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Travel Stories






Sunrise on Glastonbury Tor

I am snuggled warmly beneath the fluffy pink eiderdown. My alarm awakens me. The soft glow of the numbers tells me it is 4:30 am. This is the day to climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor to see the sun rise. I reluctantly reach to snap on the light, climb out of the warm nest of my bed into the cool air of our room. I have looked forward to this event since I first saw it on the itinerary.

I am feeling energized and enthusiastic. My active imagination creates visions from my reading, and my fantasy promises a special and memorable experience. On opening the curtains I see one star. I smile and make a wish.

Scrambling into the clothes I prepared last night, one layer over another, I hope to keep out the cold and dampness. It appears that the wind has died, however, at the top of the Tor, there is sure to be at least a breeze. I finish with wind-proofed pants and jacket.

Roger, the first of my fellow adventurers, is quietly chatting with Sally in the dim light of the front hall. Eager to be off, he and I decide to head out into the near darkness, not waiting for the slower ones. My childlike anticipation bubbles through me. I feel like the impatient youngster, wanting to run ahead of the lagging parents.

Roger is right behind me and we descend down Dod Lane and turn left along Chilkwell Street in the flat grey light of emerging dawn. We do not chat as we do not want to get a dog barking. The morning chorus of birdsong is in full splendour. It is as if they are cheering the sun to rise.

We turn as directed at Challis Well. It isn’t far up Wellhouse Lane where we easily find the footpath. There is a gate meant to keep sheep from wandering on the roadways, and the metal swing part lets just one of us through at a time.

Roger climbs more quickly and soon outpaces me on the steep slippery wet grass. The sky slowly brightens. Up, up we climb, keeping the large stone structure atop the Tor, in view. As I pause to catch my breath, I can see out over the Wiltshire Downs. I turn to see our group, spread along the path. Roger is well ahead now, nearly to the top.

I carefully pick my way around sheep droppings. The hills and valleys are sprinkled with sheep. They appear so adorable and cuddly. They wander close on the hill beside me, bleating. They may look cute from a distance, but they really are quite dirty and smelly animals up close. Not very spiritually inspiring. I am glad I have boots on.

I climb on, eager to reach the top. Thankfully I have made the 518-foot ascent to the highest point in the area before the sun climbs from the horizon. The wind that I anticipated blows cold as I reach the crest. My impetuous inner child wants to shout to the others to hurry. My more controlled adult holds the words in my mouth. I remind myself that I need only be responsible for myself. I wander through the arch of the old tower built on what some believe was originally a Celtic holy site. It is solid and shows years of weather erosion and vandalism. The mentality of those who deface things that do not belong to them escapes my comprehension. I pull on my hood and zip my jacket fully closed.

I am now able to turn a full 180 degrees and see the countryside spreading out in all directions. The vista below has now emerged to greens and browns in the increasing morning light. I have been told that most of the low land that I can see was formerly under water. It was mostly an impenetrable swamp. The flat region towards the sea was apparently first reclaimed for human use during the Middle Ages. Drainage channels that prevent flooding traverse the whole area. Some say this was the Isle of Avalon from the King Arthur legends.

Roger stops beside me and points out a grove of trees that he has located on his guidebook map. He says they are a thorn native to Palestine and according to legend, should burst into boom in the presence of Royalty. They also bloom in December and some claim it is to celebrate Christ’s birthday.

Doreen joins us and identifies the rise in the land as being Wearyall Hill, where some say Joseph of Arimathea, after travelling through southern France sailed to western England and placed his staff in the earth where it bloomed. It became known as the Glastonbury Thorn and has grown on Wearyall Hill since Saxon times.

Our group leader arrives and calls to those still below to hurry. She tells us: “The present remains are of a structure dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It belongs to The National Trust. Some people predict this is where the Messiah will reappear. Since this is the feast of Christ’s ascension we want to be mindful of the sacredness of the moment when the sun rises above the horizon. Please make a circle.”

The gold rays of the sun are fanning out from the very edge of the earth itself, first highlighting the base of one pink cloud, then spreading upward onto others, until the little clouds over my head are golden. A new day is now quickly emerging.

Suddenly, the tip of the sun emerges over the horizon line, spilling golden light over us. I stand in wonder as the sphere of brilliance enlarges. I shut my eyes and take a deep breath of the fresh cool air giving a silent prayer of thanks for the chance to be here.

Quicker than I could have imagined, the sun has popped into the sky and is brightening the tips of the lower hills. I gaze all around in silent wonder, feeling a moment of inner harmony. My spirit sings in wonder. A shiver shakes my being. It is so beautiful!

Sally starts to sing “Morning Has Broken”. I do not know all the words but the tune is familiar enough for me to hum the bars I do not know. The others sing along in various levels of proficiency. I feel tingly. Sally moves into the words to Amazing Grace with the strong support of several good singers, I smile. A memorable day has begun. This is why I came.

By Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem M.Ed.

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