Cheryl reveals that Avalon derives from the ancient Welsh for apple orchard; and indeed, apple trees still grow on the Tor’s lower slopes, their branches heavy with mistletoe. She also points out the ryhnes (drainage ditches) that carve through the landscape: dug to transform the Levels from boggy wetland to productive pasture. Though not fully drained till the 17th century, their watery past is remembered through the legends of King Arthur and tales of King Alfred, who battled the Danes from his secret redoubt in the swamp. Even the name Somerset references this landscape: summer, when floodwaters subsided, granted access to seasonal meadowlands.
Descending the Tor, Cheryl tells me how Glastonbury was established on a convergence of ley lines: electromagnetic maps along which ancient sites (including Stonehenge) were built. Their spiritual significance is reflected in the preponderance of crystals and fantastical art for sale on the high street. Pagan origins were later supplanted by different beliefs: Glastonbury’s abbey was Britain’s first Christian monastery. Even in its ruined state, it remains impressively grand; a testament to the extraordinary wealth that prompted a jealous Henry VIII to dissolve such institutions.
All this medieval history and New Age vibes inform Glastonbury’s sense of time and place, but the clock dials forward considerably a few miles up the road. Holiday cottages hereabouts tend to verge on the twee, so it’s a breath of fresh air to be staying at The Bolt: one of two units on the edge of the Mendips, overlooking the Levels. Carved from a former chicken shed, The Bolt places urban-industrial, loft-style living amid sheep grazing right outside the windows.
“There were times when we were slapping on paint and we’d ask ourselves, ‘Is this going to work?’,” owner Emily Sutherland told me when I checked in. She needn’t have worried. Inside, The Bolt is all slate-grey walls and poured concrete floors mixed with plush upholstery, pendant lamps and pops of sunshine yellow, with a few kitsch pieces here and there for a look that’s personal and playful. I love it. Outside, a terrace with hot-tub and loungers looks past the sheep towards the Quantock Hills: a view best enjoyed at sunset from the egg chair suspended from a birch tree.