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Archive for the ‘Glastonbury’ Category

A major excavation is under way to explore the unclear history of Britain’s largest Iron Age hill fort.

The Ham Hill Iron Age hill fort site spreads over 80 hectares making it the largest in Britain

The Ham Hill Iron Age hill fort site spreads over 80 hectares making it the largest in Britain

The purpose of the Ham Hill site in Somerset is not known but researchers are now hoping to gain a deeper insight into life 2,000 years ago.

A joint team from the universities of Cambridge and Cardiff have begun a dig at the 88-hectare site to learn more.

Work is due to continue until September 2013 by which time the team hope to have a clearer map of its interior.

Niall Sharples, from Cardiff University, said: “It’s a bit of an enigma. Ham Hill is so big that no archaeologist has ever really been able to get a handle on it.

“People think of these places as defensive structures, but it is inconceivable that such a place could have been defended.

“Thousands of people would have been required; militarily, it would have been a nightmare.

“Clearly, it was a special place for people in the Iron Age, but when did it become special, why, and how long did it stay that way?”

Researchers believe the site may have been a monument and was somehow meant to create a sense of community, collective identity, or prestige.

‘Communal identity’

Christopher Evans, from the Cambridge archaeological unit, said it was a rare opportunity to tackle the site’s big issues on the scale they deserve.

“We don’t know if the site’s development was prompted by trade, defence or communal identity needs,” he said.

“Equally, should we be thinking of it as a great, centralised settlement place – almost proto-urban in its layout and community size?”

One of the key aims of the current excavation will be to pin down the rough date of the hill fort’s construction.

Smaller scale digs at the site have produced a number of finds, including human remains, the skeleton of a dog, pottery, iron sickles and the remains of a house.

‘There is also a wonderful pearched right on the top of Ham Hill tat serves a mean ‘Ploughmans’ and a great pint’ – Somerset tour guide

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Archaeologists searching for King Arthur’s round table have found a “circular feature” beneath the historic King’s Knot in Stirling.

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King's Knot in the grounds of Stirling Castle

The King’s Knot, a geometrical earthwork in the former royal gardens below Stirling Castle, has been shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years.

Though the Knot as it appears today dates from the 1620s, its flat-topped central mound is thought to be much older.

Writers going back more than six centuries have linked the landmark to the legend of King Arthur.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University, working with the Stirling Local History Society and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society, conducted the first ever non-invasive survey of the site in May and June in a bid to uncover some of its secrets.

Their findings were show there was indeed a round feature on the site that pre-dates the visible earthworks.

Historian John Harrison, chair of the SLHS, who initiated the project, said: “Archaeologists using remote-sensing geophysics, have located remains of a circular ditch and other earth works beneath the King’s Knot.

“The finds show that the present mound was created on an older site and throws new light on a tradition that King Arthur’s Round Table was located in this vicinity.”

Stories have been told about the curious geometrical mound for hundreds of years — including that it was the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

Around 1375 the Scots poet John Barbour said that “the round table” was south of Stirling Castle, and in 1478 William of Worcester told how “King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle”.

Sir David Lindsay, the 16th century Scottish writer, added to the legend in 1529 when he said that Stirling Castle was home of the “Chapell-royall, park, and Tabyll Round”.

It has also been suggested the site is partly Iron Age or medieval, or was used as a Roman fort.

Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I, when the mound is thought to have taken its current form.

The first known record of the site being called the King’s Knot is from 1767, by which time it was being leased for pasture.

Locals refer to the grassy earthworks as the “cup and saucer”, but aerial photographs taken in 1980 showed three concentric ditches beneath and around the King’s Knot mound, suggesting an earthwork monument had preceded it.

The new survey — funded by Historic Scotland and Stirling City Heritage Trust — used the latest scientific techniques to showing lost structures and features up to a metre below the ground.

It also revealed a series of ditches south of the main mound, as well as remains of buildings, and more recent structures, including modern drains which appear at the northern end of the gardens.

Mr Harrison, who has studied the King’s Knot for 20 years, said: “It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve, but geophysics has given us new insights.

“Of course, we cannot say that King Arthur was there, but the feature which surrounds the core of the Knot could explain the stories and beliefs that people held.”

Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who coordinated the project, said: “The area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.

“This investigation is an exciting first step in a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them. The results so far suggest that Scotland’s monarchs integrated an ancient feature into their garden, something we know happened in other countries too.

“We are looking forward to the next stage in September when we hope to refine some of the details.”

Dr. Kirsty Owen, Cultural Heritage Adviser at Historic Scotland, added: “The project has the potential to add to our knowledge of the landscape context of the medieval and early modern occupation of Stirling Castle.

