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Glastonbury Pilgrims

July 24, 2010

Yesterday, we went to Glastonbury. I hadn’t been there for several years, though once upon a time, mostly during the 1980s, I spent a great deal of time there. Like most towns there are the goods and the bads. I think there are now just too many New Age shops; there used to be much more diversity, now almost every shop seems to be New Age. There is a mystical element to the Isle of Avalon, but it now seems to be far too commercialised, as though the mysticism serves the commerce and not the other way round. And the traffic was much worse than I remembered. Well, those are the bads, now let us look at the goods.

Glastonbury Abbey Ruins

We walked around the Abbey ruins, still a place of spirituality and a haven for wildlife. I like the sett for the badgers, the areas left for wildlife and the ponds, with their fish and wildfowl. If anyone wants to see a hallmark in how wildlife can be protected in a tourist site, then visit Glastonbury Abbey. Bees – one of my favourite of all creatures – had occupied a hollow in a tree, setting out to gather the nectar from the many lovely plants in the grounds and neighbouring gardens. It is not difficult to picture what an oasis this abbey must have been from the world, though not entirely, given the political machinations that led to its downfall and the execution of Abbot Whiting on Glastonbury Tor.

The gardens around the Chalice Well had changed least since my last visit. The Chalybeate waters of the well, feel as though they are doing you good as they trip down the throat. The gardens are a haven of peace, a retreat from the noisy chaos of this hateful 21st century. The weather was beautiful, a clear blue sky over Glastonbury Tor. Not like this world at all. Whether this really is the last resting place of the Grail symbol, or just the Chalkwell, to give it its older name is not really relevant. It is a tranquil escape from materialism.

The Tor was quite crowded, not surprising as it was a beautiful day with good clear view towards the Mendips and over the Somerset Levels. In past times I walked the Tor in all weathers and at night, once threaded its maze in an expedition that culminated in a terrific thunderstorm, but I have seldom seen a clearer view.

Glastonbury Tor

It really does feel as though you can reach up and touch the heavens. Like all summits it was sad to leave. It is one of the grandest landmarks in Britain and you have missed something in life if you haven’t been there in all winds and weathers.

Most walkers these days are probably not spiritually inclined, but we, in England in particular, are walking though a landscape that was mostly created by people who held the land around them to be sacred, whether that be the prehistory generations who created the stone circles and henges, or the later Christians who built the abbey, parish churches, or tramped out the pilgrim routes, and left wayside crosses. Ramblers today should understand how these marks on the land got there. Otherwise they are missing a great deal of the interest of the countryside they are walking through. Be it myth or history, there is a story in every acre under the English sky.

One of the greatest joys of rambling is to walk in the footsteps of those who have travelled before. It is why I believe so passionately in preserving where possible the original lines of rights of way. Walking though our history, reaching out and touching the land, tells us where we are coming from, and might just help us to find out where we should be going.

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