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Published August 9th 2017
Take A Tour Of The Tor
This place of pilgrimage is easy to find even without a map. It is visible from a ten mile radius, rising high out of the Somerset fields like a whale's back. The Tor has been inhabited in one form or another for well over 2,000 years, and so it has a powerful aura of myth and legend surrounding it. Some believe it is the 'Isle of Avalon', the final resting place of King Arthur of the round table. Others say it was used as a hermitage for monks that was founded by St Patrick after he brought Christianity to Ireland. Whatever any visitor believes, it is a fascinating and dramatic place to visit, and leaves a lasting impression.
The Tor is a brisk 15 minute walk from Glastonbury High Street, so I parked at Draper's Factory, which is at the foot of the hill that leads to the Tor. At £4 for the whole day it is an ideal place to park, and getting a ticket leads you through the shop floor of the Draper Sheepskin factory, which is still very much in operation today.
The walk (or climb, as I should say), is very steep, and follows a winding path of gravel and stone steps. I made it up there in ten minutes with a brief sit on one of the benches, but you need to be prepared for some serious exercise. Due to the nature of the paths, I feel it would be very challenging for anybody using a wheelchair to access the Tor, and there is no vehicular access to the summit. Nevertheless, the grass there is smooth, so perhaps it is possible with some determination and stamina. Even from the base of the hill though, the landscape is remarkable and dramatic.
Once embarked on the climb, there is a magnificent view of the landscape that takes in the counties of Wiltshire and Somerset. It is very much 'England's green and pleasant land ' here, and on a clear day, it is possible to see well in to Wales, with the Severn Bridge pointing the way. A helpful circular map behind the summit points out key landmarks for visitors.
I am always moved by how many people make the trip up to the top, and also by how diverse the groups are. The flat-topped hill is always full of different languages, and everybody seems to mark their ascent in a different manner, whether by sharing a joke with friends or meditating inside the open-roofed tower. There is a palpable feeling of history up there that is even carved in to the tower itself, which has graffiti dating back hundreds of years.
The stone tower marks the site of two previous churches, but has been roofless and unoccupied since the days of the Reformation. Despite the lack of conventional worship however, there are many signs of people leaving votive gifts and prayers there, and at the base of the hill stands a rapidly decorated 'Wishing tree', in the form of a young oak. I find it fitting that the tower is unadorned, so that people can enjoy the space, regardless of their beliefs or opinions. It is a truly open and welcoming place.
Due to the unusual make up of the rocks beneath the Tor, the summit has resisted any erosion over the millennia. This makes standing at the summit a very impressive spectacle, and it is surprisingly high up, considering it takes only minutes to reach the top. On the way back down I always feel a sense of achievement at having made it up there.