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Tours > England's West Country > Glastonbury

Glastonbury - Somerset

A few miles south of Wells (A39) and 136 miles southwest of London (Paddington to Taunton or Bristol, then bus: or M5 exit 23) lies the town most often connected with the legends of King Arthur.

Even before Arthur, however, Joseph of Arimathea is said to have brought the Holy Grail here in the 1st century. From his staff, planted in the ground, the Glastonbury Thorn took root to grow into the thorn trees found only in this area. One is growing at the entrance to the grounds.

English king Ine founded the Abbey in 700, but it was not until a disastrous fire in 1191 that the monks claimed to have discovered the remains of Arthur and Guinevere (thus reviving the fading Abbey as a place of pilgrimage?). The grave is found in the ruined choir, where the bodies were reburied in the presence of King Edward 1st in the late 13th century.

Built on the site of Celtic monastery and enlarged by St. Dunstan to become the wealthiest Benedictine foundation in the country, destroyed and plundered at the Dissolution, the Abbey has only the 14th Century Abbot's kitchen remaining intact (you can see the fireplace where whole oxen were roasted to feed the pilgrims).

Another Glastonbury thorn is found in the churchyard of the 15th Century church of St. John the Baptist; possessing a fine tower, it also illustrates the legend of Joseph of Arimathea in stained glass.

From the Abbey ruins, a mile-long hike takes you to 52l ft Glastonbury Tor, a conical hill topped by St. Michael's Tower, from where marvellous views can be obtained stretching as far as the hills of distant South Wales. Unlike those of olden days, today's pilgrims are not obligated to tramp up the hill wearing hard peas in their shoes.

In town, the history of the Somerset countryside comes to life in the Somerset Rural Life Museum, centred around the Abbey barn of 1370. The museum also contains a Victorian farmhouse, complete with demonstrations of many country crafts. At the 14th century Tribunal, a small museum houses finds from the Iron Age lake villages unearthed in the vicinity..If you're in the mood to buy some healing crystals, you will find them and much more in Glastonbury, rapidly becoming a mecca for new-age cultists.

At nearby Pilton, the three-day music festival, each June, is one of the biggest and best in the country, featuring internationally-known soloists and rock bands.

Next Stop: Devon: Exeter



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