Having visited the Glastonbury Festival four times (2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011), I’m not sure I could count myself a true veteran (that honour must be reserved for those who’ve been 10 times or more, surely), but I’m certainly not a festival virgin.
One thing I’d never done, though, was visit Glastonbury itself. The Tor is visible from the festival site, often lost in rain or mist, but sometimes beautifully captured with the sun setting behind it – in my opinion, one of the reasons why the penultimate acts of the day on the Pyramid or Other stages, the sunset slot, are often the most magical of the festival, outstripping the headliners.
So, when we had a long weekend in Dorset in October, I was determined to cross the border into Somerset and visit the Tor itself – and perhaps try to sneak on to the festival site out of season.
On arriving at Glastonbury village, we expected to find signs helpfully pointing us to the footpath up the Tor, but there were none – and mysteriously, the hill and tower seemed invisible from the village centre, as if they had never existed at all. We got directions from the tourist information, but it turned out to be a very baby-unfriendly route, via several stiles, kissing gates and muddy fields, and it was only on the way back we found the much easier route via the road.
I suspect Glastonbury townsfolk perhaps want to deter people finding their way to the Tor, to reduce crowds – but by signposting it so badly this surely means the tourists end up milling around the village itself, getting in the way, when they could be climbing the Tor, getting the benefit of the fresh air, exercise and views. Presumably they’d rather have tourists buying hemp clothes and crystals in the many New Age shops which litter the high street – but either way, I think Glastonbury is doing its most famous site a disservice by making it so hard to find.
Eventually, we struggled to the foot of the Tor, passing beautiful autumnal hedges full of bryony, hips and dried seed-heads. We also passed several orchards, Glastonbury being famous for its connection to King Arthur and the legendary Isle of Avalon (Isle of Apples). The Tor certainly looks like an island marooned in the flat Somerset Levels – and having slogged across several steep fields I was relieved to find an easy zig zag path to take us the final leg up to the summit.
The route was enlivened by the appearance behind me of a shepherd – with a real crook! – herding his sheep up the hill, and while I was too polite to take a photo of him in action, I did manage to get a rather good one of sheep and Tor against the horizon.
The views from the top really were worth it – and I had fun trying to work out which direction my beloved festival site was; identifying Pennard Hill and the line of pylons which run across the site certainly helped me find the right general area, but when we were back on the road, Worthy Farm was even more elusive than the Tor.
We drove through Pilton, towards Pylle, crossing the familiar pylons on the way, but there was no sign of the Pyramid Stage silhouette on the horizon or any other landmarks I recognised, and it was getting late, so we turned back towards the Dorset border.
I won’t be going back to Glastonbury in 2013, but after that, who knows? I certainly hope I make it back to the Tor again one day to enjoy those views….