Fjordhammer On Tour - Glastonbury Town, Tor & Abbey

"What's round here then?" - Entrance to the Abbey grounds next to St. Patrick's Chapel

King Arthur, Crumbling Ruins, Incense & Witchcraft Shops

Glastonbury, a place name that needs no introduction. Deep in the heart of Somerset this mystical place shrouded in myths and legends is home to a world renowned music festival and the supposed burial place of Britain's greatest king, Arthur. I have always been captivated by King Arthur, it was the first medieval legend that I ever came into contact with. This fascination began in a cave in Machynlleth, Snowdonia, Wales, named King Arthur's Labyrinth when I must have been no older than 4, which would put it 20 years ago (damn, time flies and I feel old) where vivd depictions of the Celtic legend were displayed and the infamous battle between the Red Dragon of the British and the White Dragon of the Saxons. This was then exacerbated by a visit to Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, which is the supposed site of Arthur's conception. The ruins stand tall on the edge of the North Cornish cliffs. One place had always alluded me and that was a visit to his supposed tomb at Glastonbury Abbey. I remember briefly going through Glastonbury on the way back from a family visit to Wookey Hole Caves but was unable to go into the Abbey. Since then the Abbey and Tor of Glastonbury have always been on my list of things to do. Over the years I've never lost my fascination with Arthur his Romano-Celtic origins, to his Medieval revival by the likes of Sir Thomas Mallory, which is drenched in French chivalric honour and to some extent Merlin's reinvention in popular culture in the guise of Gandalf and Dumbledore. I have even explored the tale of Sir Gawain & The Green Knight as well as the earliest Arthurian origin stories in the Mabinogion. Living in Wiltshire, growing up around Anglo-Saxon history and Tolkien in my heart, Glastonbury is tailor made for someone like me. Given the spiritual path that I have found myself on, I was enchanted by the pure magic of the town, Tor and Abbey. It is a very mystical place for those that believe in magic with intent. So, together me and Sabrina set our sights and ventured to the Isle Of Avalon. 

Ruins of the Abbey

The History

There is a wealth of information on Glastonbury that I couldn't possibly sift through for this post and keep it relatively short, so I've outlined some interesting bits about the town, the Tor and the Abbey. 

Glastonbury - A New Age Community On Ancient Ground With An Obscure Name

Standing in the gateway to the Otherworld

As someone who is interested in place names, Glastonbury is a real treat. The origins of the name Glastonbury are unclear, it is first recorded in the 7th and early 8th century under the name Glestingaburg. The "burg" element is undoubtably Anglo-Saxon and could refer either to a fortified place such as a "burh" in which Alfred the Great created many of during the Viking wars or, it is most likely to be referring to a monastic enclosure which makes sense for it's spiritual and religious importance. What is unclear is the "Glestinga" element, and it is believed that it derives from an Old English word or from a Saxon or Celtic personal name. This latter part is could be linked to the Old Welsh pedigree name "Glastening", however it is unlikely. In literature however, it could be connected to the  Sumorsaete, who were an obscure Anglo-Saxon group and in all likelihood may have given their name to the county of Somerset. According to the 12th century historian William of Malmesbury; Glast was one of twelve brothers who migrated from the north to assume control of parts of Wales (the Britons still held much of the west of Britain at that time) who were great-grandsons of Cunedda (the progenitor of the great Welsh royal dynasty of Gwynedd). He is alleged to have settled in Glastonbury with his livestock after finding it empty and deserted. Historian David Thornton believes that there is no strong evidence linking this Welsh pedigree of the "Glastening" and Glastonbury other than a pure coincidence of name similarities. The "Glastening" actually have a stronger relationship with Lichfield in Staffordshire and the coincidence in names Thornton describes as "the product of medieval pseudo-historical thought supported by the zealous ingenuity of subsequent scholars". There is also a possible Irish link to Glastonbury, and it may derive from a person or kindred group named Glast. The name however is more likely to be related to an Irish individual named Glas mac Caise 'Glas son of Cas'. Glas is an ancient Irish personal name meaning 'green, grey/green', which seems logical considering the areas relationship with spiritual figures like the Green Man. In the Life of St Patrick it states that Glas is a resurrected swineherder by that name and he went to Glastonbury. It is believed that he went to an area of the village known as 'Glastonbury of the Irish' which could be referring to the area of Beckery, south west of Glastonbury centre, where it is believed an Irish Colony established itself in the 10th century and was then nicknamed 'Little Ireland'. This area was known to the Irish as Glastimbir na n-Gaoidhil 'Glastonbury of the Gaels' and this is the earliest source for the name Glastonbury. The modern Irish form for Glastonbury is Glaistimbir. Alongside its associations with myths and legends, everything about Glastonbury's history is shrouded in magical obscurity. 

