Glastonbury Tor is a mixture containing legend and mythology. It has become the most famous monument in all of Somerset and is considered a sacred place. Although what we see now, an old church ruin (St Michael’s) built on a steep slope, it was for millennia a sacred spot for South West based Celtic pagans and Christians. Some people believe that the place represents the gateway to another world, whereas others claim to be home to the Fairies. There is even a legend that King Arthur’s Holy Grail was found there.
‘The Tor Of The Land‘ Art Print
The inspiring magical landscape of Glastonbury Tor and St Michael’s Tower.
St Michael’s Church
Rising up from Glastonbury Abbey, you can see the roofless Tower of St Michael, a Grade 1 listed building sitting proudly on the conical hill. In the 6th century, a monastery was built on the summit. This fell into disrepair during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII of England and was abandoned soon after 1539.
The tower is part of St Michael’s Church, which was built in the 13th century. St Michael’s Tower has been on English Heritage’s Somerset Buildings at Risk Register since 1996 due to its poor condition.
The St Michael’s bell was rung every day at noon for many centuries until it broke in 1806 and wasn’t rung again until 1878, when the church was restored and repaired. The bell is also rung at midnight each New Year’s Eve, as well as at other times throughout the year such as weddings or christenings.
However, Glastonbury Tor has been venerated since prehistoric times and was an important religious centre for centuries. This iconic and evocative landmark has been attached to many pagan beliefs and folklore, including King Arthur and Joseph Arimathea, the Step-Father of Jesus Christ.
Just a short walk from where the Tor stands, is Glastonbury town centre, where you can find the famous Chilkwell St, New Age Shops and another set of Arthurian legends.
In the legend of the Holy Grail, Joseph of Arimathea is said to have landed at Glastonbury with the Holy Grail and a chest containing his staff. He had travelled from the Holy Land, across the sea to Cornwall and then the Somerset levels. When he reached Ynys yr afalon, the celtic name for the Glastonbury Tor, he realised he was in a spiritually special place. Many legends about Joseph have sprung up around St Michael’s church and the abbey, who knows there might be the relevance of truth?
It is reported in history that the first monks of Glastonbury Abbey believed they had found Joseph’s staff buried on the Tor and during their excavation of the Abbey, they found King Arthur’s burial site. While this might have been a way of generating mediaeval tourist revenue, even King John paid his respects to King Arthur’s grave.
When visiting Glastonbury Tor, make sure you visit the ancient sites within Glastonbury Abbey where you can still visit the alleged grave of King Arthur, and discover the grisly past of the Abbey, and the murder of its last abbot Richard Whiting.
St Michael and Glastonbury Tor Views
The most impressive feature of Glastonbury Tor is its breathtaking panorama. Many places can be seen from the magnificent views at the top of the hill where you can enjoy the beautiful countryside called Vale of Avalon. On clear days you can view miles of views including Cheddar Gorge, Taunton Castle and the coastline. Keep your eyes open at Steeping Holm Island, Bridport Sands, Dorset and Breandown at Weston Super Mare! It is a perfect place where you can go picnic or just relax. Many visitors spend long hours here, taking advantage of the views and the scenery.
Glastonbury Tor is one of the most famous landmarks in the South West, and has been described as an island, but it sits on a dry land surface on top of the Somerset Levels. Once it was an island surrounded by marshland that separated it from nearby Wearyall hill, another ancient site linked with the mystical middle ages and Joseph of Arimathea!
The Tor is actually a natural feature of the landscape and has been known as a place of refuge for people for many thousands of years. It’s not clear how long it has been used by humans; there are remains from Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age eras.
King Arthur & The Kingdom of Avalon
Did you know Arthurian mythology has close relationships with fairy underworlds in a number of ways? The Name Annwn grew gradually as y yr Afalon or the island Avalon. According to Geoffrey Monmouth’s story, he wrote in his Historia Regum Britannia that it was in Avalon that King Arthur forged his sword Excalibur. The Isle of Avalon is the place Arthur’s death was buried at Camlann during the Battle. The enchantress Morgan le Fay is credited as having built the tor in some folklore.
Gwyn ap Nudd – The Fairy King
Celtic fairy tales can date back to the time itself. While today fairies appear mainly appear to be playful creatures, in Celtic times, they flew on the borders of life and death.
In Wales and in the beliefs of the Ancient Celts they have Gwyn ap Nudd the same way the Viking people had Odin. He brought Death. He rode out his wolf in his Wild Hunt and took souls back from Annwn. People thought the entrance to the underworld was on the Tor and avoided it in case they were taken to the fairy underworld!
Is Glastonbury Tor manmade or natural?
Even though its conical shape looks like a manmade pyramid like that of Silbury Hill in Avebury, it is entirely natural. History tells us before natural water drainage ten centuries ago all these peaked hills were their very own islands.
What is the purpose behind such weird-shaped terraces? They have been influenced by humans dating from the Neolithic. Some geologists believe these layers are a pattern similar to a maze and guide pilgrims on their way to a high spot on the hill. Or you can follow one of the many paths past the terraces, that wind from the east and to St Michael’s church.
Can you climb up Glastonbury Tor?
A climb to the top is arguably a highlight of visiting the West coast and England. It can be steep, but is easily done with an acceptable fitness level if done well and can be accessed in 15 minutes! Not only will your views of the Somerset level be breathtaking. Is Glastonbury Tor Free? Yes! The Tor can be visited at any time, free of charge, under the National Trust’s ownership. There’s no restriction on how many people can climb but be warned it is quite busy at sunset and Solstice celebrations.
Also be aware that some parking in the area is only for blue and orange badgeholders, national trust members and it might be best to park on the South side of the Tor (Stonedown lane).
What else is there to do in Glastonbury?
Glastonbury is more than a festival every time it is held here. This is a bohemian city below the cone shaped hill which is full of amazing attractions. On the descent from Tor, there is Chalice Well, the water well and gardens are worth visiting. And just opposite is the White Springs Temple, which was once a Victorian Wellhouse and still contains to this day a natural spring that sits allegedly, on ley lines. This place is a shrine to Goddesses of Avalon.
Glastonham Abbey is Christian settlement ruins that were built around the 7th century. This is where the Abbey is located and where Arthur died and is one of the most spiritual sites in the Isle of Avalon. Glastonbury has a colourful High Street with shops, wellness centres and books, ideal for shoppers and bookworms visiting Somerset and the South West.
The best place to park for Glastonbury Tor
If you want your vehicle to take you straight to the Tor, the best place for parking is within the town. Unfortunately, the Parkway is unable to provide a parkable parking space for walking. It is not recommended to park on country roads near the town as it gets very busy quickly. There are few free parking areas throughout the city. The nearest to Tor is Wilfrid road car parks or Dunstan’s car parks in Magdelene street. Afterwards, follow all directions to Tor. The bus is also available just outside Glastonbury Abbey.
Glastonbury Tor is a fascinating part of the Somerset Levels, where ancient myths and legends and even Arthurian Legends, have been intertwined with religious beliefs and even ley lines. It has many stories to tell us about our past, but it also offers us a glimpse into what life was like in these parts before modern technology arrived on the scene. My love for nature and earth has given me a lot of different genres to draw and paint. From early childhood folklore tales have always fascinated me, stories of fairies and magical creatures were always my favourite to read about. Stories deeply rooted within the earth, inspiring my love to draw winged creatures, hobs, and even cute monsters.
The Unusual and Quirky art prints section is where you will find these magical creature and fairies and are great if you want something different to hang on your walls. They definitely add a talking to point to any wall! Browse the quality, affordable art prints here and give a cute creature a loving home x