Avalon · Glastonbury · Summer Solstice · Tor · Town Crier

A Socially-Distanced Summer Solstice

This Lockdown has been difficult for Town Criers.

Normally at this time of year when fetes and festivals begin and visitor numbers really start to increase, I am kept pretty busy in and around town. Sadly, the self-isolating public do not have events to attend as these are currently banned. Tourism has all but died. So, with no events being staged, Town Criers throughout the land, have been silenced too. If I had gone out for a “Good old cry” in Glastonbury High Street, I would probably have received a fine from the police, shouted to a virtually empty street anyway and been understandably censured by the Town Council! Glastonbury, until a week or so ago, was a shuttered ghost town – the only signs of life in the town mainly being locals scurrying to their “essential” shops, before hurrying home again.

So, I was heartened when I was contacted by Morgana West, Director of the Glastonbury Information Centre a few weeks back. Morgy had hit upon the idea of setting up an online, “Virtual” Summer Solstice Celebration for all those people who were obeying Government regulations and thoughtfully, not visiting the town nor assembling in large groups anywhere. Additionally, it was also considered that staging an online, live event would enable us to bring our Solstice Celebrations to everyone with internet access around the world and especially to the thousands who feel a particularly strong connection with Avalon.



Morgana West – Director of the Glastonbury Information Centre


I was delighted and honoured to take part. The idea was for me to do three long blasts on my hunting horn to welcome in the sunrise behind the Tor before launching into my “Cry of Welcome” on live video. The thought of “doing my thing” in front of a potential audience of over 20,000 people from all over the world sent a tingle up my spine – like it did when I was asked to read the Royal Proclamation a few years ago. (See my “A Right Royal Proclamation” blog post of August 2017.) Make no mistake, this was going to be a unique event, being staged in quite unprecedented times. My urge to help in sharing something rather special and quite moving, for so many, was particularly strong.

The planning for the event was shrouded in secrecy. To avoid any crowds joining in, we were not told of the exact location but simply of where to meet up at 4am, before being taken there.

On the day, I rose at 3am and I could hear the rain lashing on the windows. “We’re in for a soaking”, I thought to myself as I reached for the alarm clock and the bedside light. My long green Greatcoat and all the other paraphernalia that Town Criers need (Tricorn, bell, scroll and in my case, hunting horn) were packed in the car boot the previous night to ensure a quick getaway. I wore my long black boots after a helpful email warned of sheep ticks in the long grass. After the mistakes of the last time, when I got up early for a sunrise (see my “Beltane Bliss” blog of May 2019) I grabbed a quick cup of tea and a bite to eat first – not that one feels particularly hungry at 3:20 am.

We all met and assembled at the allotted time before being taken on a short but breathtakingly steep climb to our secret location, which had a superb view of Glastonbury Tor.


Glastonbury Tor just before sunrise – not that you’d know!

Climbing a steep, wet bank in near darkness, my right foot slipped from under me and down I went. Luckily, the only casualty was a bent handle on my big brolly! Once there, we could see and hear a Solstice “party” in full swing, around St. Michael’s Tower on the top of the Tor. There were about 50 people up there – slightly outnumbered by sheep.

The cameras rolled at about 04:45,  The first online view was of our esteemed Mayor, Jon Cousins, just hanging around in the middle of a wet field with a giant blue candle.

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Jon Cousins – Mayor of Glastonbury, stood next to the celebrated Unity Candle


He moved aside at 04:55 as I did my little bit to welcome the Sun with three long blasts.

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They must have heard me on the Tor!

I then welcomed everyone, preceded with some seriously-loud bell clanging!

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This is the bit where I get to wake up the Town at 5 am!

There were thoughtful words from Jon Cousins (Mayor of Glastonbury) and Morgana West. I found the Silent Minute very moving – the only sounds that could be heard were the sound of distant drums and a little chanting on a mist-shrouded Tor.


Jon Cousins with the Unity Candle, tastefully positioned on a local decorator’s steps



Cameraman, Kevin Redpath and his assistant, filming and monitoring the internet response

Our event flowed smoothly and we were told of hundreds of messages of thanks and goodwill flooding in from people all over the world.

Now that really warms the heart.