“The ditches identified may intriguingly be part of historically documented earlier garden features, or if prehistoric in origin could add to our scant knowledge of prehistoric activity at Stirling Castle.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the next phase of investigations.”Futher work including a ground-penetrating radar survey, is now planned to take place next month to find out more.

A small display of the interim results can be seen close to the site at the Smith Museum.

Wessex Tour Guide – Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours
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Legends of Glastonbury

There are so many myths associated with Glastonbury that it is difficult

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

to know where to begin to talk about them. There are two main streams of legend that surround Glastonbury, though they twine around each other to some degree. The two streams revolve around the romantic figures of Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur. Let’s take them one at a time.

Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph was the Biblical figure who took Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. According to some legends he was actually Jesus’ uncle, and had visited Britain years before with Jesus in the pursuit of his interests in the tin trade. It appears that there actually was a strong Jewish presence in the west of England at that time, and many of the tin miners may have been Jewish settlers.

At any rate, when Jesus died, Joseph thought it prudent to flee Palestine, and after many travails he came to Britain with a company of followers. He brought with him the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Some versions of the legend have it that the Grail contained two drops of blood captured from Jesus’ side when he was wounded on the cross.

When Joseph came to Britain he was granted land at Glastonbury by the local king. When he arrived at Glastonbury, Joseph stuck his thorn staff in the earth, whereupon it rooted and burst into bloom. A cutting from that first tree was planted in the grounds of the later Glastonbury Abbey, where it continued to bloom every year therafter at Christmas time. There is still a thorn tree in the Abbey grounds, of a variety native to the Holy Lands, and it does indeed bloom around Christmas time.

Joseph was said to have established the first church in England at Glastonbury, and archaeological records show that there may well have been an extremely early Christian church here. What happened to the Holy Grail is another matter. Some legends have it that Joseph buried the Grail at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, whereupon a spring of blood gushed forth from the ground.

There is a well at the base of the Tor, Chalice Well, and the water that issues from it does indeed have a reddish tinge to it, from the iron content of the water.

Other legends have it that the Holy Grail was interred with Joseph when he died, in a secret grave. The search for the mysterious Grail emerges again and again in the tales of Glastonbury.

Further legends tell that the church founded by Joseph continued for many years. Eventually it became a monastery, and one of the first abbots was the future St Patrick, who was born in the west country.

King Arthur and Glastonbury

Glastonbury Abbey, where King Arthur is said to lie buriedLegends of King Arthur swirl about Glastonbury like a tantalizing fog from the nearby Somerset marshes. The nearby hill fort at South Cadbury has long been suggested as the location for Camelot. Indeed, excavations of South Cadbury suggest that it was in use during the early 6th century, which is the likeliest era for the real Arthur to have lived.

The association of Arthur and Glastonbury goes back at least to the early Middle Ages. In the late 12th century the monks of Glastonbury Abbey announced that they had found the grave of Arthur and Guinivere, his queen. According to the monks, an excavation found a stone inscribed “Here lies Arthur, king.” Below the stone they found the bones of a large man, and the smaller skeleton of a woman. The monks reburied the bones in the grounds of the abbey, where they were a very handy draw for pilgrims. The site of the grave can be seen today in the abbey grounds.

Glastonbury Tor, the enigmatic conical hill that rises above Glastonbury, has been linked with the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur was buried after his death. This isn’t so farfetched as it may sound, for a millennium ago the water level was much higher, and the tor would indeed have been an island. Avalon was also called “the isle of glass” which does suggest similarities to the name “Glastonbury”.

The Holy Grail, the object of Arthur’s questing, is said to be buried beneath Glastonbury Tor, and has also been linked to Chalice Well at the base of the Tor.

One final myth of Arthur at Glastonbury: the landscape around Glastonbury is said to have been moulded and shaped so that the features (such as roads, churches, and burial mounds) create a zodiac calendar replete with Arthurian symbology. Like so many of the Arthurian myths, so much is open to interpretation and your own predisposition to believe or disbelieve.

Glastonbury Abbey
Is there a place more steeped in legend and myth than Glastonbury? Glastonbury AbbeyProbably not. Legend holds that the earliest church here was founded by St. Joseph of Arimathea in about 60AD, and that when he planted his staff in the earth a thorn tree burst forth.

In the grounds of the ruined Benedictine monastery there is a thorn tree of a variety common to the Middle East which is given to bloom around Christmas time.

