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Glastonbury Tor is a melting pot of heritage, myths, legends and magic.
Not only is it the most iconic monument in the whole of Somerset, but it’s also one of the most spiritual places in the entire country!
Although what we see today is a church ruin perched on top of a conical hill, for the last few millennia it has been a shrine for both Celtic Pagans and Christians.
Some say that this is a gateway to another world, whilst others say it’s home of a Fairy King. Plus, there are many legends about King Arthur and the Holy Grail being buried here as well.
Whatever the case may be, this strange and mysterious peak draws thousands of people here each year. From tuning in to Ley-Line energies, uncovering the ancient Isle of Avalon or simply admiring the spectacular views. There’s something here for everyone.
Here is a complete guide for visiting Glastonbury Tor with the legends, history and top tips!
What is Glastonbury Tor?
Glastonbury Tor is a conical hill which is located in the English county of Somerset in the UK. The name comes from the Olde English word Torr meaning cone-shaped hill.
Compared to the low lying Somerset Levels surrounding it, which used to be marshlands, this peak is an oddly elevated part of the landscape! So, it can be seen for miles around the countryside.
It’s around 518 feet high or 158 metres but the top has been flattened in the middle ages for a church to be built on top.
What we see on the summit nowadays is the ruined bell tower of the 15th century Church of St Michael.
The Tor also has a series of strange layers and tiers surrounding it. This is why many people question whether this hill is natural!
Is Glastonbury Tor man-made or natural?
Although the conical shape makes it look like a man-made pyramid, similar to Silbury Hill in Avebury, it’s completely natural.
Thousands of years ago, before natural drainage, this whole peak was its very own island! It towered over the Somerset Levels which were swampy marshlands below.
So, the question remains, why does it have those strange terraces that look like layers around it? Well, these were a man-made influence that has been dated back to Neolithic times. Around the same time that Stonehenge was constructed.
Many geologists have noted that the tiers form a pattern, almost like a maze, which is thought to have guided spiritual pilgrims to the top of the hill.
Years ago, many people believe that Sarsen stones were placed on top of the summit where the church is now.
This maze is often called the Glastonbury Tor Labyrinth and comes with its own set of mysteries and legends.
Many people believe that this spiralling Cretan maze, in a Meander pattern, was made for spiritual and ritual purposes long ago. The terraces that circle the Tor seven times would then lead the pilgrim to the very top.
But, legends would say that this maze is, in fact, the path that will lead you to the entrance of Annwn, a Celtic underworld and land of the dead! Others say, this is the Great Goddess and the Tor represents her female figure.
While you’re here, why not take the Labyrinth trail that is marked by fallen Sarsen stones? Maybe you’ll find the doorway to the other world!
Legends & myths surrounding Glastonbury Tor
The Tor is connected to an endless list of myths, legends and folklore that have unfolded over the centuries.
Its mysterious peak has been associated with Fairy Kings, the Isle of Avalon, Goddesses, the Glastonbury Zodiac, Christian Lore, the Arthurian Legends and even the Paranormal!
You could be here for weeks to uncover all of the stories surrounding Glastonbury Tor but here are a few of the most popular legends;
Gwyn ap Nudd – The Fairy King
Celtic Fairy stories are as old as time itself. Although today we portray fairies as cute, playful creatures. In earlier times, they were associated with constellations, astrology and healing. Almost like Pagan gods who provided knowledge and guidance.
Just like the Vikings had Odin, who was Lord of the Underworld, the Celtic Britons had Gwyn ap Nudd. He was the bringer of death, who would ride out with his wolves on his Wild Hunt and take souls back to Annwn.
People believed that the gateway to the underworld was located on the Tor and avoided it for fear of being taken there.
Over time, he simply became the King of the Fairies and the Tor was his magical Hollow Hill. Gwyn and his fairies would play tricks on anyone that visited the Tor and would sometimes kidnap them! But, they often would stop and play nicely if you were to give an offering of food or drink.
King Arthur & The Kingdom of Avalon
The Arthurian legends are closely related to the fairy underworld in many ways. The name Annwn gradually developed into Ynys yr Afalon or the Isle of Avalon.
According to the tales by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae, he writes that Avalon was the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged.
Also, the Isle of Avalon is the location where Arthur is brought to recover from his mortal wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Some say, by the enchantress Morgan le Fay who ruled over it!
Around 1190, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have unearthed the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere. The tree trunk coffin read “Here lies buried the famous Arthurus with Wenneveria his second wife in the isle of Avalon”.
Whether this is true or not is up for debate. Many believe that this story was started because the monks needed to gather funds to repair their abbey that burned down. But, even today, many visit to pay their respects at his grave in Glastonbury Abbey.
There is also a local legend that says that King Arthur and his knights of the round table found the Holy Grail here. Also, it is thought to be buried somewhere beneath the Tor!
