Driving across the Mendips and into Glastonbury, one thing makes your location very clear: the eponymous tor rising slightly unnervingly above the small town. It’s almost artificial-looking in its proportions, like Silbury Hill, with the solid tooth of the church tower standing proud on top. It overlooks not only the town itself, but the whole of the Somerset levels. From its vantage point you would be able to see this massive flood plain, and how the town rises slightly above the average altitude. It’s this that leads many to believe that Glasto was once an island – some go as far as to say that it was Avalon, King Arthur‘s mythical final resting place. It would be just one of many mythical, fictional, romantical associations with the little town, ranging from Joseph of Arimathea and the holy grail, to the earth-dragon, a bi-gendered ley line superhighway extending from Cornwall to East Anglia. See the Glastonbury Tor website for maps, if you like that sort of thing (and who doesn’t?)
Whatever basis any of these legends have, they’ve brought out the hippies en masse in Glastonbury. Not for this town the mud-caked musos and designer-welly-wearers of Pilton Farm, walking down Glastonbury High Street the norm is dreadlocked hair, kaftans and tunics, roll-ups and organic vegetables. Surrounding the Market Cross at the foot of the high street sit a motley selection of hardened crusties drinking cider, hirsute teenagers and what seems like half the audience at Womad. Every other shop front has some sort of new age connection, be it crystals, incense, books or tarot readings.
That doesn’t include the charity shops of course, of which there are but three, but you’ll find generously-proportioned religion/philosophy/spirituality sections in each of the bookshelves. First up, on Northload Street, a non-descript Oxfam peddles its usual fair trade assortment along with a quite standard selection of books and clothes. The best action is found further up the High Street, past the church, opposite the curiously-named Truckle of Cheese.
Here we have the ever-lovely Shaw Trust, and as usual it’s filled with nice things. A pile of elderly, hardbacked electricians’ manuals? Vinyl stacked so that the outside sleeve shows the record (a surprisingly rare innovation when most shops sell vinyl out of a brightly coloured crate on the floor)? Check. The best of the bunch in Glastonbury, however, is, as so often, the local hospice, in this case St Margarets Somerset. A double-fronted beast of a charity shop, and packed on this Saturday afternoon, the store’s divided, quite sensibly, into two sections (clothing and misc.) by a dinky little passage filled with nicknacks. The ‘misc’ side is especially good: walls of books, a whole snug for bric-a-brac, even the odd sofa. Pick of the bunch here was a Tiffany-esque glass ceiling lampshade (at £25 not cheap, but I guess not expensive either. I don’t really know what the going rate for lampshades is). I managed to resist the temptation of what seemed to be the Observer’s Guide to the M6, although I was sorely tempted.
Glastonbury’s definitely worth a dip, because there’s plenty more than just the charity shops – it rates just as highly on the tourism tourism scale as the charity shop tourism. Plus all the hippies seemed so nice! Barking, but nice.
Find: Glastonbury @ Google Maps
Consume with: I recommend a nice cuppa at the cheerily wholesome HundredMonkeys, on the High Street.
Visit: Glastonbury Abbey, at one point supposed to be the oldest church building in existance; or the reall quite imppressive Tor.
Overall rating: four random crystals