Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

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Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Into the books: Day 11, Cheddar Gorge & Glastonbury (Avalon)

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The cave scene near the end The Grail King takes place in the Cheddar Gorge. These caves will make a return in the next Druid of Avalon book, Deep Magic. The Druids of Avalon's settlement is on Glastonbury Tor and the surrounding hills. The red-watered spring that feeds the Chalice Well also appears in The Grail King, as well as being the inspiration for the Sign of Water in my earlier fantasy novel, Crystal Shadows.

Today's jaunt took us first to the Cheddar Gorge. Yes, this is where the cheese was invented, supposedly by medieval monks who were looking for something tasty and vaguely meat-like to eat on Fridays. In Roman times, there is evidence that the Gorge was actually a river. There were a lot of silver and lead mines in this area, and the ore was taken out by boat. The Caves in Cheddar Gorge are beautiful. They've been a tourist sight for over a century now. There are parts of the caves that are submerged and can only be explored by divers. Not for me! The caves appear in The Grail King, and again in the second book in the Druids of Avalon series, Deep Magic. Here's a pic of one of the many cool cave chambers:

After exploring the Cheddar Caves, we drove the short distance to Glastonbury. I first visited Glastonbury on my honeymoon twenty-one (gasp!) years ago. It hasn't changed much!

Two thousand years ago, the flat farmland between Cheddar Gorge and Glastonbury Tor was tidal marshland. Glastonbury is though to be the legendary Isle of Avalon, surrounded by mists and magic. Legend has Joseph of Arimathea bringing the Holy Grail to Avalon shortly after the Crucifixion, and a monastery was active on this site a couple centuries later. Connections to King Arthur abound, and the bodies of a Celtic Chieftain and his Lady buried on the monastery site are said to be Arthur and Gwenivere, though no one really believes this any more.

Avalon is also thought to hide one of the entrances to the Celtic Underworld, Annwyn. My Druids of Avalon have built their secret settlement on this sacred island and cloak it in magic and mist to avoid detection by the Roman authorities. There's not really any evidence of a Celtic settlement on the hill during this time period, although there are Celtic settlements such as the famous Iron Age "Lake Village" nearby. But hey, I figure my Druids have just done a really good job of hiding their presence.

At the base of Glastonbury Tor lies the Chalice Well, which is fed by a spring with a high iron content. The rocks over which the water flows have turned red from all the iron residue. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea buried the Holy Grail on this spot, after which Christ's blood flowing from the Grail turned the water red. I've provided a bit of an alternate explanation in my book The Grail King. A few years ago, I co-opted an earlier legend associated with this well for my fantasy novel Crystal Shadows. Pre-Christian Celtic tribes called this spring the Goddess Well, and the water that flowed from it the Blood of the Goddess. The Well is now surrounded by a lovely garden, with beautiful trees, flowers and sculpture, lots of little nooks and benches for quiet contemplation. While we were touring, a freak hail storm popped up. An omen? Who knows? Here's a couple pics of the Chalice Well:

After the hail storm, we climbed the Tor - Avalon - itself. The hill is very steep, and you can still see a series of ancient terraces around it. There is supposed to be a labyrinth pattern overlaid on the hill. To be in harmony with the goddess, you should climb the hill in a circular and double-back pattern, following the lines of the labyrinth. But since that would have taken us hours, and it was a very hot day, we opted for the straight stair to the top! Here's a pic of the climb up the Tor. That's my husband, already at the top!

Next up: Longleat




Blogger Unknown said...

just wanted to say thank you very much for sharing your pics and experiences here. i have greatly enjoyed the tour - what a treat to see Cheddar! :-) i will definitely visit again. i have always been drawn to things of a celtic nature.

1:16 AM  

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