Arthurian England Tour Part 4: Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well

View from the base of the Tor

View from the base of the Tor

For anyone who has Avalonian leanings, loves Arthurian legend or perhaps took reading The Mists of Avalon a little too seriously (I’m guilty on all three counts), climbing Glastonbury Tor is like journeying to Mecca or the Vatican. It’s the ultimate sacred spot.

Part way up the Tor. Jamie's dogs, Lady and Blue, are leading the way

Part way up the Tor. Jamie’s dogs, Lady and Blue, are leading the way

I’ve spent years reading about the Tor in fiction and non-fiction, visiting it in meditation and writing about it. Finally, a few weeks ago, I actually got to be there. When I first saw it from the road, I couldn’t believe how tall and imposing the Tor is. Eventually, I figured out I always pictured it from the top, not what it would look like from far away. It’s easy to see why it’s a sacred site for Christians and neo-pagans alike.

I made it to the top!

I made it to the top!

The day we climbed the Tor, I was so excited. It is quite a trek to get up there, but it’s worth it. Many, many uneven stairs await at the bottom. Sometimes your climbing is so steep, it feels like you’re going to fall off. One of our tour members, Maureen, has vertigo, so she was more crawling than walking, but she was determined to make it. While on the hike up, you can see the terraced path that winds around the Tor (it’s clearer in some places than in others). I’m of the belief that it was a labyrinth used for ritual purposes. Given that it took us an hour to reach the top just using the stairs, I can’t imagine how long it would have taken to wind in and out of the labyrinth.

Chalice Hill from the top of the Tor

Chalice Hill from the top of the Tor

Once you reach the top (you will be out of breath, I promise), there is a clear view of Chalice Hill to the west (it’s now private property, so you can’t climb it :(), Wearyall Hill to the south (it was closed to the public while we were there), Penn Hill to the east and of course, the village below. You can even see to Wells. Our guide told us that there is some evidence that there was once a ring of standing stones on the summit, which makes me very happy, since that’s how I’ve always pictured it and how I’ve portrayed it in my books.

The compass-like marker at the top of the Tor

The compass-like marker at the top of the Tor

The summit of the Tor is much smaller than you may think. I wonder what the size of the original church on top was. It couldn’t have been too big, considering the space they had to work with. Of course, St. Michael’s tower (sadly defaced with people carving their initials all over it) is all that remains. (It’s a nice place to hide from gale force winds, by the way!) Also at the top is a beautiful stone and metal marker that is engraved on the top like a compass, showing all the ley lines and points of interest nearby and how far away they are. It really brings home what a confluence of power the Tor is.

Our group at the summit of the Tor

Our group at the summit of the Tor

We stayed long enough to take photos and meditate. On the way back down, we stopped and each sat on the “healing stone” which has several miraculous cures associated with it. Then it was on to Chalice Well.

The Chalice Well gardens are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. When we were there, they were holding some kind of healing retreat, so there were white tents all over. One of the women who had been there before said it marred the beauty, but I didn’t mind. The gardens are one of the most peaceful places I’ve been. I’d be there all the time if I lived there. More flowers than you can imagine greet you at every turn, along with stands of yew, pine and oak, as you move inward toward the Red Spring. There are many places for quiet contemplation along the way.

The Red Spring

The Red Spring

Chalice Well with its iconic covering

Chalice Well with its iconic covering

The Red Spring is so named because waters (from a natural spring that has never run dry) are high in iron, staining the stones they touch red. Legend says it is stained red from Christ’s blood because the Grail (or at least a cruet of His blood) was stored in it by Joseph of Arimathea. Others say the color represents lifeblood and female menstrual blood.  The water comes out of the earth from between Chalice Hill and the Tor. It’s visible in a few places (including a beautiful flower cascade fountain at the entrance), but is only safe to drink from at the lion’s head. We drank from it and everyone was fine. It’s warm, so that makes it taste funny, but other than that, it just appears to be water. Personally, I hope it really is healing like people say. There is a place with a special Vesta Pisces cover where you can hear the waters below ground and mediate.

View of the Tor from Chalice Gardens, in the place where Marion Zimmer Bradley's ashes are scattered

View of the Tor from Chalice Gardens, in the place where Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ashes are scattered

After the Red Spring, Jamie, our tour guide, pulled me aside and told me he was sorry Marion Zimmer Bradley wasn’t still alive because he would have introduced us. (He knows what an impact Mists had on me, in many ways.) He then pointed to a tree and told me at its base is where he personally scattered her ashes, according to her will. Then he told me to look up. Her final resting place is forever in sight of the Tor. It is where she requested and is the most fitting place in the world. He then gave me a few moments alone. Despite feeling silly, I cried and thanked her and told her what an effect her writing had on me. In some ways, it was more personal than meeting her would have been. I will forever hold that moment, and the memory of the view from where she rests, in my heart.

Flowers at Chalice Well Gardens

Flowers at Chalice Well Gardens

The White Spring is somewhere nearby. It is the other than runs in the valley between the Tor and Chalice Hill. It’s color is supposed to represent mother’s milk or semen. We were supposed to visit it, but never did for some reason.

One of the fountains at Chalice Well

One of the fountains at Chalice Well

By the end of the day, I truly felt like I had been to Avalon. Between these places and the wild orchard and garden behind Glastonbury Abbey (seriously, it looks like someone went into my head and planted Avalon’s orchards in real life), I have no doubt that this is sacred space. Each person needs to believe what he or she wishes. But I know I have found my spiritual home.

The orchards/garden behind Glastonbury Abbey look like Avalon to me.

The orchards/garden behind Glastonbury Abbey look like Avalon to me.

Have you ever been to Glastonbury Tor? What was your experience? Do you want to go? What have you read/heard about it? What do you believe about it and the sacred springs?

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8 thoughts on “Arthurian England Tour Part 4: Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well

  1. Glad you had such a wonderful time. The Red Spring is a chalybeate spring; it has iron in it, making the colour, and some people find the water tastes a bit ‘bloody.’ (I used this in Stone Lord.) Interestingly the Church of St Michael on the Tor (note how many churches in high places were dedicated to Michael–was he replacing some kind of solar god with spear and sword, like Lugh?) was knocked down by a massive earthquake in the 1100’s, pretty much the last time Britain sufffered a serious earthquake. Winchester cathedral tower also collapsed, and I’m wondered if this quake didn’t fell the Great Trilithon at Stonehenge.

  2. Great entry. I’m sure some of that energy I felt when I visited was because I had just read The Mists of Avalon six months before and it blew me away. I’m so happy to hear Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ashes were scattered there. It’s so fitting. I’m sure she was there with you in spirit as you visited.

  3. What a beautiful piece. I felt everything I hoped to feel when I climbed the Tor. Like yourself I had read so much about it: fact, fiction, myth… I certainly believe the Tor, and Glastonbury as a whole, is a spiritual place, whether you are Pagan, Christian or whatever. What a pity we can’t all live in harmony! I’m glad you found your spiritual home. xx

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