By the late Middle Ages Glastonbury had become the richest abbey in England, due to the heavy pilgrimage trade. It was rich enough to build an inn for well-to-do pilgrims (the George Inn, on nearby High Street, which still welcomes guests 500 years later). The best preserved building in the abbey grounds is the old Abbot’s Kitchen (see photo), a curious square building which appears round due to its octagonal roof. In the abbey grounds are the reputed graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which were conveniently discovered by the Glastonbury monks in the 12th century, when the abbey needed a financial boost. Outside the grounds are the abbey tithe barn, which now serves as the Somerset Rural Life Museum (well worth a visit), and 4 miles away at Mere is the abbey’s Fish House, were fish was salted and cured.

The abbey is entered through the Abbey Gatehouse  an imposing arched gateway located on off Magdalene Street. Visitors pass through a fascinating museum depicting life at Glastonbury during the Middle Ages, and then enter the Abbey grounds proper. The first building you see on entering the grounds is St Mary’s Chapel, a roofless structure that boasts wonderful architectural details, from the recessed arches of the door to the repetitive arcading that rings the interior. Look up, where the curious small towers at each corner of the chapel seem almost Georgian in style.

If you continue past the chapel you will soon reach the Abbot’s Kitchen, probably the most recognizable symbol of the Abbey, and subject of numerous postcards! This is a peculiar building, with a high octagonnal tower over a square base bedecked with gargoyles. The interior is notable for the very large ovens and the high dome supported on reed-thin vaulting ribs.

Return from the Abbot’s Kitchen towards St Mary’s Chapel and you will pass a small sign on the green lawn. This marks the old burial ground, where, in the 12th century, monks conveniently found bones beneath an engraved stone indicating the burial place of legendary King Arthur. The bones and those presumed to belong to Arthur’s queen, Guinivere, were reburied within the Abbey Church, where a small memorial can be seen.

The grounds of Glastonbury Abbey emanate a sense of calm and peace; it is truly a magical place, and taken as a whole with the other attractions of this ancient town, make Glastonbury well worth an extended visit.

Visitor Information
Glastonbury Abbey
The Abbey Gatehouse
Magdalene Street
Glastonbury
Somerset
UK
BA6 9EL
Web: http://www.glastonburyabbey.com
Email: nfo@glastonburyabbey.com
 
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Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours……………….
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 The weather may not be anything to write a postcard home about – but the West’s tourism industry enjoyed a twin boost yesterday.

Key visitor attractions featured prominently in the first global TV adverts for a decade and new research showed up to 17 million Brits will holiday at home this year.

VisitBritain, the national tourism agency, yesterday unveiled its international TV campaign to attract overseas visitors to the country.

The adverts will be screened around the world, and include Stonehenge, Glastonbury and the Cotswolds.

Stonehenge is already in the spotlight because of the summer solstice, and VisitBritain say the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most important prehistoric monuments on the planet.

As well as the 5,000-year-old site, there are money Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in the surrounding landscape, and Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe, is nearby.

Glastonbury is synonymous with the annual music festival taking place at the weekend, with international superstars such as U2, Coldplay and Beyonce, as well as theatre and circus performers and much more.but VisitBritain also point to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, and the iconic Tor, along with myths and legends about the Isle of Avalon, King Arthur, Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail.

The agency adds: “For many visitors, the Cotswolds represent everything that is quintessentially ‘English’, with villages and churches of honey-coloured limestone set among gentle hillsides, cottage gardens, beech woods and drystone walls.”

Historic sites include Sudeley Castle and Chedworth Roman Villa, while VisitBritain urges tourists to sample local produce such as Gloucester Old Spot pork, Tewkesbury mustard and the famous Cotswold cheeses.

Other locations in the TV adverts include London landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Lake District, Snowdon in Wales, Edinburgh Castle and the Highlands.

Celebrities such as actress Dame Judi Dench, fashion icon Twiggy and chef Jamie Oliver – who has restaurants in Bath and Bristol with another opening in Cheltenham this summer – star in them.

The campaign kicks off a major marketing push that seeks to build on the global impact of the Royal Wedding, with the Olympics next year also guaranteeing the international spotlight.

It will concentrate on the current most important tourism markets, such as the US and Western Europe, and the big growth areas for the future, including China and India.

VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe said: “This is our first global TV campaign for 10 years and marks the start of an ambitious marketing programme. With the eyes of the world on us, we have an opportunity to showcase Britain and then to close the sale with great travel deals and offers from our partners.

“This campaign aims to inspire visitors to come and explore for themselves. Over four years, we aim to attract four million extra overseas visitors, who will spend £2 billion across Britain.”

Meanwhile a new survey has found nearly 40 per cent of Britons will stay at home this summer as families strive to balance household finances.

Many of them will instead enjoy ‘staycations’, with the West sure to cash in.

The poll was carried out for savings bank ING Direct, and chief executive Richard Doe said: “It’s not surprising that the summer holiday is often being sacrificed.”

Visiting Britain ? Visit the West Country!

