The name of Glastonbury immediately conjures up images of King Arthur and mystic Avalon: a sacred centre shrouded in delicate mists. As it happens, Glastonbury provides exactly this appearance in real life, with the whole area dominated by the extraordinary Glastonbury Tor - a sacred hill if ever there was one. This ley passes through Glastonbury and the Tor, commencing in the N of what used to be Somerset (now Avon) through to Butleigh near the heart of the Glastonbury zodiac. It is a development of research by Janet Roberts and John Mitchell, who has shown it to be part of a system of leys around Glastonbury defining the cryptic geometry of the 'New Jerusalem'.
Our version of the ley is 21 miles long, 'Our version' because the line is said to start from Cadbury Camp passing through the precinct of Tickenham Church, but we cannot obtain this line with our map, according to which the ley passes too far to the E of these features. We commence our line at Brockley.
St. Nicholas' Church here (46606696) is mainly 13th century and stands in the park of Brockley Court along a track a quarter of a mile N of the A370. Brockley is connected with stories of ghosts and underground tunnels.
The ley goes SSE over Cleeve Hill and on the N slopes of the Mendips where Holy Trinity Church (47855932), Burrington crouches in the folds of the hills. The present building is 15th century, but stands on the site of an earlier church. The ley grazes the W end of the tower which is immediately adjacent to some form of ridged earthwork that runs down the W side of the churchyard and is topped by a Scots Pine - Watkin's tree of the ancient track.
Passing near the spectacular and famous Cheddar Gorge, the ley traverses Burrington Combe (Where Toplady composed 'Rock of Ages', crouched in a cleft during a storm), and reaches the heights of the Mendips, whence it passes through the henge of Gorsey Bigbury (48415583). This henge had been founded in Neolithic times, but there was subsequent usage by people of the Beaker period. Excavations in 1931-2 yielded various finds including a skeleton and various artefacts. The feature stands in a cultivated field and little is to be seen except a slightly raised ring of rough ground.
The next marker along the ley is Westbury Beacon Camp (4920511) on the S edge of the Mendips. The ley crosses the N rim of the camp just at the point where a linear earthwork joins the main structure. The site is large and provides magnificent views down the ley across to Glastonbury Tor, standing like a spiritual sentinel above the flat surrounding landscape.
Between the Mendips and Glastonbury the ley passes through Yarley crossroads (50154533) where both Janet Roberts and John Michell have identified a small mump of stone as the remains of a possible markstone.
The ley continues on over Callow Hill, where the map registers a mound without marking its position, to Glastonbury Tor (51263864), which is surmounted by a basically 14th century tower, all that remains of St. Michael's Chapel, an earlier version of which was destroyed in a 13th century earthquake. Terraces running around the Tor are believed by some to be the remnants of a three-dimensional maze used for initiatory or ceremonial purposes. If this is the case, then the Tor may be Caer Sidi, the abode of Ceridwen, the enchantress possessing the cauldron of poetic inspiration. At the foot of the Tor is Chalice Well, said to be where Joseph of Arimathea hid the Holy Grail. According to some interpretations, the Grail is the cup used at the Last Supper, and carried by Joseph when he fled from anti-Christian persecutions in Jerusalem to this country. In other versions it is a stone, perhaps a jewel. Visions of it are usually accompanied by beams of light, colours and fragrant odours. As well as being a possible reliquary of the Precious Blood, the Holy Grail is also understood as a symbol of spiritual mystery.
On the summit of the Tor it is impossible not to sense an ancient aura of mystery, and a sometimes disturbing elemental quality. These feelings are well expressed in the legend of St. Collen, in which the Saint, having overheard two people talking about the faeries who lived on the Tor, forbade them to speak of these entities who, he claimed, were evil. Some time later the Faery King sent an emmisary summoning Collen to meet him on the Tor. Concealing a flask of holy water beneath his cloak, St. Collen reached the summit where he saw a glittering palace thronged with richly dressed creatures, dancing to captivating music. The Faery King invited the saint to partake of the banquet, but he declined and instead cast holy water at the assembly. Instantly the vision and melodies faded into the nocturnal mists, and St.Collen was alone on the Tor.
Perhaps it is the exquisite sunsets so often to be seen from the Tor, or the almost constant silvery-blue Somerset mists, that make the visitor feel the faery kingdom could just as suddenly reappear. Perhaps, on the other hand, there really are strange forces present at this place. At twilight one evening in 1969 one of the authors recalls being with a group of people led by Srthavira Sangharakshita, a leading Western Buddhist. One of the group suddenly leapt yards into the air, as if possessed by an elemental force emanating from the ruined tower. At the same time, inexplicable balls of orange light came out of the misty sky, half circled the hill, and then disappeared. As Sangharakshita described it in his poem, 'On Glastonbury Tor':
In that same year four night-shift workers saw a saucer-shaped object hover over the Tor, and later a big, fiery red ball appear over the hill and then move rapidly over Glastonbury. In 1970 a police officer witnessed eight egg-shaped objects in formation over the Tor. They were 'dark maroon' in colour.
Glastonbury has claims to be the most important Christian shrine in Britain. Not only are there traditions that Jesus himself came to the area with his tin-trader disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, but it is probable that the first Christian church was erected there, around AD 50. It is also the reputed burial place of King Arthur, and was for many years a more important place of pilgrimage than any other in the country.
The final marker of this ley is St.Leonard's Church (52003392) at Butleigh. No one knows when the first church was built here (there are rumours of a Saxon structure) but by 1203 it was certainly a well-established parish. Dowisng the ley here, Tom Graves who accompanied us on the S section of the ley - noted that it broadened just S of the church. Butleigh lies near the centre of the Glastonbury zodiac, a supposed ten-mile wide circle of effigies formed from natural features modified by ancient earthworks, roads and dykes, and said to depict anthro-pomorphic and zoomorphic representations of constellations associated with the zodiac. The giant figures somersault over one another, as the name of the county suggest 'summerset' was an earlier term for 'somersault'.
This terrestrial zodiac was discovered by Katherine Maltwood in the 1920's . She suddenly divined that the High History of the Holy Grail, was in fact a cryptic literary reflection of a mystery laid out in the earth around Avalon. The Round Table was a terrestrial zodiac; the knights and their opponents were metaphors for cosmic patterns and bodies. And the quest for the Grail was an allusion to the search for the mystic nature of Glastonbury's site, undoubtedly considered sacred from earliest antiquity.
To some the terrestrial zodiac is self-evident in maps and aerial photographs. Others regard it as a delusion, a form of Rorschach Test. If so, the web of earth patterns, legends, place-names and local traditions collated by Maltwood and her successors (such as Mary Caine and Elizabeth Leader) testifies to it as a remarkable phenomenon of coincidence and psychology. Indeed, if it is not a reality, it is certainly the greatest ink-blot test ever known, and for that reason alone perhaps worthy of study. Finally, it may not be without significance that the bearing of this alignment is virtually the same as that of the Old Sarum Ley (SW8).
High above gold clouds black hills, three
Lamps three lights three eyes three
We know not what, one
larger two smaller, all moving
In fast formation, in orangeoval flight
Triangular, steering toward the Tor
Through the mild blue night, dartingFishlike to explore, eyeing