Others believe that Glastonbury Tor is the legendary kingdom of Camelot. But, others place it at Cadbury Castle which is just 20 miles away from here.
As well as Celtic Pagan legends, there are many Christian stories connected with Glastonbury Tor. Mostly relating to Joseph of Arimathea. For those not in the know, Joseph was the Jewish disciple who arranged for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion.
Joseph is also said to have buried the Holy Grail at the base of the Tor under the sacred Chalice Well. Also on Wearyall Hill nearby, Joseph’s staff is said to have transformed into the Glastonbury Holy Thorn.
According to another legend Jesus visited Glastonbury as a child and this is where the song Jerusalem comes from.
Recorded History of Glastonbury Tor
So, back to the real world for all you sceptics out there. I bet you’re dying to know by now what the true story is behind this mysterious hill!
Well, originally, this was a Neolithic and then Iron Age settlement dated around 300 BC. This would have been part of the Glastonbury Lake Village and acted as a defence hill in amongst the marshes. Later, Roman soldiers would have used this hill as a lookout point.
It became a Christian settlement in the Dark Ages around the 5th century and the hill was purposely flattened to allow structures to be built on top. By the 11th century, the first timber church dedicated to St Michael was constructed.
Unfortunately, the church was destroyed due to an earthquake (many blamed the Fairy King!) and so another stone chapel was built on the mount in the 14th century.
It wasn’t to last very long though. Sadly, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the church was destroyed and all but the tower was left. This is the ruin that we can see today.
This is also the sorry spot where the last Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, was executed. Henry VIII believed him a traitor to the crown for being loyal to Rome. So, he had him hung drawn and quartered along with two other bishops!
Ever since the 1930s, the National Trust has taken over managing the site and the land surrounding it.
Glastonbury Tor Ley-lines & spiritual pilgrimage
Nowadays, Glastonbury Tor is seen as one of the most spiritual places to visit in all of Britain. The reason why it is so sacred is that it has been a place of pilgrimage for the last 1000 years!
The legends, mysteries, saints and martyrs have all played a role in attracting visitors. But, as well a religious monument, there is also the theory that this ruin sits on a major intersection of ancient Ley-Lines.
Ley-Lines are a theory that all ancient sites are connected by hypothetical ‘lines’ and together they create vibrational frequencies. So, this St Michael’s Church connects to many others including St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and even Mont-Saint Michel in Normandy. You could even trace it as far as the Pyramids of Egypt! Some say these connections create cosmic power and energies that you can tune into.
Also, several pilgrimages involve Glastonbury Tor. One is the Roman Catholic pilgrimage where the Bishop leads signing pilgrims down to the nearby Abbey.
Another is the Glastonbury Tor to Stonehenge Pilgrimage. This is a 42-mile hike that connects the two sites. Many believe if you take this path, it results in rebirth!
Can you climb up Glastonbury Tor?
Yes, you can! Climbing up to the summit of the Tor is easily one of the highlights of visiting the West Country in England.
It’s a little steep but easily doable with a reasonable level of fitness and takes less than fifteen minutes from the town of Glastonbury!
Not only will you get spectacular views of the Somerset Levels but you can also explore the ruined bell tower and discover the legendary Isle of Avalon.
Is Glastonbury Tor free? YES! The tor is FREE to visit and is owned by the National Trust. It’s also open 24 hours a day so there is no restriction as to when you can climb up either. Many people celebrate Summer Solstice here.
Where is Glastonbury Tor and how to visit?
Glastonbury, duh? I’m just kidding! Although it is in Glastonbury, it’s technically a little further out of the town to the East.
From the high street, the walk will take you around 15-20 minutes to get to the top.
There is also a bus from Glastonbury Abbey that is provided by the National Trust. It will drop you at the base of the hill on the Northside and you can walk from there.
The best place to park for Glastonbury Tor
If you’re driving into Glastonbury specifically to walk up to the Tor, the best place to park is in the town. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated parking area provided by the National Trust for the walk.
They also don’t recommend parking on the country roads surrounding the Tor as these can get congested easily.
There are plenty of pay and display car parks dotted around the town. The closest to the Tor would be Wilfrid Road Car Park or St Dunstan’s Car Park on Magdelene Street. Then, you can follow the many signs directing you to the Tor.
Don’t forget, there is also a bus that runs just outside of Glastonbury Abbey on Magdelene Street. An option if you wanted to save some energy for the hill hike!
The best walking route for Glastonbury Tor
There are several paths that you can take up to the summit of the Tor. Some are easier and more laid out than others.
I took the steeper path from Stone Down Lane but it was still easily manageable and took less time.
The majority of people opt for the easier route(s) via Wellhouse Lane as the pathway inclines gradually. This is where you’ll pass the Chalice Well on the way; the supposed burial place of the Holy Grail!
Wellhouse Lane is the recommended route by the National Trust as it has a flat laid out path. Keeping to the cement pathways helps to stop erosion from the amount of footfall on the hill.