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As a Christian symbol, it seems appropriate that its resurrection took place in time for Easter.  Glastonbury’s Holy Thorn tree began to show new buds this week, three months after it was savagely cut down by vandals.
According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea – who some say was Jesus’s great-uncle – travelled to Wearyall Hill after the Crucifixion and stuck a wooden staff belonging to Jesus into the ground before he went to sleep.

When he awoke, the tale goes, the staff had sprouted into a thorn tree, which became a shrine for Christians across Europe.

Every year, the sacred tree flowered once at Christmas and once at Easter, until just before Christmas last year when it was vandalised, leaving the community of the small Somerset town fearing it was dead.

But that was before the council enlisted the help of Peter Frearson, a self-titled pagan wizard who happens to run his own horticultural business.

Mr Frearson said: ‘Well-meaning but uninformed people were putting things like marmalade on the wounds. ‘Mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey, was also popular, as well as various ales and Guinness on one occasion.

‘There’s also been a few ribbons tied round it, as well as lots of people holding hands around it, and circles of people projecting positive energy.’

Sacred: Well-wishers visit the tree in Glastonbury, SomersetSacred: Well-wishers visit the tree in Glastonbury, Somerset

But Mr Frearson, nicknamed the Garden Wizard, had other ideas to ensure the tree’s revival.

He said: ‘We applied a dressing of pine resin and beeswax to stop further moisture and rain getting in, keep out bacteria and fungus, and applied nutrients.

‘We covered it in horticultural fleece, then bubble wrap, then more fleece.
‘Soon after we replaced the bubble wrap with hessian.

‘We mulched around the base of the tree with well-rotted wood chips to keep the moisture off the ground, and we’ve also driven spikes into the ground and filled the holes with compost and bonemeal, and we’ll do it again soon.’

Glastonbury’s mayor John Coles said the display of new buds on the tree was ‘wonderful news for the town’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1370056/Resurrection-Holy-Thorn-Tree-Glastonburys-vandalised-shrine-comes-life.html#ixzz1Hh02v1NE

Visit the ;Holy Thorn’ on a Glastonbury (King Arthure Country) guided sightseeing tour.

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A film is set to be made by Hollywood producers on the Glastonbury legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn.

The £50m-budget film Glastonbury: Isle of Light is set for release in 2012 and has been written and produced by Daniel McNicholl with Galatia Films.

Holy Thorn - Glastonbury Holy Thorn – Glastonbury

A film is set to be made by Hollywood producers on the Glastonbury legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn.

The £50m-budget film Glastonbury: Isle of Light is set for release in 2012 and has been written and produced by Daniel McNicholl with Galatia Films.

In December the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill was cut down by vandals but efforts are being made to re-grow it.

The legend relates to Joseph who planted Jesus’s staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill 2,000 years ago.

A tree grew, and it is believed the hawthorn sprouted from a cutting of the tree. It is one of several Holy Thorns planted around Glastonbury.

Daniel McNicholl said: “This is a British story so I think it needs to be told through British landscape.

“We want ancient Glastonbury to be shot in places like the Isle of Man, Ireland, Wales, and Somerset.

“Clearly the topography is much different than it was 2,000 years ago and we will be using digital effects to take out some of the modern buildings, so it is very much a different place.”

The film producer has said he was aware of the Holy Thorn being vandalised which he described as “punch in the gut” but believes the tree will re-grow successfully.

Avon and Somerset police are still continuing their enquires and a reward of £200 has been offered by the town council for more information.

Glastonburymovie.com
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-12160098

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Wanted to claryfy that we have not misspelt our tour company name. HisTOURies comes from two words  ‘history’ and ‘stories’ – clever eh?
We operate guided historical (hisTOURical) sightseeing tours of Britain.  Our expert guides (historians or hisTOURians) bring Britain’s rich history (hisTOURy) alive with tales’s and stoiries (sTOURys or sTOURies) of ancient England.
‘It is not spelt incorrectly.’
Hope thats clear (clear as mud)……………..
Our award winning tours can depart from London, Salisbury, Bath or Glastonbury.  Please visit our website:
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in British History (hisTOURy)

Histories (Herodotus)

The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known around the Mediterranean and Western Asia at that time. It is not an impartial record but it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established without precedent the genre and study of history in the Western world, although historical records and chronicles existed beforehand.

Perhaps most importantly, it stands as one of the first, and surviving, accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, the events of, and causes for, the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus portrays the conflict as one between the forces of slavery (the Persians) on the one hand, and freedom (the Athenians and the confederacy of Greek city-states which united against the invaders) on the other.

The Histories was at some point through the ages divided into the nine books of modern editions, conventionally named after the Muses.

