9 July 2008: Lacock and Glastonbury
The morning was scheduled as free so I wandered around Avebury and followed Helen’s directions to a lovely elm grove. It was raining so I had the place to myself, clooties and all. I’d like to have stayed there longer, but had to get on the bus for the next destination. We don’t have elms in Australia, unless they’ve been planted in someone’s garden, and it’s interesting to see the trees that appear in so many fairy stories I read as a kid. The entangling roots of these trees were particularly impressive.
We then drove in the wet to Lacock, a charming circa-13th century village with no sign of modern houses, telephone or power poles. It is owned by the National Trust and has been used as a film set for Harry Potter and Jane Austen, etc. films. Once again with the narrow streets and very interesting architecture. Shame about the rain, which cramped our style a bit.
After lunch in yet another picturesque pub, onwards to the Wessex Hotel in the town of Street – relatively modern and boring but apparently a suburb of cheap ‘designer’ stores, which others in the group took advantage of. This was the base for the next few days. Unlike some of the others, Christine and I were lucky to have a room with decent water pressure – I had in fact been warned about the fluctuating water pressure in British hotels before I left home. Makes showers ‘interesting’.
Today was spent in Glastonbury village – the home of the famous music festival, full of New Age and witchy shops, and Arthurian lore, plus a small but very good museum in a 1000-year-old building, covering the archaeology of the nearby lowlands.
The village is overlooked by the Glastonbury Tor, legendary King Arthur stuff, and walking up to the 14th-century church ruins is a must …
The view from the top of the tor is sweeping, and one can imagine the ‘mists of Avalon’ over the marshes below. Our guide was the lovely Professor Ronald Hutton, professor of history and author of numerous books on Arthur, druids and so forth as well as general history in Britain. He had his 15-year-old daughter, who lives in the US, in tow. He took us around the tor, the gardens and the abbey, and has the gift of telling a story as though you were the first person he had ever told it to. He’s very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
Ron’s take on the whole King Arthur thing is that, whatever happened in the past, the site is today one of pilgrimage for many people, so is a modern ‘sacred site’, as much as a church or other traditional religious venue would be. I spotted a group meditating and chanting on one slope of the hillside.
The nearby Chalice Wells Gardens are gorgeous, with lots of little grottos and shrines with statues – a peaceful atmosphere, despite the crowds.
One could ‘take the waters’ as they gushed out of a rock, but one sip convinced me that they were quite mineralised. My tank water back home tastes much better! But, I admit, does not have mystical healing properties.
After lunch at the Rifleman’s pub – soup and local cider – we hiked to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Not much is left of the buildings after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Two skeletons were excavated in the grounds, and thought by some to be those of Arthur and Guinevere.
A local guide, taking the guise of a friar cook, gave us a lively talk about the eating habits of monastics of the era, including the fact that goose was considered to be fish. After all, it came from goose barnacles, so allowable to eat on Fridays (a religious custom), a meat-free day.
The kitchen still stands more or less intact …
Today was 15th century (and earlier) history and mythology – tomorrow “Ave Romani”!