Place & TravelReligion & Spirituality

The Other Glastonbury – and why you should go

Photo by Keith Sellick
Back in the day, about a hundred years ago, I went to Glastonbury Festival. Soon after arriving, my boyfriend and I broke up and I tramped across miles of tent-crammed fields looking for my other friends. It was boiling by day and freezing by night, and there were far too many people in one place, to my mind. I gather it’s got bigger since.

Despite my misery, I couldn’t help noticing that this was an exceptionally beautiful part of the world. And as, during the following years, Glastonbury’s reputation as a special spiritual place grew, I wondered what it was like. Finally, last summer, I went to find out. If you haven’t been so far, I recommend it to you.

Why go to Glastonbury Town? Some short answers: it’s very pretty. A compact but lively market town set in hills on the edge of the Somerset Levels, you can have a good dose of town and quite a lot of country. It’s historic: Glastonbury’s abbey dates back to the first centuries of British Christianity and the heyday of monasticism. And with it’s array of New Age shops, therapists, rituals and workshops, it’s nothing short of a phenomenon.

Some highlights: the only goddess temple in Europe – worth a visit, especially if you fancy some downtime. For stimulation, try the Library of Avalon, the only public library of esoterica in the UK. Need some guidance about your life path, or just a sympathetic ear? Pop into the Glastonbury Reception Centre, a kind of drop-in counselling centre with a spiritual twist.

Chalice Well, the hillside gardens created around an iron-rich spring, are an oasis of tranquility, but my particular outdoor favourite is somewhat less well-known. St Margaret’s Chapel and almshouses, just off a busy street opposite the bus station, has an atmosphere of concentrated peace and a strong sense of the-past-in-the-present. All this and more I explored in the little town of Glastonbury.

Of course, for the curious tourist, Glastonbury cannot but raise an interesting, possibly unsettling question – is the place a hub of New Age nonsense or a spiritual mecca for our times? But that’s something each visitor must decide for herself.

In Search of Glastonbury, a short digital travelogue, is available on Amazon now.