The marshes and pools of the Somerset Levels

The Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury

by Palden Jenkins

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Landscape Temple

The Mid-Somerset landscape has three distinct elements: the wetland Somerset Levels, the Mendip Hills to the north and the rolling, once-wooded area south and east of Glastonbury. The Mendips were a different world - a roughly flat beech-wooded plateau - separate from that of the Levels, but they form a backdrop and northern edge to Mid-Somerset.

The Levels have for millennia been wetlands, flooded to different degrees at different times. Glastonbury sticks out between the land and the wetlands. Apart from Glastonbury Tor, the scale of ancient remains in the area is not great - we have no stone circles closer than Stanton Drew near Bristol, and no significant standing stones. Yet the landscape as a whole is imbued with a beauty, mystique and numinescence which has made it well loved over many centuries, and the haunt of many advanced souls.

Look around this and the IsleofAvalon site and you'll find lots of material connected with this page. It's worth checking out the sections on Glastonbury Tor, the Tor Panorama, the Somerset Levels, Ancient and Sacred Sites and Glastonbury's History and Traditions. You can see the full map, with more material about Glastonbury, at

About the waters of the Somerset Levels

The landscape around Glastonbury has undergone immense changes throughout human history. This is because the large flooded area west of Glastonbury has gradually been drained, both by natural means (rising of land levels relative to the sea) and man-made means (drainage in the Glastonbury vicinity carried out by medieval monks and then across the whole Somerset Levels by Dutch engineers in the 1600s-1800s).

It began as shallow sea some 7,000 years ago, gradually turning to freshwater wetlands from around 6-5,000 years ago onwards. The arrival of sand dunes on the west coast of Somerset, helped by the Romans through the planting of Mediterranean dune-loving species, helped separate the sea and the tidal saltmarsh in the Levels in the west. A series of clay banks and piled-up peat around Westhay and Wedmore separated the saltmarsh of the west from the freshwater peatbogs and lakes further east, fed by the Somerset rivers.

The Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury Copyright Palden Jenkins

Blue shows areas covered by water or by boggy, regularly-inundated and uninhabitable land – this varied over time. The lightest green shows land areas susceptible to flooding. The thick green line shows the true edge of the wetlands and the beginning of the dry, habitable zone (50ft above mean sea-level). Contours then rise in 50ft (15m) intervals to a height of 1,000ft (305m). The Isle of Avalon (Glastonbury) lies at the centre of the map. The map is about 40 miles (65km) wide, stretching from Bridgwater to Frome.

The monks of Glastonbury Abbey oversaw the cutting of a canal west from Glastonbury, which became the re-routed River Brue, helped drain the area. Before this, the Brue flowed north from Glastonbury, joining what is now the River Axe. But serious drainage and clearance of the wetland woodlands (alder carr), to make dry pastureland, took place only from the 1600s onwards (following a disastrous tsunami which inundated the whole Severn estuary in 1607).

During the 20th Century the Somerset Levels were pastureland serving mainly the beef industry – a relative desert which depleted the function of the Levels as an international bird-migratory stopover on the Atlantic seaboard. In the 1980s-1990s conservationists won a long-standing battle to raise water-levels somewhat, so that the pastureland could become soggy meadowland. Also industrial peat-digging was adapted to create pools in the peatlands, for migrating and wading birds and water-loving creatures such as otters.

About the leyline map

Mid-Somerset, the area around Glastonbury, was rich in megalithic sites big and small. These are shown on the map here. This map was first researched, hand-drawn and published by Palden Jenkins in 1982 (see the original version below). It went out of print by the end of the 80s.

The author, during the 1990s, was occupied with other things but, by 2000, decided to publish a second edition. This required new fieldwork and redesigning the map on computer. The new map has now been republished on paper in large A1 format in July 2005. It is available for purchase in shops in Glastonbury and also online through Gothic Image of Glastonbury.

The full map, showing ancient sites and medieval churches (red), natural features (green), ley alignments (brown), great-circle lines (yellow) and Roman roads (light brown), is below. The full detail is visible on the A1 poster-sized, full-colour printed map, which would look just great pinned up on your wall.

Map of the Ancient Landscape around Glastonbury, first edition
by Palden Jenkins, 1982
Copyright. Permission is required to copy, reproduce or post this map on websites

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   Glastonbury Tor