Skip to main content

St. Michael’s Tower sits atop the Glastonbury Tor hill in Somerset, England.Martin Brent

Dispatch is a series of first-person travel stories from the road. Readers can share their experiences, from the sublime to the strange.

"Do you see how the mists come on? The veils are thin here." A white-haired woman perched on a small bench lifted a weathered hand; she points ahead of us. We are entering the holy Chalice Well garden at the foot of the Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. This is where the ancient site of Avalon is said to have existed. A thrill ran through me.

I love the story of King Arthur. Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur sits in a prime location on my bookshelf. And the medieval Welsh poetry in Caer Sidi from the Book of Taliesin is a lyrical, hypnotic introduction to an otherworld with a sacred fountain and people who live to a hundred years; where Celtic princess Morgan le Fay rules over the priestesses of Avalon; it's the birthplace of the sword Excalibur and the burial place of Arthur. Oh, how I longed to see this legendary place of mysticism and magic.

I had a well-worn list of names on my must-see list: Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well in Somerset. These were the places I wanted to visit before my 50th birthday. My Celtic roots and the ancient tales I read years ago in Marion Zimmer Bradley's genre-breaking The Mists of Avalon had long drawn me to England.

My husband and I approached the well as if beckoned by fairy magic. A fine mist seemed to be everywhere. It dimmed the sunlight as we walked the path and hushed visitors as easily as a reprimand. The mists illuminated small spider webs and foliage and flowers along the pathway. I felt as if I might disappear in one plane and awaken in another time.

We had arrived in Glastonbury on a quiet Sunday morning. We paid our £4.50 and walked through a gate to a pretty stone path. Small signs reminded visitors of the hallowed space about to be entered – the Chalice Well dates back more than 2,000 years and is sacred to both Pagans and Christians. Legend says Joseph of Arimathea, keeper of the Holy Grail, buried or washed the chalice here at the well.

Where the old woman had pointed, an oasis of green ferns, small trees, holly and flowering plants waited. We followed stone paths and came upon the lion's head fountain that spouted water from a rock-layered wall. The crystal-clear well water flowed through the lion's mouth from the spring deep beneath. The water is said to bring eternal youth and healing properties; it also stained the stone red with iron. I stopped to take a drink and fill a bottle.

At the surrounding pools people meditate, inspired by the energy and beauty of the gardens. Many names have been given to this place: Insula Pomorum, Ynys Afallach, or isle of apples, as well as isle of glass because 7,000 years ago there was a sea, which gradually turned to freshwater wetlands, tidal salt marsh and then freshwater peat bogs. Now the Glastonbury Tor is surrounded by a fenland of grasses, apple orchards, marsh reeds, sedge and rushes rising from the mist like a mirage.

The walk from the well to the foot of the Tor hill is less than 15 minutes, but we walked slowly to take in the quiet and the beauty of the countryside. We walked past the White Spring to the field gate and St. Michael's Tower, which stands alone upon the hilltop. Legend says the Tor was a hollow place where fairies lived: the isle of Avalon. For me it represented a long journey, the entry to my 50th year, and the place where my roots and my spirituality might intersect and find peace with one another.

The seven-spiralled path up is not for the unfit or faint of heart. Many believe it's a spiritual labyrinth to comtemplate as you travel up 158 metres. But it is overgrown now and difficult to traverse. And so we chose the concrete path, though it's a much steeper climb. We stopped three times to catch our breath, rest and take pictures. The sun was bright then. Up top Jim and I sat side-by-side. I looked at his handsome profile, and I was grateful Jim was willing to take this journey with me. We looked out upon the pastoral Somerset landscape.

I thought about the long journey from Canada to England, and the even longer journey of 50 years of life: no longer maiden or mother but crone. How quickly it seemed to have come – this foreign destination.

When we arrived home I poured the water into two small bottles, one for Jim and one for me. Above them hung a picture of the Tor surrounded in mist: The Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well still enchant. But two years later, only one bottle of the cherished water remains. Our trip to the Tor was our last journey together.

On a sunny day last fall I stood in front of the granite niche that holds Jim's ashes. I poured the sacred water upon his grave and spoke aloud one of my favourite lines from The Mists of Avalon: "Return again, return, life itself is calling you with all its pleasure and pain …"

Send in your story from the road to

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct