As I sit with my feet in the icy water, sparkling sunshine dances on the surface. A singing bowl rings out in the distance. It’s a scorching hot day in Glastonbury and I’m taking the chance to cool down, sitting in the dappled sunshine with my feet in the soothing waters of the Healing Pool at Chalice Well.
This natural spring, also known as the Red Spring, thanks to the rust content that gives the water a reddish hue, is set in a peaceful garden near the foot of Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. It’s open to the public every day of the week. When I stayed near Glastonbury over the summer solstice earlier this year, a visit to the Chalice Well was top of my wish list.
This is the first article in a new series about my favourite spiritual and sacred places in England and beyond.
The Chalice Well and Gardens
Set in a beautiful 4-acre garden, Chalice Well is a place for quiet contemplation and meditation with many tucked-away corners, as well as lawns, flower beds and majestic trees.
Stepping into the gardens, I make my way down some steps to the Vesica Pool, a beautiful water sculpture set in a rockery. A young girl is dipping some crystals in the water that trickles around the pool. I’m wearing a labradorite crystal pendant, which I dip in the running water (a great way to cleanse hard crystals*).
A smattering of people sit nearby… on benches, on the lawn, and under two ancient yew trees. The oldest is believed to be around 700 years old, while the smallest is actually growing from an underground spur of the first. They are known as the guardians of the garden. Already I’m enchanted by this magical place.
Beyond this first garden lies a small walled courtyard known as King Arthur’s Court. Within it lies the Healing Pool, a shallow brick pool surrounded by ferns and ivy, shaded by another ancient yew tree. I kick off my sandals and join others dipping my feet in the chilly water – a welcome relief from the scorching summer sun.
I walk on to the Lion’s Head Fountain set in a sunken garden and taste the spring water for the first time. This is the only recommended spot for drinking the water. It’s quite something to think that this water has been held within the earth for thousands of years. I fill up a bottle to take with me. When the garden is closed there is a tap where you can access the water along Wellhouse Lane. The water from the fountain and the tap is piped directly from the source of the well.
Behind the sunken garden lies the Holy Thorn Tree, which flowers twice a year at Christmas and Easter. According to local legend, this tree is the descendant of the original Holy Thorn Tree that grew from where Joseph of Arimathea drove his staff into the ground near the well.
A stone path edged with beds of poppies and other traditional English country garden flowers leads me to the far northeast corner of the grounds. Here lies the inner sanctuary and the beautiful Well Head with its immediately recognisable well lid.
I sit down for a while and quietly soak up the atmosphere, how long for, I’m really not sure.
The water in the Chalice Well comes from deep within the earth. 25,000 gallons (110,00 litres) flow from the well every day and as far as is known, it has never failed, even during drought. The reddish hue of the water is caused by iron oxide deposits. Archaeological finds suggest that the waters of the spring may have been used by man for over two thousand years.
As the dowser, Sig Lonegren explained ‘The water doesn’t come from above. It comes from below and so is not dependent on rainfall and begins its existence deep within the bowels of our Mother, the Earth.’
*Note about crystals: Placing crystals in running water is said to cleanse the crystals, however, some crystals are water-soluble and some release toxins when placed in water so only do this if you are sure the crystal is suitable. Labradorite, for example, is okay to get wet however, it should not be left in water for any length of time.
Above (top to bottom): the Vesica Pool, the Healing Pool, the Lion’s Head Fountain and the Meadow.
I end my visit meditating in the shade of the trees looking out across The Meadow, before making a quick visit to the gift shop.
The Chalice Well Design
The top side of the famous well lid was created by Bligh Bond in 1919. Made of wrought iron and oak the famous design of two overlapping circles (known in geometry as vesica piscis) and a sword. According to Bond, these represent the Bleeding Lance and the Visible and Invisible Worlds interlocked with each other. Fittingly, the metal work was the first thing made by a British foundry after World War.
The underside of the lid was made more recently by Hamish Miller incorporating the original design with the sword tip bent over to create a heart shape.
The Silent Minute
Each day around noon and 3 pm a silent minute is observed at Chalice Well. The start and end of the minute are marked by the ringing of a bell and everyone in the grounds at that time is invited to observe a minute’s silence, a moment of united prayer and contemplation..
Wellesley Tudor Pole, the founder of The Chalice Well Trust, was the driving force behind the Silent Minute observed each day during WWII. Its continued observation was of great importance to him.
As Tudor Pole wrote, “There is no power on earth that can withstand the united cooperation on spiritual levels of men and women of goodwill everywhere. It is for this reason that the continued and widespread observance of the Silent Minute is of such vital importance in the interest of human welfare.”
On a side note, for anyone wondering, Wellesley Tudor Pole was the grandfather of musician, TV presenter and actor, Edward Tudor Pole.
The White Spring
Nearby, along Wellhouse Lane, which runs down the side of Chalice Well, lies a second natural spring, the White Spring.
In contrast, the water here runs white thanks to the calcite it contains. Its source is much shallower than the Chalice Well and a very different atmosphere here. The spring is enclosed in a candle-lit Victorian pump house, that is now a temple. Sadly, it was shut on the day I visited Chalice Well but I have recently returned to Glastonbury so, of course, I made sure The White Spring was open. You can read about my visit to The White Spring here.
Glastonbury and Arthurian Legend
Glastonbury has a long association with the legendary King Arthur with the Tor a plausible location of Avalon, the utopian island where Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged and where he was taken to meet his death, having been mortally wounded in battle.
Glastonbury is one of several places around the world that claim to be the location of the Holy Grail. In Arthurian legend, his knights set forth on a quest to find the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Christ during the Last Super and by his disciples to catch drops of his blood at the Crucifixion. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea was the founder of Glastonbury Abbey and the custodian of the Holy Grail. He is said to have hidden it under the Chalice Well.
Legend or history? Fact or fiction? Was King Arthur a real person, or simply a hero of Celtic mythology? The debate has gone on for centuries, with historians unable to confirm or deny that Arthur really existed.
I’m intrigued to learn that the hill that Glastonbury Tor sits atop isn’t man-made but is natural and long ago each winter the land around it flooded turning it into an island. Since then, modern drainage methods mean the land no longer floods but who knows maybe, once upon a time this was indeed the island of Avalon.
Visiting Chalice Well
Today, Chalice Well is owned and managed by the Chalice Well Trust, founded by Wellesley Tudor Pole in 1959.
Address: Chalice Well Trust, 85-89 Chilkwell Street, Glastonbury BA6 8DD
Telephone: 01458 831154
Facebook: Chalice Well
Entrance fees: Adults – £5.00, Seniors (60 plus) – £4.10, Children (5 to 17 years) – £2.50, Concessions – £3.80
Open times: Every day 10 am to 6 pm (last entry at 5.30 pm). No pre-booking is required.
Food and drink: There is no onsite food and drink outlet. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic which they are asked to eat in The Meadow and not elsewhere in the gardens.
While visiting the Chalice Well, please turn off your mobile phones (or put them into airplane mode) and respect the tranquil atmosphere of the gardens. Sadly, not all visitors do.
Parking at the Chalice Well and Glastonbury Tor
Onsite there are a couple of parking spots for disabled visitors. Other visitors need to park in the town and walk back to the gardens. We parked at R J Draper’s in Cottle Close off the A361, just a few minutes’ walk from the well and the path to Glastonbury Tor. It’s not a very obvious parking spot but you simply need to park and then go into the shop (up a small flight of stairs) to pay for parking. There’s also a toilet there that they were happy for us to use.
What makes Glastonbury so mystical? National Geographic
Become a Chalice Well Companion, The Chalice Well Trust