Of course, there is also the option to follow the Glastonbury Labyrinth maze around the mount to get to the top too…This would be more of an adventure and the way pilgrims have visited for centuries!
Top tips for visiting
- Wear a good pair of shoes – Although there is a well laid out path, it is still quite a climb so make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes with you. This isn’t the place for stilettos!
- Take your time – The walk is pretty STEEP! So, make sure you take breaks on your way up if you need them. There are a few benches via the Stone Down Lane entrance. Not so many near the Wellhouse Lane route.
- Bring water – Needed. But, you won’t be walking for any considerable amount of time. There are no facilities at the Tor but plenty of shops and cafés back down in the town.
- Prepare for crowds – Glastonbury Tor does bring in the crowds! It’s one of the most popular landmarks in the UK. If you wanted to avoid this, I’d visit in the shoulder seasons, during the week or early morning. For an alternative, why not try Burrow Mump just a few miles away? It’s a bit of a hidden gem with an equally nice view and sees a fraction of the crowds.
What to see while you’re up here
So, once you’ve reached the peak, what is there to see on Glastonbury Tor? Well, not much really. But, what you can find is extremely special in many ways.
This area is full of legends and you can almost imagine what it would have been like as an island years ago. Why not see if you can tune in to the vibrational energies here from the ancient Ley-Lines?
The ruined St Michael’s Church bell tower
The highlight of the Tor is the spectacular church ruin that sits on the top. This is the tower that can be seen for miles around and what makes it so iconic.
The church dedicated to St Michael was built in the 14th century but all that remains is the ruined old Bell Tower. The rest was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
If you walk inside the tower through the archways, you’ll find that it doesn’t have a bell anymore or floors and there isn’t even a roof. You can look straight through to the sky! Over the years, it has undergone significant repairs, mainly by the National Trust.
There are some benches inside the tunnel which act as a wind trap and are perfect for some breeze after your long hike to the top.
The magnificent views of Avalon
The main draw for climbing Glastonbury Tor is the incredible views you can gain from the summit. There are plenty of places to sit around the top of the hill to take in the countryside which is called the Vale of Avalon.
On a clear day, you can see for miles and take in sights of Cheddar Gorge, Taunton, Cadbury Castle and even as far as the coast. Don’t forget to look out for Steep Holm island and Brean Down near Weston-Super-Mare!
This is the perfect spot for a picnic, to sit and relax or bring a good book. Many people spend a long time up here to take in the views and atmosphere.
Avalon Orchard & The Egg Stone
Around the hill, there are also a few sights worth mentioning. These are well worth a visit and all have spiritual connections to the legends surrounding the Tor.
The first is the Avalon Orchard. The Isle of Avalon used to be known as the ‘Isle of Apples’ as far back as the Iron Age due to the many orchards that grew here.
So, it’s rather appropriate that there are now four orchards that have been planted at the base of the hill. These all grow cider apples! It’s worth checking out as it’s home to lots of flowers and wildlife too.
Another place is the Egg Stone. Although not much is known about how the stone came to be here, it is supposedly the entrance to Annwn or the Underworld! Also, many say that wishes are granted here.
What else is there to do in Glastonbury?
Glastonbury is way more than just the festival that takes place here each year! It’s an extremely bohemian town that has lots of amazing things to do.
On the way down from the Tor, you can visit the Chalice Well with its ancient waters. Or, just opposite is the White Spring Temple that was an old Victorian Well house. Now it’s a temple for the Lady of Avalon.
The ruined Glastonbury Abbey is also extremely impressive that dates back to the 7th century. Here, you can learn about the Abbot’s who called it home and see the final resting place of King Arthur.
If you head into Glastonbury Town they have an incredibly colourful high street full of independent shops, healing centres and book shops.
Or, why not go on a pilgrimage nearby to the Oaks of Avalon? The Gog & Magog Trees are ancient oaks with biblical names but were said to be an ancient gateway to the Isle of Avalon.
Where to stay in Glastonbury
If you fancy extending your stay in Glastonbury, there are plenty of hotels to choose from;
- George & Pilgrims – This fantastic historic building was constructed in the 15th century to house guests of the nearby Glastonbury Abbey. It also claims to be the first purpose-built public house in the South West of England! Nowadays, it’s a popular pub and restaurant that has some cosy rooms for rent above! Click here to book.
- The Glastonbury Townhouse – Just a few minutes walk from the town centre, this oasis of calm is a quaint Edwardian B&B. The base of the Tor is located just a short stroll from here. It is one of the top-rated places to stay in the area and has a delightful range of boutique en-suite rooms. Click for rates.
- Magdalene House B&B – This Grade II listed property used to form part of the historic St. Louis Convent. Now it’s a welcoming B&B with three bedrooms. These all overlook the Glastonbury Abbey! Click to enquire.