were very fashionable.  The book became an instant best-seller, long before printing presses were invented.  This is perhaps why there are so many variations of the story, because each time they were rewritten it was done by hand and each scribe may have added his own interpretations or preferred endings.  For hundreds of years noone knew where Arthur was buried, until the King of the time got a tip from a dying welsh bard who claimed to be the only man still alive who knew the whereabouts of King Arthur’s grave.  He gave the king very precise directions about its location, and the King ordered the site to be excavated, and – there it was.

I met one of the descendants of the old welsh bard, (maybe …  wouldn’t that be awesome!)  He was living at the bus stop in Glastonbury.   He was a darling old man with beautiful gentle eyes, itinerant, dressed in a Jimi Hendrix style leather jacket, and shaking from too much of something. He had a beautiful old guitar which he said cost him 800 quid and was made from 5 different kinds of wood all sourced from Glastonbury.  He told me his ancestors were all Celts.  He told me that he can play 97 songs on his guitar.  I told him he should learn another 3.  He pondered that – then agreed that this was an excellent idea.  He also told me that any time I walked past his bus stop he would play me any song I requested as long as it was one of the 97.  Sadly I did not see him after that as the rain and wind came in and he was no longer at the bus stop.  He had told me where his rain shelter was but I had forgotten so I did not get to hear anymore songs.

Avalon is also a sacred pre-Christian site because of the two springs, which I will get to.

After traumatic events involving Jesus and a cross, Joseph of Arimethea is said to have returned to Glastonbury bearing Jesus’ staff, which was planted and became the Holy Thorn (a tree) which grows in the gardens of Glastonbury Abbey.  It flowers only at Christmas and Easter.  Other thorn trees only flower once a year.  It is tradition that every Christmas the youngest child in the local school cuts a spray from the Holy Thorn which is then sent to the Queen.  The Queen always has a spray of the Holy Thorn sitting on her breakfast plate on Christmas morning.  I bet you didn’t know that!

The site of Glastonbury is on a slightly raised area, surrounded by low lying lands some of which are below sea level.  In previous years the sea levels were higher and so it was surrounded by water.  Hence the legends about it being an Island.  The Tor is a raised area, like a little mountain, which has the remains of a church for St Michael on top.  It looks very impressive, and there is a fantastic view from up there.  It was one of my favorite spots.  For the Queen’s jubilee it was lit up with lots of little beacons which looked like Christmas lights.  There are probably photos on the internet.  The Tor itself is said to be hollow and contains two different chambers of water which each feed into a spring, obrigne called the red spring and one called the white spring.  The red spring is rich in iron and the white spring is rich in calcium.  There are lots of tales of miraculous healings connected with these springs, and so the site was sacred to the healer goddess Brigid long before the Christians arrived.   The monks circulated a tale that Joseph of Arimethea had brought with him two vessels, one containing the blood of Christ, and one containing the sweat of Christ, and, (don’t ask me logical questions about this), it  became folklore that the red spring contained Jesus’ blood and the white spring contained Jesus’ sweat.  Suddenly the Glastonbury Abbey became one of the most important pilgrimage sites of its time and the most wealthy Abbey in the land.

I really liked the Abbey. It is in ruins now because (I think it was Henry VIII) decided it was too rich and powerful and trashed it.  But the remains are extremely elegant and I could have spent hours there.

The two springs are still intact and lovingly cared for by volunteers and donations.  The Chalice Well contains the red spring and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and yes, apple trees.  (Avalon of the Apples …).  The White Spring was fed into an underground reservoir which was now been opened up and turned into a little room that you can go in. There is a shallow bathing pool that you can go and paddle in if you don’t mind icey cold water.

 

Oh another thing, St Patrick is said to be buried in Glastonbury.  He seems to pop up everywhere.  He apparently loved Glastonbury just like everyone else does.