Bards · Druids · Glastonbury · Orchards · Tor · Wassailing


candle lined pathway

Wassailing is a very ancient custom, particularly popular and strongly celebrated in the South West of England. Besides being a good excuse to drink lots of scrumpy (that’s cider……..  i.e. fermented apple juice, for my foreign readers), eat al-fresco, have a little sing-song and the odd dance or two, it is a custom to firstly ensure that any evil spirits are banished from orchards and secondly to encourage all the trees to grow well and basically, produce a bumper crop of apples in the following autumn.


Of course, the scientist in me is saying that no amount of yodelling, dancing and pouring of cider over the ground (such a criminal waste!) is going to help trees in the slightest to produce a brilliant crop. A couple of years ago I attended another Wassail event where several of the local gentlemen farmers fired shotguns upwards into the apple trees, producing a veritable “rain” of bark, twigs and lichen on all those watching from below.


How on earth does this “Wassailing-with-Attitude” – as I call it – help the poor apple trees produce more fruit, I ask! Surely, raking-in a good general fertiliser around the base of the tree would do far better. Nowhere near as dramatic, photogenic and entertaining, however!



A year ago, I read an advert for a Wassail on the Tor and as Town Crier, I decided to robe-up and put in an appearance, just for the fun of it. After all, I couldn’t be accused of “gate-crashing” in my own town, now, could I? The organiser spotted me (not too difficult, I guess) and I was immediately asked to perform an impromptu introduction for her. Then a month or two ago, I received an e-mail asking me if I could actually be the “Master of Ceremonies” for this year’s Wassail event. I suppose I must have done something right! There was an offer of free food and free cider; how could I possibly refuse?

Prior to the event, which is organised by the National Trust (as they are the wonderful guardians of our legendary Glastonbury Tor)  I received a two-page Health and Safety Risk Assessment. It was sent as a matter of routine to all those helping on the day.  I think it’s something that all organisers of public events are obliged, by law, to produce for staff. It made me laugh, nevertheless. I didn’t know that singing, eating, drinking cider and dancing in a field could be such a hazardous activity! (But there again, perhaps they have somehow or other got to hear about my evenings of occasional over-indulgence in cider drinking and of my complete inability to dance without injuring those nearby!)


I arrived early to park my car in a very muddy field, robe up and then collect my “free-cider and food” tickets! Luckily, I had my script sent to me, so I was good to go. When I arrived, the Morris Dancers were already entertaining the assembling crowd.

I duly did my introduction and official welcome at the allotted time and things got underway.

The first event was to get all two hundred assembled Wassailers to sing Wassail songs beneath each tree in the orchard. Such a nice touch, I thought……. giving each apple tree that bit of individual attention. I’m sure the apple trees appreciated it. There were a lot of trees in the Avalon Orchard, I might add!

orchard with ladies

Whilst all this was going on, I was notified by the organiser that the BBC “Points West” News video crew had just arrived and wanted to film me doing a bit of my introduction that they missed. I obliged. I hope my bell ringing and subsequent shouting did not distract all the “singing to the trees” that was progressing in earnest!

The assembled Merry Wassailers were also encouraged to tie small tags to the branches of the “Blessing Tree” with brief notes, explaining “how the Glastonbury Tor was important to them”.

Later on, I announced for all gathered, to assemble round the Blessing Tree, where the main Wassail Ceremony would be performed by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Once the ceremony was over, further participation from the assembled crowds was requested. A big basket of toast was suddenly produced……yes dry, cold toast was thereupon offered to all. Not to eat, I hasten to add, but to place on the branches of the Blessing Tree!

toast on tree

Apparently, this helps too! Watching the Wassailers adorning the Blessing Tree with slices of brown bread, I couldn’t help think that the bread was going to help the local bird population far more than the apple tree. But there again, birds eat insects and grubs that might possibly harm the trees, I thought to myself……… so perhaps it might help the trees indirectly.  I’m such an over-thinker at times!

putting toast on tree

The final and most captivating event, in my book, was the Story Teller. He was a most friendly, approachable and charming gentleman. I chatted to him for a while before introducing him.

storyteller whistful

We all assembled around the fire – a more intimate gathering now, as quite a few had left, probably having had enough of the cold, damp January air.

He told engaging stories of dragons, apples, eagles, glass mountains, knights in shining armour, princesses and castles.

story teller hand grasping

The children were enthralled – as was the Town Crier!

Looking forward to my next Wassail.