Address: Saint Michaels Tower, Ashwell Ln, Glastonbury BA6 8BG, UK

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Glastonbury Tor History

This is a place steeped in history and legend, with much of the archaeological evidence dating back to Roman times and before. There have been mythical tales from King Arthur to the Holy Grail.

In prehistoric times, the Tor was a cone shaped island that turned into a peninsula as the sea receded. It would have been coveted by early settlers as the perfect place for a stronghold and ownership would have passed between various tribes over time. The most common use of the area was as a place of worship.

Whilst prehistoric flints have been found on the Tor, which give an indication of early inhabitation, what’s known for sure is that a fort had been built here by the 5th century. Following the spread of the Christian movement in the seventh century, a small chapel was thought to have been built on the summit and as the practice at the time was to build the new Christian churches on the old pagan sites, it’s quite likely that pagans had worshipped at the site for centuries before.

In the early 1100s the chapel was replaced by a large stone structure, St Michael’s chapel. To facilitate this, the top was levelled, and in doing so, much archaeological evidence was removed. This chapel was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in September 1275 and was replaced in 1323 with a smaller chapel. During the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539, both the nearby abbey and most of the chapel were destroyed. It was then that the last Abbot of the abbey and two of his monks were executed on the Tor. The tower of the chapel is now all that remains and this has been restored in modern times.

Whilst many historical facts are documented and can be pinpointed in detail, this area is awash with stories, fables and legends. In Britain, one of the most famous legendary places is the Isle of Avalon, the place where the wounded King Arthur went to recover after his final battle. Glastonbury is believed to be that very place. In 1191, monks discovered the two labelled coffins of King Arthur and his wife Guinevere and gave them a state burial in nearby Glastonbury Abbey. At the time, it was a magnificent building and a place of power and wealth, and second only in importance to Westminster Abbey.

Other Glastonbury claims are that it is reputed to have had links with the Holy Grail, be the birthplace of King Arthur and be the gateway to the underworld of the fairies. Much conjecture surrounds the Holy Grail, the chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper. It’s known for certain that Christ’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, travelled to Glastonbury and there are even suggestions that the young Jesus visited with him. Legend suggests the Holy Grail was eventually brought over to Britain and hidden in ‘Chalice Well’, a spring near the base of the Tor. And it’s also believed that Joseph built a church on the grounds of the future abbey.

With such a rich past, it’s no surprise that Glastonbury Tor has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of people over the centuries. And it’s amazing when you consider the range of people that have set foot on this small hill in the past – Prehistoric man, Romans, Celts, Saxons, Biblical figures, an untold number of historic figures, a vast number of pilgrims and a multitude of tourists.

The slopes of the Tor have subtle terracing and some suggest it was used as a medieval labyrinth and part of a sacred procession route.

 

Glastonbury Tor Visit

It may be just a four walled, roofless tower on a hill, but when you visit, it seems so much more and that’s why it’s such a famous landmark today. The tower on top is ‘St Michael’s Tower’ and is obviously the focal point of the site, but even without it, people would still flock to the top of this amazing hill and enjoy the views, for which you have unobstructed views of miles around. The size and shape of it are ideal for a stroll up, and you don’t need to walk miles to get to the top. It lies east of Glastonbury, it’s 521 feet high and is said to be visible from twenty miles.

There are two sets of steps up, a route from the north side, that navigates round and finally approaches from the east, and a set of steps from the south. It’s a fairly steepish climb, as you can imagine for such a vantage point, but well worth it and it must be a great place for locals to go for a walk or take dogs.

It’s a place that won’t have changed for thousands of years and you can follow the footsteps of the millions of people who have done that over the centuries.

The summit is the perfect size for visitors as it’s not too big, but large enough for dogs to run around or people to wander around at will. At the south end of the summit is the tower. This is simply four walls, two entrances, no doors and no roof – so not much shelter when raining or with a northerly wind! But the simple design is perfect for the setting and makes the landmark seem special.

There are benches down the east and west internal walls and I can imagine friendships and a wonderful community develop here. Being high up, it’ll be susceptible to all weather extremes, but that’s part of the beauty of the place. It’s a grand park, with views that are unbelievable and on hot, summer days it must be great to lie on the grass, soaking up the sun.

In walking up after parking your car, the southern approach is best as there is virtually no parking on the road to the north. The entrance there is on a narrow country lane with double yellow parking lines.

If you’re in the area, make the effort, sunrises and sunsets can be special times, but any trip to the top is extremely worthwhile.