Right in the middle of Salisbury Plain lies the iconic neolithic stone circle Stonehenge. This is a must see for any visitor to England. Be prepared for long queues to get in, even early in the day, but the wait is well worth it. Unfortunately visitors can no longer get right up close to the stones, but the path that circles the entire site is not too far away and the rope fence does not get in the way of viewing. The centre has then usual trappings of a cafe, souvenir shop and educational areas, and the site is wheelchair and pushchair friendly. Today’s scholars still debate over what the purpose of the stones were, and theories abound, but if you want to get up close to the stones you’ll have to become a druid! The Sarsen stones that Stonehenge is made from were transported from Wales.
The tower no longer has a roof and is what remains of a church that was demolished in 1539. Before that there were several other buildings on the site, going all the way back to medieval times. You can probably make out that tower originally had 3 stories, the floors of which along with the roof are also gone. This means that inside the tower you can look up and see the sky. There were some new-agey types hanging out at the base of the tower when we were there. This reflects the mystical and spiritual nature of the place, and Glastonbury town itself is full to the brim of shops selling all manner of hippy type clothes and books and stuff.
The Sarsen stones of Stonehenge are the upright stones that form the main circle of stones. They are made of sandstone and the ones used at Stonehenge were transported from Wales some 4000 to 5000 years ago. Many other megalithic sites in Britain use Sarsen stones, and they are found all over the land. Salisbury Plain lies in the county of Wiltshire, a beautiful part of the country about 85 miles (135 km) south-west of London. If you are heading out that way, be sure to take in Glastonbury Tor, which is only another 50 miles west.
If you climb Glastonbury Tor early enough in the day, you’ll avoid the majority of tourists that inevitably end up swarming around at the top later on. The climb itself is fairly steep, and takes about 15 minutes if you are reasonably fit. There is a path which helps with the ascent but there are steps as well, making it a bit tricky for wheelchairs and pushchairs. We ended carrying our 3-year old, who got tired about half-way up. You never can tell what the English weather will do, but we were lucky enough to get a fine day, with brilliant views of the town and surrounding countryside. There is not a huge amount of room at the top, so it’s not such a great spot for a picnic. But you can sit down and have a morning snack. If its windy you can sit right at the base of St Michael’s Tower for shelter. At the bottom of the tor is much more room for picnicking. We got the little shuttle bus from the town centre, as parking at the site itself is limited.
There are no shops, no cafe or anything at St Michaels Tower on Glastonbury Tor – a good thing! In fact there is nothing to buy at all from this lovely National Trust site. If its raining you’ll get wet as the tower itself has no roof, and it could be chilly on a windy day as the site is exposed. On a really sunny day there is chance of sunburn too. So as always in England, be prepared for the weather! Excellent views of the surrounding Somerset countryside can be had, and we spent about an hour at the top.
This great view of Glastonbury town is through the archway at the base of St. Michael’s Tower which stands atop the tor. Many people don’t know what is meant by a “tor” – it is an old word rarely used today but it is simply a smallish hill or rock formation sticking out from the surrounding land. Read more about St. Michael’s Tower itself. I thought this view was interesting as it combines the tor, the town and the tower all in one.
Glasntonbury is probably most famous for the yearly music festival that takes place there. The town itself is very English feeling, and very pleasant to spend time in. Even though it is very busy during the summer months with tourists (and even when the music festival is not on), the High Street has resisted over-commercialisation and not lost its charm. This town is a must see for any traveller of England, there is a rich diversity of hippies, new agers, greens and dreadlocked crusties. A wealth of bookstores everywhere selling wares on the occult, stone circles, aliens, pyramids and so on. We went into a cafe and waited a long time for our veggie burgers, when we went to ask in our politest voices where they might have got to, we noticed a sign saying that in this place everything is done slowly, and we need to be at peace (or words to that effect) – very charming, but a bit challenging when you have small hungry kids not nuanced in the fine art of chilling out! The burgers did arrive in the end and were excellent. Can’t remember the name of the place, it was on the high street. If you do visit Glastonbury, remember to head on up to the tor.