Glastonbury Tor is a very special place.

From the level area of reclaimed marshland that comprises most of central Somerset, the Isle of Avalon rises to a height of about 300 feet, and from the flat top of the Isle of Avalon springs the steep-sided cone of Glastonbury Tor, surmounted by the ancient tower of St Michael’s Chapel.

There is no other viewpoint in Britain that is so steeped in history and legend, and there is no other place in Britain that has so inspired the imagination of the young.

According to tradition, Christ’s uncle, St Joseph of Aramathea, introduced Christianity to Britain when he came to this area in AD 64. He brought with him the Cup or Chalice from which the wine was drunk at the Last Supper, and buried it on Chalice Hill (A). The Chalice is also known as the Holy Grail, and the Quest for the Holy Grail features prominently in the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

To the west of the Isle of Avalon, extending like a finger into the Somerset Levels, is Wearyall Hill (B), and on this hill is the Glastonbury Thorn (C), the modern counterpart of a tree that grew from the staff of Joseph of Aramathea. It is a small tree, leading to the left, below a white dot. St John’s Church (D) is said to contain the tomb of St Joseph.

In the fourth century the first monastery in Britain was founded on the Tor, and the terraces on the slopes of the hill, which are still obvious today, are the remains of a maze or troy, by means of which the early Christians made their way to the summit.

In AD 538 the dying King Arthur threw his sword, Excalibur, from Pomparles Bridge into the waters of the River Brue (E) on his way to be buried on the Isle of Avalon. Merlin was buried three miles away in Park Wood (F). Eight miles farther on lies Cadbury Castle (G), believed to be the site of Camelot, the capital city in which Arthur had his court.

By the ninth century, history was beginning to emerge from legend. King Alfred the Great had a palace on the Isle of Wedmore (H), and Alfred’s Tower (J) was later built on a site associated with King Alfred. In the tenth century King Edgar had a palace at Edgarley (K), and his advisor, St Dunstan, was born at Baltonsborough (L).

In 1330, the Abbey Barn (M), regarded as the finest tithe barn in Britain, was built. It is now a museum of rural life. The Abbot’s Palace (N) was built in 1490. In 1707 Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, was born at Sharpham Park Farm (P).

In the north the view is dominated by the Mendip Hills (Q), a Designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These are the ‘mountains green’ referred to in William Blake’s hymn Jerusalem, which has been adopted by the Women’s Institute.

Steep Holme (R) is an island in the Bristol Channel. Brean Down (S) is a peninsula. They are both nature reserves, and geologically they are both continuations of the Mendips.

To the south-west of Glastonbury Tor is the artificial mound of Burrow Mump, which is also crowned by a ruined church dedicated to St Michael. Farther on is the conical hill of Brent Tor, crowned by yet another St Michael’s church, and beyond that is St Michael’s Mount. These four hills lie remarkably close to a straight line, called the Dragon Path, an example of a ley line, or line joining sites of great antiquity. If the line is extended in the opposite direction it leads to the famous stone circle at Avebury. The direction of the points on the Dragon Path is indicated on the panorama to show how close they lie to a straight line.

Some people believe that Stone Down Lane (T) lies on an old processional path (another ley line) linking Glastonbury Abbey with Stonehenge.

Much of the view comes within the area covered by the Glastonbury Zodiac, which is centred on Park Wood (F). Various features in the landscape correspond with the twelve signs of the zodiac, and some of them are shown on the panorama in italics. The Zodiac was referred to in the sixteenth century by John Dee, and it is believed that its origins are prehistoric, but it was not until the 1920s that it was outlined in detail.

Text on the panorama itself

There is a story that Guinevere was imprisoned on Glastonbury Tor and rescued by Arthur.

On the eve of the summer solstice the ghosts of King Arthur’s knights are said to ride from Cadbury Castle to Glastonbury Tor along a route known as King Arthur’s Hunting Path.

The Hood Monument was erected in 1831 in memory of Admiral Sir Thomas Hood. The approach avenue is aligned with Glastonbury Tor.

Glastonbury Tor, Wearyall Hill and Chalice Hill are collectively know as the Three Hills of Avalon.

Other places of interest identified on the panorama

Wells Cathedral

Cranmore Tower

Pilsdon Pen (highest point in Dorset)

Dundon Hill (Iron Age Hill Fort)

Burton Pynsent Column (erected to the memory of William Pitt the elder)

Brent Knoll (Iron Age Hill Fort)

Fenny Castle (Norman motte and bailey)


The panoramas that I produced for Glastonbury Tor can be viewed here.

[For more about Glastonbury Tor see Writings/Not published/Glastonbury Tor.]