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Why a guided tour is an ideal family vacation.

Taking the family on holiday can sometimes be a real balancing act.  If there are a range of children’s ages and interests to take in to consideration, not to mention the desires of the adults in tow, conflicts can sometimes arise.  Everyone gets excited about holidays and expectations run high – so what is the best way to make sure nobody is disappointed?  One option is to book a family guided tour to explore and learn more about the holiday region.  This may not be an immediately obvious idea, but there are many positives to recommend this often underrated type of excursion to families who are travelling together.

Give yourself a break

Holidays are supposed to be restful, but more often than not parents find them exhausting.  A guided tour hands over the reins to someone else that will entertain, animate, and direct proceedings for a while.  It is often the case that children absorb information far better from those other than their parents andthe enthusiasm of tour guides could inspire a real interest for the history and legends of the area in them.

See places off the tourist trail

Guided tours enable the less obvious sights of the area to be seen.  One of the main advantages of having an expert guide introduce the area is that they will know how to avoid the busy times when tourists flock to the big attractions.  They can help minimise the hassles that most people experience when travelling in unfamiliar areas and maximise the pleasure of the group.  Sometimes they will be able to negotiate price reductions for entrance fees to attractions.  There will be no arguments over map reading or the satnav sending the car up dead end lanes; the tour guide will know the area like the back of their hand and will be keen to extol its virtues.  They will be familiar with great places for lunch like the picture postcard pub with roses around the door, serving ploughman’s lunches outside at a garden table and chairs overlooking the West Country.  They will tell funny tales and give interesting facts that make the surroundings come alive.  They will have the inside story on the local area and with this privileged knowledge they will make the day unique and special.

Strengthen family bonds

In today’s modern world families increasingly spend time interacting more with computers and gaming devices than they do interacting with each other.  A guided tour offers a family the chance to bond by providing a shared experience likely to live on in their memories for a long time.

Weather proof

The weather in the United Kingdom is notoriously unreliable; however, most guided tours will not be too affected by rain.  If a day on the beach is ruled out by poor conditions, why not keep warm and dry on a guided tour of the region by minibus or car?

Do something different

Sometimes we are guilty of doing the same things year in and year out while on holiday.  We are comfortable with going to the same places, doing the same activities, and seeing the same faces.  By pushing the boundaries and doing something completely different, who knows what amazing new discoveries we could make?

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A Viking axe head found in a Gloucestershire village could be evidence of a battle more than 1,100 years ago, according to archaeologists.

The wrought iron object, found in Slimbridge in 2008, has now been identified as being of Viking origin.

Archaeologists think the axe head could be evidence of a battle in 894 AD

Archaeologists think the axe head could be evidence of a battle in 894 AD

Historians say a band of Vikings sailed up the River Severn and fought against the Anglo-Saxons in 894 AD.

Archaeologists say where the axe head was found is where they could have tied up their ships.

It was discovered by Ian Hunter Darling under a hedge in his garden.

Bloody battle

“I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought it could have been an agricultural implement of some description,” he said.

He said an archaeological visit to the the farm where he lives had got the experts “quite excited”.

“They said I should take it to a museum to have it looked at.”

According to historians King Alfred the Great fought the Vikings in a bloody battle at Minchinhampton, about 10 miles from Slimbridge, in 894 AD.

Three Viking princes were killed in the battle, and fighting could have ranged over a wide area of the Berkeley Vale.

For over a century archaeologists have speculated where the Vikings could have moored their ships.

“They realised my driveway would have been creek in those days before there was a sea wall on the River Severn,” said Mr Hunter Darling.

“The boats could have tied up at the bottom of my garden.”

‘Viking sword’

Members of Slimbridge local history society now want to gather further evidence of Viking activity in the village.

Peter Ballard, from the society, said: “A member of a local family claimed he found a Viking sword in a ditch by the River Cam many years ago, but that has now been lost.”

They are asking for residents who may have found other Viking objects to come forward.

A meeting to highlight the importance of the discovery will be held in Slimbridge Village Hall on 21 February.

The axe head is to go on display at Stroud Museum in the Park.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-16829808

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Intense and brooding images of Stonehenge and other prehistoric monuments in a new exhibition are taking visitors deep into the heart of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Wessex’.

Archaeologists debate the purpose of Stonehenge, but for Hardy it was a haunting symbol of isolation and suffering.

The exhibition by three artists at Salisbury Museum mirrors the Dorset author’s emotional response to the archaeological sites he knew and used with such effect in his novels.