Thinking in the trees in the Abbey Grounds

The Abbey - Burial Place Of King Arthur

The infamous Abbey at Glastonbury was a monastery right up until 1539 when King Henry VIII's great monetary dissolution took place. This meant an ill fate for the last abbot of the Abbey, Richard Whiting (Whyting), was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor on Glastonbury Tor in the same year. The Abbey was founded in the 7th century (712 AD), raided by Danes in the 9th, enlarged in the 10th and then destroyed by fire in 1184 then rebuilt in the 14th century. The Abbey has has it all. 

While the evidence that Glastonbury was a Celtic site of religious importance is dubious, the site did have Celtic and Roman habitation. However, Glastonbury would fall into West Saxon hands after the Battle of Peonnum in 658. The Saxons under Cenwalh of Wessex conquered Somerset going as far west as the River Parrett, probably with the intention of gaining control of the Abbey. Cenwalh, in a move probably intended as a show of good faith to the defeated Britons allowed the British abbot, Bregored, to remain in power. After Bregored's death in 669, he was replaced by an Anglo-Saxon, Berhtwald, but British monks remained at the Abbey for many years. The Abbey's community of monks was enriched and endowed by King Ine of Wessex in 712 and reputed to have directed that the first stone built church to be constructed on the site in that year. The Abbey church was later enlarged in the 10th century by the then Abbot of Glastonbury St. Dunstan. He was an important figure in the revival of English monastic life and instated Benedictine rule at Glastonbury (infamous black robed monks). 

In 1066, William The Conquerer, aware of the Abbey's extreme wealth, made Turstinus a Norman abbot there in 1086. This started another round of bulling and expanding on the site, and when the Domesday book (commissioned in 1086) recorded the Abbey, it was the wealthiest Abbey in the country. In 1125 William of Malmesbury was commissioned to write a history of the Abbey.  It is the primary source for much of our current knowledge of the Abbey's early history, but according to scholars, it is far below William's generally excellent standards, "his acceptance of the monks' forged charters and unsubstantiated early legends is apparent and even his list of the community's abbots cannot be reconciled with 10th-century originals subsequently discovered." (J.A. Robinson, 1921). Based on his own later histories, it has led many scholars to assume that William's original text was more carefully considered and its various accounts of Phagan (legendary Welsh bishop and saint) and Deruvian (legendary bishop and saint), alongside the various passages about King Arthur, were later additions of medieval PR which were meant to bolster the monks' case for primacy over Westminster Abbey. 

In 1184 a great fire ravaged the Abbey, destroying the monastic buildings. Reconstruction began immediately and the well in the Lady Chapel was consecrated in 1186. Pilgrim visits to Glastonbury were on the decline, and in 1191 the alleged discovery of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere's tomb in the Abbey's cemetery would provide a fresh impetus for pilgrims to come to the Abbey. According to Gerald of Wales, Abbot Henry de Sully, commissioned a search in the cemetery, and discovered at the depth of five metres, a massive hollowed oak trunk containing two skeletons. Above it the trunk, under the covering stone, which according to Gerald, was a lead cross with the very specific or awfully coincidental inscription "Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arturius in insula Avalonia" ("Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon"). Historians today are generally dismissive of the finds authenticity, boiling it down to nothing more than a publicity stunt to draw people to the Abbey to raise funds after the fire. While William of Malmesbury's history does not state that there is any connection between the Abbey and Arthur's burial at Avalon, the fact that the search for Arthur's body was conducted when  Henry II and Edward I had fought major Welsh wars, has lead scholars to suggest that the propaganda probably played it's part very well. Even so, the "discovery" of the tomb was probably utilised to destroy the possibility of Arthur's return in accordance with the legends. 

The ruins of the Great Church

The Tor - Gateway To The Otherworld On The Isle Of Avalon

All smiles in the Otherworld entrance
Glastonbury Tor is shrouded in myths and legends and is said to be the site where Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from being gravely wounded at the Battle of Camlann. Ever since then the island has become a sacred symbol of Arthurian mythology, similar to Arthur's castle Camelot (Tintagel). The English legend states that Arthur did die after this battle, however, in the Welsh, Cornish and Breton traditions is is said that Arthur had never really died, but would eventually return to lead his people against their enemies. 