Herodotus seems to have travelled extensively around the ancient world, conducting interviews and collecting stories for his book. At the beginning of The Histories, Herodotus sets out his reasons for writing it:

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Vandals have destroyed one of the most celebrated Christian pilgrimage sites in Britain and chopped down a tree said to have sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea 2,000 years ago.

The Holy Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, Somerset, is visited by thousands every year to pay homage and leave tokens of worship. Those visiting today were moved to tears on finding the tree cut to a stump.

The sacred tree is unique in that it blossoms twice a year – at Christmas and Easter – and sprigs taken from the thorn are sent to The Queen each year for the festive table.

the vandalised holy thorn tree Police tape surrounds the vandalised Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury as stunned locals look on. The branches were cut off overnight and a police investigation has been launched

 

The tree in all its glory before it was hacked apart. Legend says it sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who helped Jesus of the cross. To the right of the tree, in the distance, is Glastonbury TorThe tree in all its glory before it was hacked apart. Legend says it sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who helped Jesus of the cross. To the right of the tree, in the distance, is Glastonbury Tor

 

A member of the public gathers sprigs from the vandalised Holy Thorn tree that was cut down overnight
People come to say prayers over the vandalised remains of the hawthorn tree on Wearyall Hill

A member of the public gathers sprigs from the chopped branches while (right) onlookers cry and say prayers

BROUGHT TO LIFE BY JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, CHOPPED DOWN BY CROMWELL’S ROUNDHEADS, REBORN THANKS TO LOCALS

oliver cromwell

Christian legend dictates that Jesus’s great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion 2,000 years ago bearing the Holy Grail – the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.

He visited Glastonbury and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the Tor, planting a seed for the original thorn tree.

Roundheads felled the tree during the English Civil War, when forces led by Oliver Cromwell (pictured) waged a vicious battle against the Crown.

However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury.

It was then replanted on the hill in 1951. Other cuttings were also grown and placed around the town – including its famous Glastonbury Abbey.

Experts had verified that the tree – known as the Crategus Monogyna Bi Flora – originated from the Middle East.

A sprig of holy thorns was taken from the Thorn tree by Glastonbury’s St Johns Church on Wednesday and sent to the Queen.

The 100-year-old tradition will see the thorns sit on Her Majesty’s dinner table on Christmas Day

Avon and Somerset Police have launched an investigation after locals found that vandals had hacked off the branches of the iconic tree. They were dumped next to the trunk which is protected by a metal cage.

Locals wept openly today at the foot of the tree, on the town’s Wearyall Hill opposite its world-famous Tor as they struggled to contain their emotion.

Katherine Gorbing, curator of Glastonbury Abbey, said: ‘The mindless vandals who have hacked down this tree have struck at the heart of Christianity.

‘It holds a very special significance all over the world and thousands follow in the footsteps of Joseph Arimathea, coming especially to see it.

‘It is the most significant of all the trees planted here and can be linked back to the origins of Christianity.

‘When I arrived at the Abbey this morning you could look over to the hill and see it was not there.

‘It’s a great shock to everyone in Glastonbury – the landscape of the town has changed overnight.’

Glastonbury Mayor John Coles rushed to the tree site after he heard the news.

Mr Coles, 66, said: ‘I’m stood on Wearyall Hill looking at a sad, sad, sight. The tree has been chopped down – someone has taken a saw to it.

‘Some of the main trunk is there but the branches have been sawn away. I am absolutely lost for words – I just do not know why people would want to do this.

‘This tree was visited by thousands of people each year and is one of the most important Christian sites. It is known all over the world.’

Deputy Mayor William Knight, 63, added: ‘This is absolutely mindless. We are all devastated.’

I lived in Glastonbury for many years and this is a sad day……………

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Wessex is the ancient kingdom of the West Saxons that defeated its rivals and created England. The counties of Essex, Middlesex and Sussex remain with us to recall the East, Mid and South Saxons that Wessex conquered but when King Edgar of Wessex was crowned as the first King of England in Bath in 973, Wessex, the dominant and most civilised of the Anglo-Saxon states, ceased to be a government entity.

Kingdom of Wessex Map

Kingdom of Wessex Map

The area with which Histouries UK is concerned was recognised in the early ninth century when the four West Saxon shires, now Counties, were created. The name of each reflected the name of the town on which the surrounding shire was dependent. They were:

West Saxon Shire Shire Town Present County
Dornsaete Dorchester Dorset
Somersaete Somerton Somerset
Wiltunscir Wilton Wiltshire
Hamtunscir Southampton Hampshire

The history of the area goes back much further than this. Its Neolithic inhabitants built a large number of sacred hills, camps, rings, barrows and henges to honour their dead, celebrate the seasons or mark their boundaries. Wessex has an almost unparallelled wealth of archaeological sites including Avebury and Stonehenge. It is a land of myths and legends. Among them are the story of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and, perhaps above all the legends, that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Wessex reached its peak in the ninth and tenth centuries and especially in the reign of Alfred the Great, one of the most remarkable men in England’s long history. He was not only a military genius who reformed the army and established the navy. He was also a learned man who greatly influenced the development of the English language and whose laws formed a base for much of the English law we know today.

