Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival

Tripoto
4th Jan 2017

Glastonbury Abbey grounds

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

When you hear the word 'Glastonbury', you will most likely think of one of two things. The Glastonbury Festival or the movie Bridget Jones' Baby, which features the Glastonbury Festival. What you will most probably NOT think of is historic Glastonbury Abbey, mysterious Glastonbury Tor and ancient Chalice Well. And where did I hear of these places? Er, I did more than just hear of them, I went ahead and visited them. In January. Of this year.

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 1/9 by Shalini Rai
A young merchant and an old man on a pony

And why? Aha! That's a good question and it must be on a LOT of people's minds, including Mission Impossible 5 and 6. But that's a story for another day. I went to Glastonbury because mystery fascinates me and if you add religion to mystery, then it is something irresistible, much like dangling a Swarowski necklace in front of an egg-brained Delhi socialite masquerading as a prime-time news anchor. But I digress.

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 2/9 by Shalini Rai
Looking out over the Somerset Levels

Glastonbury is an ancient town in Somerset, England, about 2 hours' drive away by bus from Bristol. My train pulled into Bristol Temple Meads (what a magical name!) station early afternoon on January 4, 2017. It was a lovely day for January, cold but not forbiddingly cold. And when you are travelling in winter, a hot beverage becomes your new best friend (till April atleast) and takes your mind off the cold oh-so-easily.

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 3/9 by Shalini Rai
Wells Cathedral, 'the most poetic of all in England'
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 4/9 by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 5/9 by Shalini Rai
The City Arms pub in Wells
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View of Wells town from the bus station

The bus to Glastonbury leaves from the main road right opposite Bristol Temple Meads; it travels on meandering Somerset roads, with sheep, farmlands and partridges to keep you company. The roads are narrow and the views terrific. After a short stop at beautifully-medieval Wells, England's smallest town, the bus sets off towards Glastonbury again and this time when it stops, you start to miss the Somerset scenery and wish the drive had lasted a little longer. But no use happily crying over short bus rides, because although it may be late afternoon in the dead of winter and there is no snow on the road, there are very few tourists and the town seems empty. I find my way towards my BnB, dump my bag there and head out into town for a quick meal, since everything will be closed by 7-7.30 pm. Super-excited for the next 3 days, with so much to explore, experience and write about!

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 7/9 by Shalini Rai
Glastonbury High Street :)
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 8/9 by Shalini Rai
The Town Hall, with its green doors and the red telephone booth
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival 9/9 by Shalini Rai
Like Notting Hill got a medieval makeover

My plan for the next three days was to visit the three Glastonbury 'hotspots' -- the Abbey, the Tor and the Chalice Well. First stop and the nearest, since it's right in the centre of town, was the Glastonbury Abbey. To a lay-Asian like me, an abbey means a very very large church. Here's how I look at it, in ascending order of size -- Chapel, Church, Cathedral, Abbey. What lay in front of me, in the cold mist of a January morning, was only the ruins of an ancient abbey, not any kind of coherent structure. There had been a place of worship at this site since the 7th century and by the 14th century, it was the second wealthiest abbey in Britain (behind Westminster Abbey). But in 1536, King Henry VIII decided to shut down over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there were none standing. This social and religious upheaval is now known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and Glastonbury Abbey suffered the worst fate.

Travelling through the foggy ruins of time

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

What remains of Glastonbury Abbey now

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Alfresco dining at the Abbey, but in summer

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

The Abbot's 'kitchen'

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

As I walked around the extensive Abbey grounds, I could only vaguely imagine its glory days before its dissolution by Henry VIII. These grounds held the still-imposing ruins of the awe-inspiring abbey, remains of other buildings on site, including the Abbot's kitchen. I tried to think of the general camaraderie among monks of the Abbey, their lives of monastic sparseness and religious discipline [well, most of the time ;-)]. Feeling a sense of belonging and leading a life of purpose, those monks in their dark brown habits (pics below) would have lived in this Abbey and been mostly content, I thought, only to find it all come crashing down one day. Because a King decided so. On a whim. No wonder Kings need voluminous history books to stay alive in our memories. And the ones the King persecuted? They speak to us even through the foggy ruins of time.

An artist's impression of Glastonbury Abbey monks

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Glastonbury town is alive with ancient history and medieval mystique. There is a story waiting to be heard, at every street corner, on every mud-covered cluster of stones and just about anywhere else you might care to look long enough. I decided I must take a look at Glastonbury Tor, up close, and set off from the town centre on an hour-long walk to the Tor/Tower.

Glastonbury Tor is like nothing I had ever seen. From a distance, it appears to be a tortoise in hibernation mode but with a gigantic radio antenna on its back. Up close, the entire mound on which the Tor stands, is a deep shade of green, even in the dead of winter. And when the sun is shining, as it was that day when I was up at the Tor, you can see for miles and miles in all directions. The views are an unmatchable 360-degree panorama of blissful green countryside, with neatly-spaced farms, hundreds of sheep grazing in these farms, patches of trees and the inescapable black strips of motorways crisscrossing all these natural features of the Somerset Levels.

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

The tower on the Tor hill is the 15th century St Michael's Tower and is believed to be the only remaining structure part of an older church. The entire Somerset countryside is also called the Isle of Avalon and was once said to be near the sea, hence the term 'isle'. The Tor is also a place of spiritual significance for those who place deep faith in the esoteric concept of 'Ley Lines'. These are energy lines that run across the landscape of Britain and spiritually 'charge up' spots they pass through, and especially where they intersect. Much as I wanted to experience this 'energy', I felt nothing specific but only very refreshed while climbing down from the Tor to reach my BnB for much-needed rest.

The Tor and its shadow

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

St Michael's Tower

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Climbing down from the Tor

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

You can see over miles in all directions from here

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Next stop: the Chalice Well. What's a 'chalice'? It's a large cup or goblet and is used mostly in religious ceremonies. The Chalice Well in Glastonbury has an artistic wrought-iron and wood cover and is one of Britain's most ancient wells. It is set in a garden between the Chalice Hill and the Tor and is a very peaceful spot. I spent around an hour here, most of it next to the Well. If spirituality is your thing, this place will leave a lasting impression on you.

That's a Chalice

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

And this is the Chalice Well

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Glastonbury means various things to different people. Some come here looking to make sense of religious history and how it continues to affect our lives today, others are hoping to explore spiritualism unbounded by rigid rules and ceremonies, and still few want to connect with nature in the most primitive form by living rough on a farm nearby. This town's alleyways are home to what some sardonically call 'new-age' spirituality, where you can find a dream-catcher and a 'goddess' glass statue in the same row of boutiques that also stock organic candles, self-healing remedies and medieval manuscripts.

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

Glastonbury is where they say King Arthur's remains were found (in the Abbey grounds) and also where we all know one of the world's most famous music festivals is organised. It is easy to make Glastonbury what you want it to be. For all 'shades of happy', from the heathen to the hippie and everything in between, there really is no place like Glasto. When are you visiting?

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai

The Glastonbury Abbey grounds

Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
Photo of Here's why you should go to Glastonbury, and no, it's not for the Festival by Shalini Rai
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