The Tor seems to have originally been called Ynys yr Afalon (meaning "The Isle of Avalon") by the Britons of the area and it is believed by some people, one of which being the 12th and 13th century writer Gerald of Wales, to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend, where Arthur dies. This was only exacerbated when when the "supposed" aforementioned discovery of Arthur and Guinevere's coffin was found at the Abbey in 1191. With the 19th century surge of interest in Celtic mythology and Druidic romanticism, the Tor would became associated with Gwyn ap Nudd, the first Lord of the Otherworld (Annwn) and later King of the Fairies. The Tor came to be represented as an entrance, either to Annwn or to Avalon, which is supposedly the land of the Fairies or the gateway to the land of the dead. The word Tor refers to "a bare rock mass surmounted and surrounded by blocks and boulders", which is derived from the Old English Torr. The Celtic equivalent was Ynys Wydryn or  Ynys Gutrin, which means "Isle of Glass". During this time the plain was flooded, and the isle became a peninsula at low tide. 

During the early medieval period, it is believed, that there were possible four buildings on top of the hill, and it may have been a hermitage. There were two churched dedicated to St. Michael on top of the hill, the earliest was a timber church constructed in the 11th or 12th century, this church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1275. The second was built of locally sourced sandstone in the 14th century by the Abbot Adam of Sodbury, which incorporated the foundations of the original building. It is said to have had a portable altar made of Purbeck Marble. St Michael's Church survived until King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 when it was demolished, except for the tower, which is what we see today. 

The Adventure

Like a tree elf
We couldn't have picked a better day to go to Glastonbury, the sun was starting to let itself be known by beating down at a relatively comfortable but still hot (for me anyway) 25 degrees. To get ourself in the mood we listened to the whacky and wonderful songs of Ozric Tentacles, a band that are from Somerset and who's music incorporates elements from a diverse range of genres, including psychedelic rock, progressive rock, space rock, jazz fusion, electronic music, dub music, world music, and ambient music. Something about the oddness always reminded me of places I've been to like Glastonbury, so the ethereal nature and strange sounds tuned in our magical mindsets as the Somerset countryside rushed past us. When we reached Glastonbury there was already a sense of magic and wonder in the air that gripped both of us, and after a coffee (oat milk mocha for me and a soya milk cappuccino for Sabrina, in case anyone wants to buy us a coffee) we set off to explore the Abbey. Walking up to the Abbey entrance, we were left in awe of the great gateway, hulking medieval looking doors to keep the Abbey safe. Before gaining entry we chatted to a volunteer in the queue, talking all things music, dance and photography permissions, I instantly felt welcomed to this holy place despite having a Bathory back patch, goat head and all on my jacket. Anyway, symbology aside, we walked into the ruins and were left stunned at how beautiful the ruins looked, with its unique chevron window features and giant pillared archways. The first photography spot was in a perfectly situated tree, situated next to the glorious window of the North transept. This area was thankfully shaded as the heat was starting to bake us, so on went lashings of sun cream before we moved on around the rest of the ruins. The ruins themselves are all Grade  1 listed buildings and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, making it an important archeological site. 

The ruins are made up of;

I. The Great Church (pictured above)
II. St. Joseph's Chapel
III. Portions of the 14th century retroquire (The bit behind the high alter).
IV. The Lady Chapel
V. The Galilee along with its crypt linked to St Mary's Chapel
VI. The Abbot's Kitchen (pictured below)

I was humbled when I saw the site of Arthur's supposed resting place in the Great Church transept (the phone picture I took is awful quality annoyingly). Here supposedly laid a childhood hero of mine, it was if I had gone full circle. This monumental occasion in my life cemented my love for Arthurian legend, as now I was in the presence of him. Even if archeological evidence denies it, it was still a surreal moment given the environment I was in. I think the Abbot's kitchen stood out the most for me, and it is said to be "one of the best preserved medieval kitchens in Europe". It was octagonal, which is not something I have ever seen before, Historic England describes it best "The 14th century octagonal building is supported by curved buttresses on each side leading up to a cornice with grotesque gargoyles. Inside are four large arched fireplaces with smoke outlets above them, with another outlet in the centre of the pyramidal roof.". Not far from the kitchen you had the medicinal and food gardens, these hosted a vast array of medicinal herbs with a plethora of information on each one. I read a few of them, but was more tuned into their smell and rubbed my thumb and index finger on a lot of leaves. After our wander round the ruins and gardens, we made our way to the ponds and saw some ducks, bees and all sorts of wildlife whilst relaxing in the shade of a large oak looking tree. It was a much needed rest after my skipping through the cow parsley (Pictured below). 

