Great Britain has no other landscape quite like the Avalon Marshes. Whilst it is part of Somerset’s Levels and Moors it has a character and a special richness of its own. It is a mix of green pastures, golden reeds, blue water and big skies, all framed by the backdrop of the Mendip and Polden Hills.
The Avalon Marshes is a varied landscape but one that is more subtle than the surrounding hills. There are lows, levels, heaths, mires, moors and burtles; vast reedbeds, large lakes, carr woodland, and lines of willows; but above all green pastures, rich black peat and, yes, a language of its own. Look at a map and it might appear that someone designed the landscape with a ruler in hand. You would be right; droves, drains, rhynes, ditches and grips are all the work of man. But one feature literally stands out above all others; Glastonbury Tor.
To many Glastonbury Tor is mystical and enigmatic, standing on the “Isle of Avalon” and looking out over the Avalon Marshes. Wherever you are in the marshes and adjacent hills it is a dramatic and iconic backdrop. Climb to the top and you will find fine views, atmospheric sunrises and dramatic sunsets.
The Tor is a natural feature which has been used by man over thousands of years. Standing at the top is St Michael’s Tower; the terraces on its sides are believed to be middle age strip lynchets (narrow fields); and at its base you will find fields, orchards, and the town of Glastonbury,
This is a dynamic landscape, which has constantly changed over time. Since the last Ice Age this area has been sea, saltmarsh, reedbed, fen woodland, peat bog and, most recently, rich farmland. Some changes were natural, whilst others have been made by people draining the marshland for agriculture and peat extraction. Our Landscape History page will tell you more about this changing landscape.
For much of the last 5,000 years the marshes were waterlogged, boggy land with reedbeds and fen woodland. Major changes were made during medieval times when the River Brue was diverted to flow more directly to the coast. Bit by bit the marshes were converted to rich farmland. By the mid 1800s most of the area was drained by an intricate network of ditches and rhynes. They are still in use today, supported by modern pumping stations, such as the one at Gold Corner. Find out more about how our Water and Drainage system works.
Dramatic changes have happened in the last 50 or so years. Large scale extraction of peat for horticulture left a scarred industrial landscape. Since the 1990s most of this abandoned landscape has been transformed into wetlands for wildlife. Interestingly, this “new” landscape is one our early ancestors would have recognised, full of lakes, reedbeds and mires.
Swans and reeds – Guy Edwardes/2020VISION