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Every year Somerset plays host to one of the greatest festivals in the world, but Andrea Cowan find out there is even more to Glastonbury than the event that bears its name
The Glastonbury Festival, which is actually held in Pilton, attracts global superstars and does wonders for the county and its economy, but there are many other things that the area has to offer.
Glastonbury Fringe began in 2012 to counteract the widespread perception that the town was off-limits during Festival season. But in fact it’s one of the best times to visit. “It’s a celebration of all things Glastonbury,” explains Cllr Steve Henderson, one of the Fringe co-ordinators. “A couple of visitors from Scotland and York came to stay in the town for a weekend last year, but when they heard about the Fringe, they both extended their stay for a week – and are hoping to return this year.”
Now in its 5th year, the Fringe is a kaleidoscope of music, dance, drama, comedy, poetry, art, alternative healing, food, myths and magic. Sara Clay, from Glastonbury Community Development Trust, adds: “Any other small rural market town might call this a festival but locals will tell you that Glastonbury is pretty much always like this. We just do that little bit extra for the fortnight, such as decorating the town with turquoise banners, the colour of the Fringe.”
There are performances, gigs, workshops, classes and exhibitions taking place throughout the town, as eclectic as the venues that host them. These include pubs such as the Hawthorns, the King Arthur and the Riflemans Arms, independent cafés like the Lazy Gekko and the new Excalibur café, shops including the Cancer Research charity shop, which holds live gigs in the window and little art galleries tucked away behind the High Street including Blue Cedar, Abbey Muse Gallery and Glastonbury Galleries. And not forgetting the historic settings with classical recitals and sacred music in churches, music therapy on the slopes of the Tor, a performance of Midsummer’s Night Dream at Glastonbury Abbey and Sacred Chants & Devotional Mantras at Chalice Well.
The centrepiece will be the Glastonbury Fringe marquee at the Market Cross, providing free entertainment every afternoon throughout the 14 days. Different local organisations and individuals will take over each day’s programming so you can expect buskers, bards, bellydancers, storytellers , street theatre, and non-stop music. Steve continues: “we have a vibrant music and arts community in Glastonbury, but for this fortnight we really encourage performers from all over to come and join in. The Marquee is a really inclusive event, almost like a daily ‘open-mic’ session.”
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In true Glastonbury style, the Fringe is ever-evolving. You can check the website to see what’s going on (glastonbury-fringe.org.uk), but perhaps the ideal – and authentic - way to experience it is just to wander down the High Street, popping into the cafés, shops and galleries.
“Everyone is organising their own events, doing their own thing, so one thing you can expect is the ‘unexpected,” concludes Sara.
Glastonbury Fringe will be officially opened on 16 June by the mayor of Glastonbury, Jon Cousins. It then runs until 30 of June – or until the music stops!
The picturesque market town of Glastonbury is at the heart of the Isle of Avalon and, as such, is over flowing with fascinating, independent shops.
Dilliway & Dilliway
19 High Street.
A family run shop that specialises in unique Indian furniture, textiles and homewares imported directly from suppliers in India. Expect gorgeous colours and fabrics, with completely one off furniture pieces from Rajasthan.
The Courtyard, 2-4 High Street.
Famous for their hand blended incense and candles, the shop is almost like a entering a magical grotto.
The Goddess and the Green Man
17 High Street.
An emporium of all things magical. You’ll find books, statues, cauldrons, jewellery and kitchen witchery.
The Crystal Man
7 Northload Street.
This is a haven for mineral collectors and new-age enthusiasts alike. It contains a huge variety of minerals and crystals, from the raw state to polished designs.
There is a surprisingly large choice of places to eat and drink for such a small town.
Knights Fish & Chip Restaurant
5 Northload Street.
This award-winning establishment has been run by the same family for over 100 years and is a firm favourite with locals. There’s a restaurant and a takeaway service – and they are known for their homemade fishcakes.
The Red Brick Building Centre, Morland Road.
A (relatively) new addition to the local foodie offering, this bar and eatery is just on the outskirts of town but worth a visit. Serving up local and seasonal menus during the day and the chance to drink cocktails and listen to live music at night.
Hundred Monkeys Cafe
52 High Street.
A natural and organic café, restaurant and bakery, focusing on local produce where possible. The strapline is “mix no evil, cook no evil, eat no evil”, and it specialises in vegan, gluten-free and dairy menus as well as ethically-reared meats and fresh fish.
Abbey Tea Rooms
16 Magdalene Street.
If you are after a traditional afternoon tea, look no further. The Abbey Tea Rooms, owned for the past 25 years by Mary Parker from a local farming family, is all about local ingredients and old fashioned service. There are linen tablecloths, cakes-a-plenty (all made on the premises), fresh flowers and pretty china.
Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza
Set in the glorious grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, this open air musical event, complete with fireworks finale, has become a summer highlight for locals and visitors to the town.
It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and Celtic legend, Van Morrison, will be the headline act. “We needed something really special for this 20 year celebration” says Michael Eavis, “and there can surely be nobody better than Van to arouse the spirits, and stir up the emotions of this wonderful place!”
Speaking from his home in Ireland, the singer emphasised his close association with this world famous corner of Somerset. “I’ve always found Glastonbury Abbey to have a special spiritual resonance for me and look forward to coming back this summer,” says Van Morrison, who visited the town last autumn.
To do the beautiful Abbey background justice, many music fans make the evening into a real occasion: you’ll see seasoned Extravaganza-goers setting up their picnic tables with candelabra, flowers and champagne, soaking up this unique atmosphere. And if you want to extend your stay beyond the one night, there are family camping facilities within easy distance of the Abbey (with a shuttle bus service provided).
Glastonbury Extravaganza tickets are available from the abbey shop or from glastonburyabbey.com/extravaganza.