It easier than you’d think to have a nap on High Street in Glastonbury. Young, dreadlocked people do it quite a lot. Older dreadlocked or pony tailed people do it as well. I wanted a bed.
The best place to find a place to stay in Glastonbury is the Tribunal on High Street. Actually the accommodation listing is on the back of the building, and to get there I believe you have to walk to the end of the block, down to the next turn and double back.
Right next to the Tribunal is another ancient edifice with the confusing name of The George and Pilgrim Hotel. One of my happiest memories is sitting here in the pub with the love o’ my life, here on our first visit, the colored sunlight streaming onto her face from the stained glass windows. She took my breath away.
I remembered they had rooms, the door was wide open so I walked in.
The George Hotel and Pilgrims’ Inn, originally known as the Pilgrims’ Inn of Glastonbury Abbey, is the oldest purpose built pub in the South West. By the mid 1800s, it was known simply as the George Hotel, before a name change combined the two. It stands out on High Street not only because of its age, but it’s an imposing edifice, three storied with mullion windows and a front facing of paneled stone. Above the arched front door are three carved panels bearing the coats of arms of Glastonbury Abbey and of King Edward IV. The original features continue inside with oak beams and an atmosphere which at times can only be called medieval.
Records of a building here date to 1439, when it housed one N. Kynge. However, in 1493, it is recorded that the then abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, John Selwood, gave a new building on this spot to the abbey chamberlain. So though the exact age of the place isn’t known, it’s obviously damned old.
Glastonbury Abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII in September of 1539, and the abbot taken atop Glastonbury Tor, gutted, drawn and quartered. The Pilgrims’ Inn went to the 1st Duke of Somerset, Edward Seymour, and then later in a state of ruin, it reverted to the property of the king. In the late 1600s it still retained two carved, gilded beds from the glory days of serving the stream of pilgrims to the abbey, and appears to have been in continuous use to that point, and up to the present.
I got the King Henry The VIII room, on the third floor. It was a long trudge up the winding staircase with my bags, and the hallways of the George and Pilgrim Hotel are narrow compared to more modern ones. But of course. It’s fucking ancient.
There has long been a rumor, which is now put forth by the hotel itself, that Henry had watched from this room while the abbey was ransacked and burned under his orders. However, as it is well known, Henry was a rather robust man, who in his later years grew so fat he was barely able to walk, and needed a special bed to hold his massive frame. So it’s unlikely that he’d have taken a second floor room. It’s also unlikely that he oversaw the abbey’s destruction personally, though if he did it would have likely been from the lounge on the first floor.
And it also appears the abbey wasn’t in fact burned. But still … it’s a good story.
But there at the end of the hallway, on a plaque on the door was old ‘enry the eighth I am I am, and after fumbling around with the keys for an infernal length of time, I finally managed to stumble in the room. Stone windows lined the far wall, sunlight still filtered in albeit low in the sky. There was a four poster bed, a bathroom, I sat my bags down and fell asleep on the floor.
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A wee bit of background. I was in Britain to start a new life with the aforementioned love. It fell apart quickly, for reasons mainly outside of our control. I was cut adrift, floating away and looking for something. I looked out at Glastonbury on a Saturday night. It’s a lively place. Music boomed from the bar next door. Bad music at that. Bad American bar band music. The sounds of young people with too much drink could keep a person entertained for a while. I had the best perch in town to watch people congregate, laugh and move on. The clink of glasses from those standing in front of the George and Pilgrim was constant. Out there was life. In my room was an alien. But that night the alien finally crawled between the sheets and slept a real sleep.
+ + +
In a town known for ghosts and the supernatural, and dubbed the occult capital of England, The Pilgrim and George is thought to be one of the most haunted. Somewhat recently a photo made its way through the newspapers and over the internet of a shadowy figure, thought to be the resident lady in white. Taken by one of the pub’s patrons who was taking photos of a couple of friends, the medieval photo bomber wasn’t spotted till later on. The pub’s owner, noted that her and her partner had heard and seen things in the cellar, but was amazed when she saw the photo, which was taken right in front of her in a bar full of customers. It didn’t appear in any of the photos before or after. Though she’s worked in many haunted pubs in her career, she believes the Pilgrim and George to be the most active with things that bump and grind in the night. Arguments have been heard coming from the empty function room, along with the smell of cigar smoke.
