Sunrise over Glastonbury Tor; 23 Nov 2012.

As I’ve most probably made clear by now, the Somerset Levels are just that – level.  The areas that I frequent have hills on the horizon –  the Mendips to the north, the Poldens to the south – but essentially they are flatlands.  And usually damp or downright wet flatlands at that.

But, that said, there are isolated small hills in this area which were islands when these flats were marshlands and open water.  And at the eastern end of the Levels that I visit most frequently, there is one hill that is truly iconic, Glastonbury Tor.

Why iconic?  Well, it is a real landmark, visible from far around, and the ruined church tower on its summit, seen here, makes it instantly recognisable, even from far away.   And it has a vast and intriguing history, certainly going far back into the Anglo-Saxon era.  At the time that King Henry VIII destroyed the Catholic monasteries and founded the Church of England, the monastery at Glastonbury was second in terms of power and prestige only to the church’s spiritual centre, Canterbury.

And, in addition to all of this solid history, Glastonbury has a vast swathe of associated myths and legends – as the last resting place of the little known King Arthur, for example.  And then the supposed associations with Joseph of Aramathea and the Holy Grail.  And there is of course its current status as a centre for spirituality and New Age beliefs and, as the site (not far from the town) of Britain’s most famous music festival.

I feel truly grateful to live not distant from this enigmatic and fascinating place.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 400 ISO.


And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.


  1. And I’m grateful to read about it, and imagine it. I guess tor is an old English word for hill or mount – I remember a place called High Tor that’s outside NYC.


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