His use of landscape was highly symbolic and deeply emotive. Nowhere is that more clear than in his description of Stonehenge, which features in the climactic scene of Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In the dead of night, Tess stumbles upon the monument, and lies down to rest on an ancient altar, giving the allusion of her character as a sacrificial offering to a society that has cast her out. Hardy describes the isolation of the monument on Salisbury Plain, and once inside, the feeling of enclosure.

Symbolism is central to Hardy’s writing, which may be why so many artists use his work as their inspiration.

Artists Dave Gunning, David Inshaw and Rob Pountney have collaborated to show the dramatic landscapes and archaeology in media ranging from charcoal to steel etching and oil paint.

They share a common interest in how Hardy used landscape to symbolise the emotional and physical experiences of his characters.

He revived the Saxon name ‘Wessex’ as a part-real, part-dream landscape, thinly disguising place names so that Salisbury becomes Melchester and Dorchester becomes Casterbridge. Salisbury Plain is sometimes called the “Great Grey Plain”.

Dave Gunning, who was awarded the Year of the Artist Award in 2000-1 by the British Arts Council, has spent more than 25 years studying the prehistoric landscape in the West Country, particularly the ancient monuments within the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge and Avebury.

David Inshaw is one of Britain’s leading contemporary artists. His work is often inspired by literature that takes landscape and nature as its focus.

Rob Pountney has always been fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s work, and says the use of dramatic contrasts of light and shade in his work captures the striking visual aspects of the geological and archaeological features of the Wessex landscape, and his interpretation of Hardy’s response to them.

Salisbury Museum is the perfect place for the exhibition, which opened on Saturday and runs until April 14.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy bases the college that Sue Bridehead attends on the training college for schoolmistresses that his sisters attended. This was the King’s House, Salisbury, and is now home to the museum.

Thomas Hardy was born at Higher Bockhampton, a hamlet in the parish of Stinsford to the east of Dorchester.

He became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9pm on January 11, 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed. The cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as “cardiac syncope
Link: http://www.dorchesterpeople.co.uk

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A huge winter solstice feast might have taken place around Stonehenge some 4,500 years ago.

Abundant cattle and pig bones recently unearthed a few miles from the megalithic site suggest that prehistoric people celebrated the connection between the stone circle and the sky with hundreds of roasts.
Stonehenge

According to initial research led by Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, U.K., the animals were walked from different places and for hundreds of miles to be slaughtered immediately after arrival at Durrington Walls, a massive circular earthwork, or henge, two miles northeast of Stonehenge. 

Parker Pearson’s research has shown that this site attracted people in droves as far back as Neolithic times.

“The considerable quantities of pig and cattle bones, pottery, flint arrowheads and lithic debris indicate that occupation and consumption were intense,” wrote Parker Pearson, who has was awarded a grant of £750,000 to analyse a range of materials found at the site.

So far, the archaeologist has found no evidence that Durrington was permanently inhabited. He believes that the intense human activity was linked to feasting during the solstices.

“The small quantities of stone tools other than arrowheads, the absence of grinding querns and the lack of carbonised grain indicate that this was a ‘consumer’ site. The midsummer and midwinter solstice alignments of the Durrington and Stonehenge architecture suggest seasonal occupation,” Parker Pearson said.

This year the winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on the morning of Thursday, December 22nd 2011

Stonehenge will open at 7.45 a.m. for people who brave the cold to watch the sun rise shortly after 8 a.m.

Full Article:  http://news.discovery.com/

 
Stonehenge Tour Guide.  Mystical Landscape, Magical Tours….
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Two previously undiscovered pits have been found at Stonehenge which point to it once being used as a place of sun worship before the stones were erected.

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones

The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the site and may have contained stones, posts or fires to mark the rising and setting of the sun.

An international archaeological survey team found the pits as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

The team is using geophysical imaging techniques to investigate the site.

The archaeologists from the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection in Vienna have been surveying the subsurface at the landmark since summer 2010.

Procession route

It is thought the pits, positioned within the Neolithic Cursus pathway, could have formed a procession route for ancient rituals celebrating the sun moving across the sky at the midsummer solstice.

A Cursus comprises two parallel linear ditches with banks either side closed off at the end.

Also discovered was a gap in the northern side of the Cursus, which may have been an entrance and exit point for processions taking place within the pathway.

These discoveries hint that the site was already being used as an ancient centre of ritual prior to the stones being erected more than 5,000 years ago, the team said.

Archaeologist and project leader at Birmingham University, Professor Vince Gaffney, said: “This is the first time we have seen anything quite like this at Stonehenge and it provides a more sophisticated insight into how rituals may have taken place within the Cursus and the wider landscape.”

More on this story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-15917921

Stonehenge Special Acess Tours  – beyond the fences: http://www.histouries.co.uk/stonehenge/private-access-tour.htm

Tours of Stonehenge and Wessex
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The results of our readers’ vote for Britain’s best building are in. Did your favourite win?

And the winner is...Durham Cathedral is the readers' choice for Britain's best building

And the winner is...Durham Cathedral is the readers' choice for Britain's best building


When we asked which British building you thought deserved to take the final place in our Britain’s best building series, we got a wonderful response and a vast range of suggestions from the very old Stonehenge to the not even finished Shard. But there was one building that was nominated time and time again. Napoleon471 said it is ‘the most beautiful building in the UK’ . gabbyannie commented that it’s “quite wonderful in the daytime, but transformed into a breathtaking sight after dark” and Rosiebriar declared that “the magnificence of its setting high on the peninsula, the grandeur of its architecture dating from 1093, World Heritage status and the endorsement by Dr Bill Bryson all commend this greatest of British buildings.” After three days of voting, the readers’ choice for Britain’s best building is Durham Cathedral. You picked wisely: there are few finer buildings of any period in Europe.

With its commanding setting on a headland high above the River Wear, Durham Cathedral is unmissable, and magnificent. Its architecture is at once powerful and poetic, a monument to the Norman invaders who created it from 1093. But, although clearly designed to dominate the region, the muscular cathedral is most beautiful when you step through its west front and face the length of the incomparable nave. Such beauty and such tragedy, too; here, 1,700 of the 3,000 Scottish soldiers imprisoned by Cromwell within these unbreachable walls died from wounds, disease and starvation; and here, meddling Georgian architects came to mess about with the venerable fabric. And yet, Durham Cathedral has survived and, today, is probably in better shape than it has been in hundreds of years.

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Two children have found “rare” specimens of a fossilised sea creature at the Cotswold Water Park.

Another Rieneckia ammonite was found in the park several years ago

Another Rieneckia ammonite was found in the park several years ago

Emily Baldry, five, from Chippenham, discovered the Rieneckia ammonite during a fossil hunt organised by the Cotswold Water Park Society on Sunday.

Hugo Ashley, from Poulton, and his grandfather also found an ammonite cadoceras, and another Rieneckia ammonite.

A society spokeswoman said Rieneckia ammonites were “extremely rare”.

Ammonites were free-swimming molluscs of the ancient oceans, living around the same time as dinosaurs.

‘Quite phenomenal’

Society spokeswoman Jill Bewley said: “The chances of finding something like this [Rieneckia ammonites] are really, really slim.

“It’s the proverbial needle in a haystack so to hit upon something like this is quite phenomenal.”

After Emily hit upon the fossil with a spade, her father and palaeontologist Dr Neville Hollingworth helped her dig out the block of mudstone the 162.8 million-year-old object, which had spikes to ward off predators, was encased in.

A range of other fossils, including many ammonites, were also found during the hunt, in a sand and gravel quarry within the water park.

Ms Bewley said that once work to expose the Rieneckia ammonite, which measures about 40cm (16in) in diameter is complete, it will go on display at the Gateway Information Centre along with a range of other fossils.

She said Dr Hollingworth found another Rieneckia ammonite in a similar quarry in the park several years ago.

The 42 sq mile site of the Cotswold Water Park, which has 150 lakes, is on the Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border.

During the Jurassic period, 165 million years ago, the area was a warm shallow sea.

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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.

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Stories of yokels getting the better of townies pepper British folklore – perhaps the best known being one reading of the Nottinghamshire legend The Wise Men of Gotham .
Wiltshire MoonrakerRivalling that tale is the Wiltshire story of The Moonrakers, so dear to the heart of the county that to this day anyone born in Wiltshire is known as a Moonraker.
The story goes that a couple of lads from a village near Devizes were involved in the spirits trade, and were not troubling the Excise with paperwork or duties. Depending on the source they were either distilling ‘brandy’ themselves, or obtaining it through illicit channels. These two entrepreneurs were warned of a raid by the Revenue, so for want of time and better cover they hid their contraband, including a couple of barrels of the good stuff, in a pond.

When the customs officials arrived it was unfortunately a clear night, with a full moon and not a breath of wind to stir the water’s surface. The Wiltshire lads could see the barrels clearly, so they quickly came up with a ruse: grabbing rakes they waded into the pond and used the implements to disturb surface and silt, masking the tuns. When the Revenue men spotted them and asked what they were doing, the yokels replied they were raking the moon in the pond in order to gather cheese from it. The clever Revenue men shook their heads at the peasants’ stupidity and searched the rest of the village, then finding nothing moved on.

Wiltshire Tour Guide
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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
 
Join us on a private guided tour of the West Country.   Visit Glastonbury, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle.

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