St Margaret's Chapel, Glastonbury
Glastonbury is a fascinating place, and it always has been. It is an ancient semi-island, surrounded at different times by sea, wetland marshes or drained 'moors'. Glastonbury's harbour lay in the bay on the south of the island, below Wearyall Hill, just west of where the Butleigh road descends to the once-flooded moor.
Boats sailed in to Glastonbury from the Severn Sea (Bristol Channel) via Brean Down, Cheddar and Bleadney Gap (Panborough), along the winding river Brue. First landfall on Avalon would be at Bride's Mound, Beckery. Then the boats would round the end of Wearyall Hill, following a substantial loop of the river, before it meandered along the bay between Wearyall Hill and the Tor.
The boats brought with them a regular stream of visitors from Wales, Ireland and even the Mediterranean. They also connected Glastonbury with the many holy isles and promontaries along the coast of western Britain – from West Penwith (Cornwall) and the ancient port of St Michael's Mount, Gower, Caldey and Skomer in South Wales, to Bardsey in North Wales and Mona (Anglesey), then up to the Isle of Man, Arran, Ulster and eventually Iona and the Hebrides. From Megalithic to Celtic times the Irish Sea was the overall centre of attention in the British and Irish Isles, while much of what is now England was deeply forested. The importance of the Irish Sea coast in ancient times is not understood by many people.
Glastonbury has attracted attention and pilgrimage for thousands of years. When approached from any direction, at any time in history, that strangely anomalous hill, Glastonbury Tor, has never failed to evoke a frisson of excitement, of remembering, mystery, enticement, even foreboding.
There are only some archaeologically-discovered remains of ancient activity here. They were found mainly atop the Tor and in the ancient lake villages near Godney and Meare. The banks or labyrinth on the Tor are likely to have been built in Megalithic times, though academic historians and archaeologists are at times almost desperate to reassert that they are medieval strip-lynchets or agricultural terraces. They offer no explanation why these 'lynchets' are located on the sunless north side as well as the sunny south side of the Tor, or why the ample land under the Tor was not used instead.
The banks on the side of the Tor were built to serve either as a set of stages up the hill, embodying perhaps a rendering of concepts of levels of reality, or they described a ceremonial labyrinth in the classical Cretan style. The latter idea has been popular in recent decades, though I believe the former idea needs another look.
One newly-recognised ancient site is the mound on top of Windmill Hill, Glastonbury, formerly called St Edmund's Hill. It has frequently been assumed that it is solely a mound, built with bulldozers while the housing estate was being built around it in the 1950s. Either that, or it is rationalised as a mound left over after the existence of a windmill on the site in medieval times. However, there are legends of burials beneath it and paranormal events in the vicinity. It has been suspected by some to be a Megalithic mound, but no digs have been performed to find out.
Recently, Nicholas Mann, a local prehistory researcher, with the surveying help of Robin Heath, has investigated astronomical alignments from the mound, finding surprising alignments emanating from it to the rising and setting points of the sun and moon at the solstices and lunar maxima. These alignments point to Brean Down in the NW, Maesbury Castle in the NE, Aller Hill in the SW (High Ham) and Cadbury Castle in the SE - all of them significant ancient sites, thus strongly suggesting that the mound indeed is Megalithic in origin. Not only that, but significant, with the Tor, as a Megalithic site.
There is a strange mystery surrounding Glastonbury's past, arising from several factors:
- ongoing building and rebuilding of the town, which has covered, destroyed and recycled much material from former times (my own house on Chilkwell Street - I lived there from 1991-2008 - was three centuries old, containing old Abbey stones, and it was located on a dwelling site going back over 1,000 years);
- the reluctance of the Church and, later, of archaeologists and historians, to think openly and adventurously about key aspects of its history – this is an ideological issue. There can thus be remains as yet unsought and unfound, and remains which are dismissed, misinterpreted, underrated or considered insignificant by archaeologists;
- an adamant tendency amongst some conservative townsfolk and local farmers to deny the identity, heritage and sacredness of Glastonbury. This has greatly affected local politics, town planning, land-management and identity;
- a shroud of inherent mystery which prevents clarification of many key points of the island's past. It seems that Glastonbury wishes to hide its history – until, perhaps, such time as we're truly in a position to make good use of it.
Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury
Gone are the ancient stones of Stone Down (the plateau behind Chalice Hill and under the Tor), the original Market Cross, the Chain Gate on Magdalen Street (removed in the early 20th C to allow trucks through), and the medieval Fairfield (now buried under a supermarket). Chalice Hill is closed to the public. Filled-in, caved-in and unmentioned go the tunnels leading from the Abbey to the Tor, down Benedict Street and under Wearyall Hill as far as Clarks' Mansion in Street. Little is known of the Druidic culture, which left few artefacts and no written records.
Frederick Bligh Bond [The Gate of Remembrance by Frederick Bligh Bond, Aquarian, 1978], an antiquarian who uncovered some key remains of Glastonbury Abbey, controversially drew much of his information from psychic communication with deceased monks, through an associate of his. These monks gave information leading to Bond's rediscovery of many buried parts of the Abbey, just before WW1. When it was discovered how Bligh Bond had obtained his information, he lost his archaeological job at Glastonbury and no further progress was made in his work.
The mystical-magical people in Glastonbury, each in their own way, recognise an energy, an overriding presence – thought of by some as the 'Angel' or 'Goddess' of Glastonbury. Visiting the town has a strangely stimulating and changeful effect on the human spirit. The isle is like a repository of archetypal imagery, an evolving akashic tapestry, a centre of intensity, operating in its own reality-bubble.
Visitors find their emergent truths mirrored in their experiences, and they are surreptitiously drawn into an elastic, dimensional and paradoxical reality while is deeply educational and life-enhancing. Glastonbury has a very specific flavour – in my experience, the only places with a similar energy-flavour are the island of Iona in Scotland and Jerusalem in the Holy Land.
It is a place of transformation, a place for making deep decisions, for experiencing truth and illusion, for crossing thresholds and for seeing things afresh. Some people studiously avoid the place, or they get mysteriously repelled, while others get irresistibly sucked in, whether by choice or 'by chance'. Normality as most people know it doesn't operate here. Glastonbury's place-energy obliges us to yield to the experience of swimming in a much larger, more mysterious reality.
Subtle energy-dynamics are magnified and amplified here, as if the veils between reality-levels are thin and permeable – especially at 'high times'. That's what has drawn many people here over the centuries – there's a certain intensity which, when it 'peaks' and thrums, is very special. It's a light-and-dark, heaven-and-hell kind of place, where the best and the worst can come into view. It has a fluxing energy too, encouraging change, awareness and inner elasticity.