We did a day trip to Cornwall, to Tintagel and “Merlins Cave” which was all a bit of fun.  Beautiful countryside and glorious weather.  The rest of the week was cold wind and rain, so the other sites we went to involved lots of mud and wet clothes.  We went to local stone circle sites and had an early morning entrance to Stonehenge.  We had to leave at 4.15am to get there in time, and we had only one hour. We were accompanied by a security guard to make sure we didn’t touch any stones.  So we went in there and giggled our heads off as our umbrellas got blown inside out and our clothes saturated and we had to keep moving because it was so cold.  This is in June mind you.  I wondered how these massive stones managed to stay standing for thousands of years in conditions like that!  But it was fun actually, I liked the wildness of the weather, it kind of suited the stones.  Being out in that weather also makes it perfectly clear why neolithic people worshipped the sun ….

There was a crop circle reported in the area and we all trundled off in the bus to look at it.  Us and everyone else.  Crop circles are local celebrities in south west england, and all the shops (even the Abbey shops and Cathedral shops) sell books about them, and all the farmers are used to having them turn up in their fields.  Everyone still argues about what causes them.  The one we saw was reported on 2 June and you can look it up on the internet.  Apparently the site is called Crop Circle Connector – I have not looked at it yet.     I did not end up going in the crop circle because I was the last in the line and just as I was about to go in I saw a farmer on the other side of the field gesturing us to get out, and so I turned around and went back.  I chatted to the farmer while waiting for the others.  He was very nice, and explained that he did not own the land but was responsible for it and there was a preservation order over the land beside the field that we had walked over.  He said in dry weather it would be fine but in the sloppy wet conditions the damage would be too much so he was closing the field to visitors.  He then added that it wasn’t really the best crop circle he had seen anyway. I think he was trying to cheer me up!

 

The other thing I really loved was Salisbury Cathedral, which has the Magna Carta in it.  Yes I have now seen the Magna Carta.  It was actually strange looking at it because it is just a bit of old paper with writing on it!  I suppose that is, in essence, what all our important legal documents are, except they are not special enough to be housed in a cathedral.

Now the food was amazing, beautiful, in Somerset area there alot of local, free range, 95% organic, yum yum yum.  I have never had such tasty bacon in all of my life!  Cheddar is from that district and tastes amazing there.  And the cider.  Everyone drinks it and they have more ciders on tap in local pubs than beers.  We had fun trying all the different ciders.

But ……..

They have this evil stuff called Scrumpy.  It is apparently the “real cider” which only hard-core locals drink.  It is not sold.  You have to be ‘in the know’ about who’s got the best brew on and the farmers and locals all congregate together in the relevant person’s shed and get smashed.  It is made by putting old apples in a barrel until they get so rotten that they liquify.  Then they drink it.

We did not actually get to taste real Scrumpy, which is why I am still alive.

What we had was called “Orchard Pig” which is apparently a ‘mild beginners form’ of Scrumpy.  I ended up with a large pint of this at the farewell dinner.  This came about because I went to the bar and asked for a local specialty that would go nicely with my dessert. (I had fond memories of a delicious orange flavored sherry that was served to me in Granada after asking a similar question.)

What I got was not what I expected and so I was the cause of the most merriment at the dinner table after I took the first sip.  What does it taste like?  A cross between smoked cheddar and drowned rat.  It is considered a local delicacy and an ‘acquired taste’.  It goes straight to your head … like lightning…. and makes you feel extremely foggy and strange.  Apparently everything I said after that was quite hilarious, but I don’t remember  ……

 

 

11 June 2012, written about Glastonbuy, England (United Kingdom)

 

an apple a day keeps the doctor away … right?

apple-2applies

a postcard with a clever little ditty about Glastonbury 

poem-glastonbury

some crop circle postcards 

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Glastonbury Tor, photographed from the Chalice Well gardens

tor.jpg

beautiful flower baskets hang throughout the main street of town – which has so many cool shops, and little alley ways leading into little courtyards with more shops and cafes – so much fun to explore … and unique gifts for everyone …. you need an empty suitcase to bring it all home

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