One of the best things about the British countryside is that so much of it comes with a story attached. Glastonbury Tor, in the heart of Somerset, is an absolute goldmine when it comes to fantastic tales of magic, heroes and ancient gods. Rising up sharply from the low-lying Somerset Levels, this large hill has been called a magic mountain, a fairies’ hill, the last known location of the Holy Grail, a gateway to the land of the dead, a focal point of crossing ley lines and the final resting place of the legendary Briton hero, King Arthur. Britons called the Tor Ynys yr Afalon, “The Isle of Avalon” (fans of the TV series 'Merlin' will recognise that name). In fact, Afal was the Celtic word for apple, so this could have been a reference to the apple-rich Somerset countryside (when you visit, be sure to sample the cider).
“Avalon” could also have come from ‘Annwfn’, the name of the Celtic underworld. Perhaps this is why, in the Arthurian legends, King Arthur is taken to Avalon by boat after he’s mortally wounded, with the promise that he’ll return in a time of great need. History suggests that centuries ago much of this area was underwater, and Glastonbury Tor would indeed have been an island. In 1191, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey claimed they’d discovered the graves of a large man and a woman with golden hair, 16 feet deep, labelled with the words “His iacet inclitus Arturius in insula Avalonia” variously interpreted as 'Here lies King Arthur buried in Avalon'! A century later the remains were reburied in a black marble tomb in the Abbey Church, in preparation for a visit by King Edward I. The tomb was ransacked during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, and they’ve never been seen since.
Intrigued? Glastonbury Tor is one of our Secret Britain locations, and we love it. Take a tour of the Tor and the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and hear the stories and myths in more detail when you're there in person. The abbey tours are even conducted by guides dressed up as Arthurian figures, which brings it all to life! Don't forget, there's a rather famous music festival associated with Glastonbury too, but you probably already knew that! If you want to go, be sure to book early - tickets go onsale in October the year before! If you liked this post, please leave us a comment below. For more information on attractions in Britain, visit our LoveWall