The Abbot's Kitchen

After the Abbey, we ventured into the town to do some browsing. Most importantly we went and got food, a brilliant cup of vanilla rooibos tea washed down a falafel wrap and chips at Café Sol. There is so much tailored to magical tourism in Glastonbury, books on Nordic mythology, the occult, Celtic magic, literally everything, all on show on the high street and in the back alleys. My favourite shop, and one that Sabrina had wanted to show me, was Midgard Craft situated in an alley of shops called The Gauntlet (rather apt really), run by Ted. The shop displays hand crafted products from runes to hammers and Ted himself is very knowledgeable and even a book smart man like me was no match for his first hand practical wisdom and we discussed all sorts about this particular spiritual path whilst he charged one of his hand crafted hammers. In it I "upgraded" my Mjölnir to something much more substantial in my eyes, the weight of the piece is tangible and I felt drawn to it, not to mention it has little wolf head clasps on it's leather straps. Sabrina bought a bag of hand crafted wooden runes and an incredibly rare book on the runes, Michael Howard's The Magic Of The Runes Their Origins and Occult Power. After our time exploring all the witchy shops, we found ourselves in Star Child, a rather up market incense, candle, tea and herb shop. We were on a mission to get me my first incense burner but I didn't want anything touristy or tacky (yes I'm that guy), and here I found it. Incense is a new thing for me, but I always associated it with acrid cheap smelling fragrances, Sabrina changed my mind on that one and here we found these marvellous hand blended incense mixes that smell phenomenal. I selected the Green Man, Merlin and Avalon blends as it seemed to match the theme for the day. 

Shortly after we stopped in at the Who'd Have Thought It? Pub & Inn for a refreshing drink (i.e. I had a couple of local-ish beers) before making our way up the Tor. Finding a parking space was a little bit of a logistical nightmare, but ultimately it had us perfectly positioned to take a scenic route through the woods up the Tor. Unfortunately, in our naivety we walked past this route and chose the most lung busting ascent up the Tor, and after two pints that was hard. Either way once we reached the top it was more than worth it! The sky was clear and the views were spectacular. We stayed at the top of the Isle Of Avalon for a while, Sabrina drawing and myself writing poetry, soaking in the ambience of the place. I had a small paranormal experience up there too, hearing in my left ear a voice say "What you doing?" as I drew some runes in my journal. Now I know about the death of the last Abbot on the hill, it feels like a very eerie and spooky experience. We descended the hill after taking some photos and made our way home, to taste the Glastonbury Abbey Mead I had bought in the Abbey shop as well as a Glastonbury/Somerset pin badge that now proudly adorns my blue battle jacket. 

Dad on holiday outside the Lady Chapel

The Playlist

For the playlist I wanted to mix the realms of triumphant metal with the magic of new age and folk. I wanted to capture the mystical, spiritual nature of Glastonbury with the fantasy, action packed adventures of Arthur. I don't know of any bands that are Arthurian legend themed (which seems crazy now I think about it because there is so much material flying about),  so I've tried my best to incorporate similar epic sounding songs to do with swords and knights. Ideally though, I've aimed to capture the tangible spiritual energy of the place, so many different spiritual energies and ideas seem to meet and coexist peacefully. So, this includes songs in Gaelic and Welsh as well as French, some rowdy and raucous, others more atmospheric and reflective. I've aimed to order them in such a way that it feels like a journey, and hopefully you can see my vision when you listen. 


Thus Concludes Our Pilgrimage 

Thank you for joining us on this journey to one of the more obscure and magical places in England. Exploring as much as we could and made the day a real success and I feel more connected to something greater than me after my visit here. A place so steeped in history is always a place worth going, if you can make down to Somerset on a sunny day, Glastonbury is well worth your time! 

Skipping through Cow Parsley

Glastonbury Gallery

View our Glastonbury gallery here!

Tom has now disappeared
References

Robinson, Joseph Armitage. "William of Malmesbury 'On the Antiquity of Glastonbury'" in Somerset Historical Essays. Oxford University Press (London), 1921. Hosted at Wikisource.

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