In 1066, the Normans came to conquer and brought great changes with them. The name of Wessex fell into the background but the area remained important in the flow of English history. The concentration of its heritage with us now, bears witness to this. In more recent times, the work of writers, Thomas Hardy, in particular, has breathed new life into the use of “Wessex”to represent an area and now there are hundreds of companies that have it as part of their name.

WESSEX TODAY

Destination Wessex describes it this way:

“Wessex is the land of King Arthur and King Alfred, of Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, of Bath and Stonehenge. It was the birthplace of England and England’s heritage remains very much part of the Wessex way of life. It is a land of beautiful countryside, historic market towns and ancient villages not far from London, but in every other way very far from the pressure, pace and congestion of the urban world.”

The four counties have a rural culture. Major urban communities such as Bristol, Swindon and Southampton are situated near the perimeter. Elsewhere, there is a feeling of timeliness. What you see has been there for hundreds of years and there it will be hundreds of years from now. The industrial revolution largely passed it by and, while the modern world may have a degree of physical presence, the flow of Wessex life and the priorities of its people stay much as they were.

The area has a common sense of place that is made up of green fields, hedges and woods, of stone, thatch, village churches and historic inns, of architecture and archaeology, of cows and sheep and horses and wildlife, and a serene balance between man and nature. County boundaries do not affect this. Unless there is a sign to tell you, you will not know when you cross, for example, from Somerset into Dorset. But, if you leave Wessex to go towards London, you feel the change. The pressure, the degree of urgency, the congestion begins to evidence itself. The sense of place has changed.

Wessex is a destination that overseas visitors will recognise, much as they recognise the Cotswolds or the Lake District. It is unique, compact and readily accessible. Beneath its common sense of place is a wealth of variety that can offer memorable holidays to a wide range of visitors. Come and stay for a few days and get to know Wessex, the heart of ancient England.

Cultural Wessex

Wessex Life. Rural, peaceful and timeless. The small market towns and villages, the churches and pubs, the local fairs and festivals, the farms and fields and hedgerows. And the people who live there. The annual Bath & West Show, market days in the small towns, race meetings, and village open garden days. They all reflect the Wessex way of life.

Christian Heritage Five cathedrals, twelve abbeys and some of the finest churches in England. Ecclesiastical history is also reflected in Bishop’s palaces, legends and tradition.

Family History Over the centuries, many people have migrated from Wessex, especially to North America. Wessex has excellent Records Offices where comprehensive data is maintained and family history associations keen to help visitors in tracing their ancestors.

Antiques Antique shops and dealers, shows and auctions are features of life in Wessex. Bath, Bradford on Avon, Shepton Mallet and Sherborne are well known antique centres .

Literary Wessex Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Evelyn Waugh, T.S.Eliot, John Betjeman, Geoffrey Chaucer, T. E Lawrence and many other outstanding literary figures have close associations with Wessex.

Arts and Crafts The arts are very much in evidence. The Theatre Royal in Bath, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the choirs of the cathedrals are perhaps the best known but there are also the local theatres, auditoriums, art galleries and craft centres. Music and drama festivals, art exhibitions and book fairs are scheduled every year.

Historical Wessex

Wessex in History From prehistory to the age of aviation. Special periods of interest are the bronze and iron age settlements, the Roman Wessex, the Saxon kingdom that gave birth to England, the Norman Conquest, Elizabethan Wessex, the Civil War and the Eighteenth century.

Historic Houses of Wessex There are 75 historic houses from which to choose. Some of them medieval, some Tudor and many from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Each reflects the society, culture and history of its time. Also included are some of the charming smaller manor houses.

Architecture The vast collection of ecclesiastical, military, manor house and domestic architecture in Wessex means that the area contains excellent examples of almost every period of architecture in England: Roman, Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian.

Archaeology 40 archaeological sites are in the Wessex inventory including two World Heritage Sites, Stonehenge and Avebury, and the fortress of King Arthur at Cadbury.

Military Heritage This ranges from forts and castles and fortified manor houses to battle sites, regimental history and the outstanding naval, army and air force museums

Veterans Many military personnel from USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere were based in Wessex during the Second World War. Many left from Wessex harbours on D-Day. The area has many memories for them and much interest for their families.

