When I’d decided to set Beltane in Glastonbury I obviously had to go on a research trip. And then another one, and one after that. I wanted the Glastonbury in the book to be as close as possible to the real thing, which felt like quite a challenge as I live 250 miles away in York.
Glastonbury isn’t quite like anywhere else and I hope that comes across in Beltane. An editor from a well-known publishing house who read the first chapter told me she thought I’d created an alternative reality Glastonbury when she read about the witchcraft shops and goddess workshops. But, that is all absolutely true. As if I could dream up a goddess workshop, honestly!
With Beltane coming out on Monday I wanted to share some of my favourite places in Glastonbury.
There is something amazingly peaceful about the Chalice Well. It’s not just that it has the most beautiful gardens. I can think of plenty of places with stunning gardens that don’t have the same sense of serenity. At the centre of the garden is a holy well with red-tinged water. Geology tells us this comes from the iron bearing rocks that the spring has flown through but the legend is far more romantic. It says that Joseph of Arimathea buried or washed the chalice from the Last Supper in this place and that the red water represents the blood of Christ.
Legendary last resting place of Arthur and Guinevere? Well, probably not. It’s now widely believed that the twelfth century monks were a bit short of cash and completely fabricated the tale of King Arthur in order to bring in more revenue from pilgrims. However, a good legend sticks around and the idea of the Isle of Avalon being Arthur’s final resting place seems pretty much fixed in people’s minds.
The Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill
This used to be one of my favourite spots in Glastonbury but the callous and repeated vandalism of the Holy Thorn made it seem quite desolate when I went back in the summer. The story goes that when Joseph of Arimathea travelled to Glastonbury his boat came to rest on Wearyall Hill (the Somerset Levels would have been entirely covered in water at that time and Glastonbury was little more than three hills). Stepping out of his boat, Joseph sank his staff into the soil of the hill. He left it there and it grew to become the Holy Thorn. People bring prayers and wishes and leave a ribbon tied to the tree.
St Margaret’s Chapel
This is a bit of a hidden gem, tucked in off Magdalen Street, with the alms houses and a lovely peaceful garden next to it. It’s pretty tiny but a beautiful spot to sit and think.
There’s so many legends about the Tor it’s almost impossible to know where to start. There’s stories of fairies, ley lines, labyrinths, goddesses and, of course, King Arthur. The locals say it’s got its own weather system and I have discovered that it’s almost always insanely windy up there, no matter how calm it may be in the town. Most people hike straight up it but there’s a path that goes off about half way up which takes you to a lovely apple orchard which is a beautiful place for sitting and enjoying the stunning view over the Somerset Levels.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of Glastonbury. If you’d like to spend more time there, without the trouble of leaving your house, then Beltane will be published on Monday and is available to pre-order here now.