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Notes from Enchanted England

A Glastonbury tale of toads and tors

My slave Alexa started to play me up. It may be a subtle revenge for the great kitchen cooking fest that happened last week and resulted in her injury. I asked Alexa to make flat breads, she told me she could not do that 'yet' but here was a recipe. Is it my fault she ended up covered in flour. Is it? - she should have moved out of the way.

Since then she has steadfastly refused to do as asked.

Me: Alexa - play The Archers
She: - Sorry I don't know that one

It grew ever more exasperating and culminated in my asking she played the beetles and she chose Help! I need someone.  At this point my phone trilled. Saved by the bell Alexa, saved by the bell. It was a message from a friend suggesting a trip out to Glastonbury. I studied my phone.  It is a tricky town. Sometimes I just love her and at others, I get frazzled by all the good will and children of stars. Away from Glastonbury, I study religion and magic. At Glastonbury I have been known to revert to Virgo scientifica and grow analytical and critical. I return to my faith in technology and IT. There is only so much Tarot a girl can take. Still at that moment Glastonbury was significantly less annoying than glITchy, ITty Alexa . It was one of the hottest days of the year and storms had been predicted along with flash floods. but  despite the threat of thunder and lightening we drove into Somerset's winding and pretty roads until the great Tor was seen on the horizon.

The moment I stepped foot out of the carpark, I knew we were going to get on this time. The clouds over the town promised rain and indeed heavy, warm drops fell in solitary spots as we toured the high street.  My friend and I jumped in and out of rain and in and out of the many varied bookshops that form the heart of this town. We peered into an estate agent's window. A Victorian house was for sale, five minutes walk from the centre. Ooh, we cooed, very handy if you were to run out of unicorns - for unicorns abound here. Not an Alexa to be seen but unicorns, dragons and angels crowd every doorway.  I bought a new set of Tarot. Apparently there is no limit to the amount of cards a girl needs.

We should climb the Tor, my friend suggested. This made me nervous. I made two weak objections using two conflicting facts -  It was boiling hot sunshine and  also it would pour with rain, we would be stranded on the Tor with only lightening for company. (But the main object in my mind was the number of steps up the steeply pitched hill).  It will be fine promised my friend and off we set.

Surprisingly the climb was not so bad as I remembered and we reached the top relatively quickly. Rain threatened but did not fall, but still the farms and fields shone with silver pools and streams that recall Avalon and Arthurian legend.  YET there is another as exciting monarch that sheltered in this magical landscape. King Alfred, hiding out with his army in 878 took shelter around Glastonbury and the Somerset levels. Here, the Anglo Saxon chronicles record him inhabiting an area of flooded marshes, punctuated with lightly wooded islands and reeds beds.  From here he fought back against the Vikings to reclaim his kingdom of Wessex. Later his daughter Ethelflaed would become Queen of the Mercians and rule in her own name. She was a renowned warrior who led her armies into battle. She succeeded in handing over an almost unified country to her nephew, the first King of England - Ethelstan.  The view from Glastonbury Tor is one she may have known well. Though she might have blinked at some of the advanced yoga a couple was practising on its green swards. 

 We walked down the lanes toward our parked car. The tarmac was blistering in the heat - even through our shoes we could feel its warmth, when - out of the corner of my eye - I saw a tiny movement in the lane. A toad was making its way across the road. It walked slowly, taking no notice of anything around it. To help avoid the broiling tarmac it raised two opposite limbs off the road before taking a step, setting each pair down and raising the next as it made its careful way to a cool green woodland that lay opposite. Inadvertently creating an innovative street dance - the animal remained oblivious to its audience.   On reaching the damp banks the toad paused before plunging back into its own world. The creature was an unexpected joy.

With perfect timing, without unicorns, elves, angels or dragons, Glastonbury delivered a tiny piece of natural magic.

Common Toad:

Common toads vary from dark brown, grey and olive green to sandy-coloured. They have broad, squat bodies and warty skin. They tend to walk rather than hop. These toads are widespread and common in mainland Britain. Read more here.

Common Toad in myth and magic

If this creature presents itself to you, it means that the success that you are waiting for is drawing near.  It is often a good luck sign but requires action. Much like the story of the frog prince, the toad is a symbol of having to do something that you may not particularly like. Doing this task will often prove to be rewarding. Frogs are usually connected with money and fortune. If you’ve experienced a series of bad luck recently, the toad is a good symbol that your fortune will start to turn. 

Read More Here


King Alfred and Queen of the Mercians

Recommend this engaging and informative read.

The Warrior Queen, The Life & Legend of Ethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great.

Joanna Arman

Amberley publications.