Download PDF  tourist map of the Wessex area

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK  – The Best Guided Tours in Wiltshire

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Magical Glastonbury

Glastonbury is unique, sacred, spell-binding. It is a small town town in Somerset, cradled in a cluster of hills that are all different shapes. The highest is the Tor, a whaleback formation with a tower on top, once part of a church dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Near the Tor is the smooth dome of Chalice Hill. Wearyall Hill is a long narrow ridge pointing toward the Bristol Channel. Windmill Hill, on the side facing the cathedral city of Wells, is less clearly defined and covered with houses, Below are the ruins of a great medieval abbey.

Early in the Christian era, the hill-cluster was nearly encircled with shallow water, the river Brue provided a deeper channel enabling sea-going craft to reach it. An old name for it is Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass; “island” because, from most angles of approach, it would have looked like one. A more famous name is Avalon, the Apple-place. In Celtic lore Avalon was an isle of enchantment.

This area was probably sacred long before Christianity. Around the sides of the Tor is a strange system of terracing. Much weathered and eroded, but still well-defined, it has been interpreted as a maze following an ancient magical pattern, which is found in Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Pompeii, Crete and India, and even among the Hopi of Arizona, who call it the Mother Earth Symbol. If the maze on the Tor is real, human labour formed it four or five thousand years ago, during the period of vast ritual works that created Stonehenge and Avebury. There are grounds for thinking that the Tor would have been a sanctuary of Goddess-worship. To come down to a somewhat later time, archaeology has shown that toward the beginning of the Christian era, this neighbourhood became an important centre of Celtic population, with far-flung trade. The inhabitants lived on small artificial islands.

According to a much-loved legend, Christian Glastonbury began with the arrival of Joseph of Arimathea. He figures in the Gospels as a rich disciple who obtained the body of Christ and laid it in the tomb. Some say he was an older kinsman and had brought Jesus here as a boy, perhaps on a trading voyage to Britain. Reputedly, in the years after the Crucifixion, he came to this remote country on a mission with several companions. They made their home in Avalon and remained there as a community of hermits. An offshoot of the legend concerns a local variety of hawthorn known as the Glastonbury Thorn. It is said that Joseph planted his staff in the ground, and it became a tree that blossomed at Christmas. Descendants of a medieval hawthorn on Wearyall Hill actually do blossom at Christmas or thereabouts, While no other English hawthorn does this, there are some that do in the Middle East, including Palestine.

Whatever the facts may have been, the basic Joseph legend grew around something that was real and solid, an ancient church constructed of wattles – interlaced twigs or rods – with reinforcements of timber and lead. Bound with clay, wattle-work can be a stalwart material. It was used by early settlers in Wisconsin, and the remains of a wattle structure can be seen at New Harmony, Indiana, among the buildings in a community founded by the philanthropist Robert Gwen.

In the centuries after Britain broke from the Roman Empire, a group of Celtic British monks lived beside Glastonbury’s small wattle church. It may already have been so old that no one knew who the builder was. Chroniclers decided eventually that it was Joseph of Arimathea, and that idea was the nucleus of the tale of his coming to Glastonbury. There were other stories connecting him with Britain, but no one knows which came first, or why such an unlikely person was ever thought of. The belief may reflect a lost tradition. At any rate, the site of the “Old Church” came to be known as “the holiest earth of England,” where the Christian Faith was first planted. Today, the Lady Chapel among the ruins marks the place.

Hard evidence is lacking. Archaeologists have found traces of Christian settlement at least as early as the sixth century, on the Abbey site and on the upper part of the Tor. Gildas, a British author, seems to mention the Old Church about the year 530. Hermits may have lived hereabouts farther back, and there was some kind of Roman presence. But the more distant past is lost in obscurity. Those who wish to believe in Joseph are free to do so. Certainly, after the Gospel incident, history says nothing about his later life anywhere else.

When Christian Glastonbury began, most of the people of what is now England were British Celts, ancestors of the Welsh. But the pagan Anglo-Saxons, ancestors of the English, moved in from across the North Sea and gradually overran the country. At first they wiped out whatever Christian institutions they found. However, their advance slowed down. The West Saxon kingdom of Wessex did not expand far enough to absorb Glastonbury until the middle of the seventh century. By then its kings were Christians, themselves, and they took over the British community peaceably. At Glastonbury, as nowhere else in England, we have a major instance of Christian continuity right through from Celtic times, As one historian has put it, the Saxon kings made the place a temple of reconciliation between previously hostile peoples.

