Olly Writes

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Stargazing in Glastonbury

Wednesday 12th August 2015

My friend Anna recently suggested making a serious effort to experience the Perseid Meteor Shower, which apparently happens annually in August. There’s a very good chance you’ve already heard of this and may even have made your own efforts to witness the shooting stars.

Peering upwards from behind a window wasn’t going to cut it, with a reasonably good forecast in our region. We decided that we would head to the heights of Glastonbury Tor, in the hope of escaping much light pollution and stealing a good seat for the show.

This was my first visit to the town of Glastonbury (let alone the Tor) in what must now be close to sixteen-years! That was on a school trip, where we also took in the Abbey (which is closed overnight). I’d been meaning to come back here and explore it as grown-up for a good couple of years. But the appeal of driving a good forty-five minutes for a walk lost some appeal when, looking at a map, I realised there wasn’t really anywhere else to go. There didn’t appear to be enough to create the longer, more satisfying walk that I was hoping for.

There are two main routes up to the summit, which is topped by a roofless tower. When I was younger, I always believed that the ‘Tor‘ referred to the tower, like some Olde English spelling…

We chose the approach from the south-west corner, which also happened to be closest to our car park on one of the town’s roads. Finding a space was more tricky than anticipated, with large boulders now filling every ‘passing place’ along the narrow lanes that surround the mound. Our path is elongated. It winds its way up the hill but, the more ‘touristy‘ climb to the top is brief and more challenging by comparison.

It was about 20.30 by the time we set off on foot. With other commitments during the day, it would’ve been hard to have arrived much earlier. There was no rush. This show was forecast to run on all night.

From even part way up (where I convenient bench awaits), you can look west to coastline and even further across the channel to the south-east corners of Wales. North and west are some of the more commonly defined features of the Mendip Hills.

Straight up and to the north, was the transmission tower on top of Penn Hill in Wells. For the past three-years, I’d been admiring Glastonbury’s iconic Tor from all sorts of high points around the region… To finally be here, gazing back at everything else, felt like an accomplishment.

I’d anticipated that we wouldn’t be alone on this evening. I wasn’t any busier than I’d expected. Perhaps I thought a couple more people might have arrived. Although, some would soon appear to leave fairly early (ie. a couple of hours before midnight). Above us, someone was playing a flute. Much further below and we had the constant drum of a djembe (if not a bongo) for a bit of entertainment on the side.

As to be expected, it was most busiest around and inside the tower. We eventually took our seats slightly further down the west side of the hill, in the hope of evading some of the constant wind but while holding on to these views of the blood-red sun disappearing beyond the horizon.

As the darkness took over, every living space below became illuminated.

As time slowly passed, we found we weren’t subjected to the fright of total darkness like I had anticipated. There remained an eminent glow from beneath us; enough to keep the tower alight along with the visibility for people to fiddle with their phones and cameras.

Above, you can see the same transmitter at Penn Hill near Wells.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to obtain any clear captures of the stars or any light from the depths of darkness high above us. For one thing, I now realise I may have had the ISO set too low on my camera. With that, our visibility was slightly impaired due to the intermittent cover of cloud. We were blessed with the occasional slash of trailing light and the evening was a highly relaxing and enjoyable experience (in spite of the constant wind).

A few minutes before midnight, we began our descent down the same steps that had lead us there, in the aim of avoiding the north-easterly wind (in darkness) on the other side. I’d hoped to be able to share the ‘quirkiness‘ of these houses along the A361, as the fronts of each building protrude like a linear set of wonky teeth. On one or two buildings, the hopefully-inward-opening doors were slanted over the pavement!

I ended up going to bed around 1.30am, knowing that I was supposed to be in ‘that place‘ no later than 7am… None of which really matters and we’ve already begun discussing where to go to experience the same ‘phenomenon’ in August 2016. We’ll definitely be taking sleeping bags then – it’s hard to imagine any high point in the region being spared the gust of a coastal wind. Hot chocolate helps!

Thanks for reading.

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3 responses to “Stargazing in Glastonbury

  1. Ruth Livingstone 14/08/2015 at 20:40

    Did you get a good view of the shower? It was too overcast in Wales to see the sky (having been clear all day, typical!).

    • Olly Parry-Jones 14/08/2015 at 20:47

      Hi Ruth,

      The story was quite similar here, actually. We had the occasional break in the cloud but it was never as clear as we’d hoped. We did see the occasional shooting star, which was nice. It was a good evening with good company, in any case. What was a little strange was that the slight opening in the cloud would only form directly over the Tor! 🙂

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