Druid and Pagan Festivals: King Arthur, Beltane, Bath and Glastonbury

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur - the Sword and the Stone
King Arthur - the Sword and the Stone

A Bath protest camp

There was an ongoing protest camp near Swainswick on the outskirts of Bath. It was all centred around Solsbury Hill, a majestic and ancient hill-fort, believed to be the site of the Battle of Badon long ago.

To attract further publicity to the campaign and to celebrate the time of Beltane, a big open-air free festival and party was organised to take place on the hilltop itself. Pixi Morgan and myself were invited and we hitched a lift down from Cardiff to Bath looking forward to the festivities ahead. It was a warm sunny day and, fortunately, we had no problems getting a lift.

Pixi Morgan

Pixi Morgan at the Red Lion
Pixi Morgan at the Red Lion | Source

Pixi and Dave Sangar busking in Glastonbury

Where is Swainswick?

Beltane in Bath and Glastonbury

When Pixi and I arrived we soon found some of his friends camped at the site. There were some travellers in a bus and also a group from the Dongas tribe that he introduced me to.

This is the tribe, who take their name from the old name for straight track-ways, which, of course, are also known as ley-lines. These folk were instrumental in opposing the destruction of the countryside at Twyford Down and many other sites.

Pixi is one of the Dongas himself and I remember running into him once while he was busking in a Cardiff street. He was fresh back from Twyford Down and resplendent with eye-catching Celtic swirls adorning his forehead and cheeks in blue face-paint reminiscent of the woad the ancient Britons used.

Solsbury Hill overlooks the sweeping water-meadows of the River Avon below, which were threatened by yet another crazy road development. Campaigners had been out in force for some time and many were actually squatting the houses and cottages on the hillside and below it.

Many were facing eviction in the Battle of Solsbury Hill. The new by-pass would not only destroy much of the water-meadow, together with many beautiful trees, but would cut into the ancient hill as well, so naturally there was a lot of opposition from eco-warriors and locals alike.

Eventually we made our way up the steep hillside, aided and abetted in our uphill climb by a pint of Old Tom's most excellent scrumpy, which we were able to buy from a stall he had set up in a field. It was only a pound a pint but I reckon it was far, far superior to the sort of watered-down slop you get served for this price in towns. A pint of Old Tom's was just what we needed in the hot sunshine that was beating down on us.

We soon reached the top and were delighted to find King Arthur already there accompanied by many other friends. Arthur told us that after the celebrations that night he was going over to Glastonbury with a television crew from the ITV.

They were aiming to be there in time for the dawn ceremony and naturally we were invited along too. Arthur introduced us to the TV crew and it turned out that there was enough room for us to travel over with them in one of the vehicles.

Well, the evening was soon upon us and more and more people were arriving to join the party and enjoy the bonfire on a beautiful clear and starry night. I remember there were people in Pagan costumes on stilts, there was a pyrotechnic performance and the burning of a giant wicker-man.

There was ‘live' music from acoustic minstrels and bands of troubadours and plenty for everyone to revel in as well as much feasting and drinking going on. It was a perfect night for such a party. It was a really magical Beltane!

We left in the early hours, all bound for Avalon and finally arrived an hour or so before light. I can still recall walking up the Tor from where we had parked down on the road below.

I was cloaked in a blue and white checked blanket, hardly typical Druid attire but it kept me warm and that was all that mattered. Somewhere along the way King Arthur asked me to look after his shield so I became his shield-bearer for a while too, which was new role for me in the War-band.

I can't be sure where Pixi was at this point but I've got the idea that he stayed down the bottom in one of the cars.

Anyway, when we reached the top there were already a group of assorted people there, including some travelling musicians. Arthur was supposed to be meeting some of his knights who were camped somewhere on the sides of the Tor.

I remember wandering around with him for a while trying to find them with Arthur calling out their names but not receiving any answers. I'll never forget King Arthur's comment on the situation: "I don't know, Steve, but I feel more like the ruddy Grand Old Duke of York than King Arthur, going up and down this hill all night!"

Eventually, I was getting too tired and thought I'd leave him to it and try to catch a bit of shut-eye while I still could. I went into the shelter of the tower at the top of the Tor and curled up, wrapping my blanket around me. I couldn't sleep though.

There was far too much noise from the guitars, bongos and didgeridoos being played by the musicians and I gave up on this idea too. I got up and, bleary-eyed, I went to survey the wonder of the silvery mists rising and circling the mystical Isle of Avalon, which I was standing atop. Bleary-eyed or not, there is nowhere else quite like it!

By now, a procession of Druids had been sorted out to ascend the Tor and I spotted Pixi, who had borrowed a white robe, bearing a torch as he made his way up.

I had obviously missed out here but I was too tired to worry and I satisfied myself by thinking I might not be in the procession but I am fulfilling my task as a knight by looking after King arthur's shield. Having said that, mind you, I was looking forward to him taking it back!

At last all had ascended and assembled at the top and, as would be expected, Rollo Maughfling, the Arch-Druid of Glastonbury was there with his partner, Donna. King Arthur, Rollo, Pixi and the other Druids were all kitted-out in traditional Druid robes and carrying suitable Druidic artefacts such as swords and staffs.

I was the odd-one-out, for although I was carrying Arthur's shield, I was still wrapped in my blue and white blanket and so I appeared in the actual broadcast of the event which the TV crew were filming.

It was a truly wonderful morning for the ceremony as the sun rose and illuminated the country-side around and as Arthur and Rollo blessed the four quarters, wishing peace to the individual compass directions. At the close of the circle Morris dancers danced in the traditional way.

There's something very ‘olde worlde' and pagan about such dances, I always think, and nothing else quite like it. I remember well a flock of white doves, like the symbols of peace they are regarded as, circling around the Tor. It was a memorable close to a beautiful Beltane weekend and the beginning of a whole new day.

NB: This is one chapter in a book I started writing.

Beltane on Glastonbury Tor 2007 Part One

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