Its monastery grew into an abbey of the Benedictine Order. The greatest abbot, St. Dunstan, in the tenth century, started the drainage of the still-waterlogged country round about, embanking the river to prevent flooding. He launched the restoration of learning and religion in England after the Norse destruction of monasteries and monastic schools. His successors continued the reclamation of most of the territory down to the Bristol Channel, and protected it with sea-walls, so that it is now farming land.

Medieval Glastonbury played a part in the making of the legends of Arthur. Joseph of Arimathea, or a companion of his, was said to have brought the Holy Grail, the wonder-working vessel of the Last Supper, to Britain., From a first Avalonian resting-place, it had been removed to a mysterious castle, and, four hundred years later, many of Arthur’s knights rode out in quest of it. The King himself had at least one personal connection with Glastonbury: he had besieged it to rescue Guinevere from an abductor, and visited the Old Church when the matter was settled.

In 1191, the monks of the Abbey claimed to have found his grave in their cemetery. Guided by a hint from a Welsh bard, they had dug down and discovered a stone slab. Under it was a cross of lead with a Latin inscription saying “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” Digging farther down, they had unearthed a coffin made from a hollowed-out log. Inside were the bones of a tall man who appeared to have been killed by a blow on the head, because the skull was damaged. Some smaller bones were taken to be Guinevere’s. Modern excavation has shown that the monks did dig at a place south of the Lady Chapel, and did find an early burial. Most historians would deny that the bones were Arthur’s, and dismiss the inscribed cross as a fake. But some have been willing to accept the identity as possible, even probable.

Throughout the Middle Ages the Abbey was growing. Its main church, nearly 600 feet long, was the largest in England after St Paul’s Cathedral in London, with space for thousands of pilgrims on the principal holy days. The Abbot was Chief Justice in central Somerset, and the people for many miles around were his tenants. The Abbey maintained a school, and one of the finest libraries in England. It flourished until 1539, when Henry VIIl’s policy of dissolution caught up with it. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, was convicted on trumped-up charges and hanged on the Tor, and his Abbey was dissolved like the rest.

Surveying this long record, we can see that Glastonbury has been a place of great beginnings. It has a strange vitality. Its Christian community, if not literally the first in Britain, was the first that survived, carrying on without a break from early times. It brought together Celts and Saxons; in a symbolic sense, the United Kingdom was born here. It was the fountainhead of cultural recovery in the aftermath of the Norse. Its legends were at the roots of the national saga of King Arthur.

The Abbey’s downfall looked like the end. The buildings passed into private hands, and a succession of owners, who had no interest in preservation, used them as a quarry for saleable stone. Yet after all, Glastonbury was not dead, or reduced to a country town like many others. According to tradition, in 1587 an old man named Austin Ringwode, who had formerly been employed by the Abbey, prophesied on his deathbed that Glastonbury would be reborn and then “peace and plenty would for a long time abound.” The rebirth began (if in ways that Austin Ringwode hardly foresaw) in the twentieth century. The extraordinary spell of the place began to work again.

Several things happened. The Abbey’s last owner put it on the market, and the Church of England acquired it and has looked after it ever since. Each summer Anglican and Catholic pilgrims gather in thousands. Other developments were due to people with interests that were more secular, or, if religious, frequently offbeat and eccentric. In the 1920’s, Glastonbury was the venue of the first major English festival of music and drama, founded by the operatic composer, Rutland Boughton, with support from celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw and Sir Thomas Beecham. Rutland Boughton’s festival was the ancestor of others at Bath, Malvern, and elsewhere. Later came the establishment of a trust to preserve what is believed to be an ancient sacred spring, mentioned in one of the Grail stories and now called Chalice Well (pictured at right). The Chalice Well garden is a famous meeting place for visitors from many countries, with a variety of interests. Later again came a surprising discovery of Glastonbury by the alternative society, the so-called hippies. The “Glastonbury Fayre” in 1971 was a sort of mystical Woodstock. After much strife and controversy, it is still repeated in most summers and attracts tens of thousands, though, of course, it has changed considerably.

Today, Glastonbury’s role as a spiritual focus outside the churches is shown in a restored community centre, in a special-interest Library of Avalon, in healing clinics, in New Age conference rooms. Numerous tourists and seekers converge here especially from America. Some of the developments may look odd, but they cannot be ignored, and they involve many people of goodwill and intelligence. For a long time, “straight” and “alternative” elements in the town were sharply divided. The summer of 1996, however, may resolve some of the divisions with a new festival commemorating Rutland Boughton and bringing together musicians, artists, authors and others from different strata of the population. Is the reborn Glastonbury taking coherent shape? It may well be.

Visit Glastonbury with an expert local guide and perhaps combine it with Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle for a truly magical day.  We offer guided trips visiting these locations and others that depart from Salisbury, Bath or London.

Henry – British Tour Guide
Histouries UK – Bringing History alive

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