Glastonbury Festival is a world-class music festival, but the nearby town of Glastonbury is famous in its own right as King Arthur’s mythical Isle of Avalon.
Glastonbury has an early history that is linked with its dominant landmark, the Tor. In days gone by, when the Somerset plain was a watery wilderness, this island refuge attracted settlers – first primitive peoples, then Romans, then Saxons – as recalled in the town’s original name, Glaestingaburgh, meaning “hill-fort of the Glaestings”.
Meanwhile the Isle was also developing as a religious centre. Legend claims Joseph of Arimathea – with the Holy Grail – and later St.Patrick, both came to the town.
Fact shows there was a Celtic monastery here by 500 AD which, during the next 1000 years evolved into one of England’s wealthiest and most influential abbeys.
Glastonbury Tor is a centre for both Christian and pagan mythology. Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld and King of the Fairies, is said to live here.
The top of the Tor was levelled at some point in the 900s or 1000s to build a large stone church. This removed much archaeological evidence.
In 1275 this church was felled by an earthquake. It was rebuilt smaller in 1323 and lasted until the death of the Abbey at Henry VIII’s hands in 1539.
This was the place of execution where Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was hanged, drawn and quartered along with two of his monks. The remains of St. Michael’s Tower were restored in modern times.
A model of the Tor was incorporated into the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As the athletes entered the stadium, their flags were displayed on the terraces of the model.
Glastonbury Tor is now owned and cared for by the National Trust and there is free access to the public at all times.
The romantic ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are still impressive enough to convey that this was once one of the grandest and richest abbeys in England.
For some time during the Middle Ages the Abbey here even owned one of the manors of Nunney – known as ‘Nunney Glaston’.
Nowadays, the Abbey ruins are perfect for a walk around its 36 acres of Somerset parkland, ponds, orchard and wildlife areas.
In 1191 an oak coffin containing the bodies of a man and a woman was found in the cemetery on the south side of the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey.
There was also said to have been a leaden cross with an inscription His iacet inclitus Arturius in insula Avalonia, interpreted as ‘Here lies King Arthur buried in Avalon’.
The bones were placed in caskets and transfered to a black marble tomb before the High Altar during a state visit by King Edward I in 1278. They vanished after the Abbey was vandalised after the Dissolution in 1539.
Visitors can today find a notice board that marks King Arthur’s final resting place.
Glastonbury – the town
The town itself grew up alongside the Abbey, and inevitable suffered hardship at the time of the Dissolution. It survived however, and by the 18th century had received a charter and set up industries such as tanning and making stockings.
During the 1800s the construction of a canal and then a railway temporarily boosted Glastonbury as a trading centre.
Today it is both a thriving market town and a major tourist venue with a distinct character, welcoming thousands of visitors each year.
Medieval Glastonbury – designated a conservation area – clusters around the evocative ruins of the Abbey which following a disastrous fire in 1184, dates mostly from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The town’s many other historic buildings include:
- the George & Pilgrim’s Hotel, founded in the 1300s as an Inn for pilgrims
- the Tribunal, thought to have been a 15th century Merchants house and now the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum and Tourist Information Centre
- The Perpendicular style parish church of St.John, famous for its tower, spacious interior and bush of Glastonbury Thorn
- St. Benedict’s, an early 16th century church originally dedicated to the Irish Saint Benignus, who allegedly followed St.Patrick to Somerset
- Tudor almshouses
- the Abbey Barn, now the Somerset Rural Life Museum
- the 1754 Pump House, a reminder of the town’s brief career as a spa.
- the Chalice Well, an ancient spring at the foot of the Tor
- Wearyall Hill, reputedly where Joseph of Arimathea first landed.
In addition to its many historic assets there is an attractive range of restaurants and hotels in Glastonbury.
Glastonbury is a special market town. With through traffic now by-passing the town centre, and with more than adequate ‘central parking’, shopping in Glastonbury is a pleasurable experience.
The town boasts many different and interesting shops. Many are independent specialists in their field, offering good old-fashioned service.
Distance from Nunney
17.8 miles (28.8 km)
28 minutes by car
Glastonbury Tourist Information Centre
9 High Street
Telephone 01458 832 954
Email [email protected]