Glastonbury, where the streets are fragranced with the aroma of patchouli and joss sticks, is set within the Somerset Levels - a low lying area of marshes and fenland where the ditches, rhynes, cross the landscape. Glastonbury Tor is the most prominent landmark rising above the town and is thought to be the fabled Isle of Avalon as the sea did once lap at the base of the Tor. Even when the land was drained and the sea receded, the marshlands that surrounded it would have been difficult to negotiate when in flood.
Glastonbury is steeped in spiritual legend and is believed to be the birthplace of Christianity where the first British church was built to house the Holy Grail. There is also a strong link with Glastonbury and the Arthurian legend that Glastonbury is the Isle of Avalon where King Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds and where his sword Excalibur was forged. Much of this legend is due to the monks at Glastonbury Abbey having claimed to have discovered Arthur's remains along with the remains of his wife. In 1191 excavations in the Abbey's grounds revealed an oak coffin with an iron cross and an inscription "Here lies King Arthur in the island of Avalon" in which the two bodies were believed to be that of King Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere.
However, the truth of this latter discovery is somewhat shrouded in doubt. Glastonbury is not just a Christian centre for spirituality. Glastonbury is at a junction with several ley lines that can be traced to other spiritual sites such as Stonehenge. These ley lines are said to resonate mystical energy making Glastonbury one of the most magical centres in England if not the world. People have long been making he journey to Glastonbury from all over the world either as a Christian pilgrimage or to seek more New Age spiritual well-being.
Glastonbury's town centre is small, but jam-packed with all sorts of interesting independent shops, cafes and restaurants. You can buy everything from jewellery incorporating crystals and minerals that hold a variety of healing properties to candles and incense, books, eco-friendly shops, musical instruments and everything you might need for witchcraft. Over time more cosmopolitan outlets have started to appear including beauty salons and modern cafes which seem slightly incongruous next to the colourful New Age shops that line the streets.
You'll find lots of small independent shops down little alleyways and in courtyards leading off from the High Street so make sure you do a bit of exploring to see all that Glastonbury has to offer.Glastonbury holds a market every Tuesday in the Market Place which sells fresh fruit and veg, fish, plants, clothing and craftwork. On the fourth Saturday of every month Glastonbury's Farmers Market takes place in St John's car park.
The area around the Abbey is what is left of medieval Glastonbury and the Tourist Information Office is in The Glastonbury Tribunal, believed to be a 15th century Merchant's house. On the first floor is the Lake Village Museum that takes you through everyday life in an Iron Age settlement. Many of the artefacts were excavated from Glastonbury Lake Village that had lain preserved in the peat that once covered the Somerset Levels for thousands of years.
Near the Abbey is the Rural Life Museum whose centrepiece is a fourteenth century barn. This aims to show what social and domestic life would have been like in Victorian rural Somerset. It follows the life story of a farm worker, John Hodges, and displays tools and farming techniques that he would have used for willow growing, peat digging and cider making. There is a packed programme of events throughout the year including demonstrations of traditional crafts such as spinning and stick weaving demonstrations.
Glastonbury is on the circuit for the Somerset Carnivals. These are usually held between September and November. It's well worth timing your visit to coincide with one of the carnivals that are held at a whole host of towns throughout the county. The Somerset Carnival tradition dates back to the 1600s when many places in Somerset commemorated the Gunpowder Plot. Street entertainment, fireworks and special events throughout the town add to the fun and carnival atmosphere.