She, as well as others believe the woman who has been spotted many times through the years, fell in love with one of the abbey’s monks. It is well known, or at least well believed, that at one time a tunnel ran from the Pilgrim to Glastonbury Abbey. It is believed that the two lovers used this tunnel for their assignations, until they were found out, and the unfortunate monk, having betrayed his vows, was walled up someplace in the cellar and left to die.
Another variation of the tale finds the monk keeping his vows, despite the great love shared between the two, and it’s because of this unrequited love that the two continue to walk the hallways of the Pilgrim and George. I thought if there’s a ghost in here looking for her long lost love, I was bound to come across her. I knew that was crap, as I’ve stayed in a multitude of haunted hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts. Drank my way through many a haunted pub. And the only spirits I’ve seen are those behind the bar.
There is no shortage of randy monk stories though, as it was also thought to be another tunnel, though no evidence for it now, which ran to the Pilgrim from the abbot’s chambers, where we would make night time visits for the “purging of his loins.”
Even without the tales, the hotel can be creepy, with suits of armor, narrow corridors making for real medieval darkness and the winding stone stair case. Guest have reported harp music coming from empty rooms, coughing and footsteps in the cellar, as well at television sets coming on and off in the middle of the night. It seems to be universal throughout the modern world, that ghosts are attracted to TV sets and remote controls.
Another ghost appears on a regular basis in the bar, and has for years. He appears quite normal except for his historical attire, and does little more than pass through the pub.
Another ghost spotted in some of the older rooms is a fat monk, who passes through walls, laughing as he does so. One guest had the disconcerting experience of being awakened by the jolly specter bumping into their bed as he staggered through. Though happy enough in death, he seems to have been a bit morose in life, and is thought to have killed himself in the room, now known as the haunted cell.
A travel writer on assignment with the British paper, The Guardian was staying at the Pilgrim and George with his wife, who woke up in the middle of the night to find a tall, long armed man standing at the foot of the bed, watching her intently. Crossing herself, she reached out to touch the figure and her hand passed right through him. Her husband was awakened to find nothing but a screaming wife.
One of the managers tells a tale, “It was late night, after closing time The place was locked up, the guests all in their rooms. A few of us were sitting quietly chatting. Suddenly the back door slammed. Footsteps came down the passage. We went to see who it was, but no-one was there – and all the doors were still locked.”
Guests have been known to check out in the middle of the night. One guest told of a woman in modern clothes who appeared suddenly in their room, complained about how cold it was and promptly disappeared.
Another told this tale, “I will call the phenomena he, as it felt male. I felt a great pressure above me but not touching me. It was large and it was as if my life force was completely immobilized. I was paralyzed. I could not move a muscle, nor could I make a sound. I knew that I had to keep calm as whatever it was wanted to cause me great distress. I asked him to please leave me alone. I also asked if I could help him go to the Light. Then I was released. I thought I could help, and prayed, but it was no use. I knew I had to leave the room as soon as possible. I was shaking. I started packing.”
Some have left almost immediately after checking in. I stayed five nights and found it hard to leave the place. Many people speak of ghostly creaking and footsteps in the halls and stairs at night, and I heard those myself. But to be honest, in a place that old, you’re going to have a bit of noise. Call it settling, though in a 700 year old stone building you have to wonder what could be left to settle, but I’ll give the skeptics the benefit of the doubt on that score.
My last night there was July 12, and I was told earlier that day that I needed to at least switch rooms, as a new tenant was scheduled for that room. I managed to book a B&B right at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, and also learned that I was indeed lucky to have found a room at the Pilgrim and George when I did, as the pilgrimage that weekend had the town booked nearly to capacity.
I managed to complete the project which had evaded me all week, my mind it seemed was once more fully functioning. I decided to impair that function with goodies from the pub, and took the libations to the room to continue my mournful celebration of that fateful night of love. A knock at the door found the hotel manager, asking if I might turn down my music, as Fairport Convention seemed to bother my neighbors.
So I found myself silenced, the pub closed and regretfully sober.
I went outside, out the back door for a final smoke of the evening. Inside the hotel was dark, just a few lights shining dimly allowing one to make their way back to their rooms on the second and third floors. I was lost in thought and staring blankly through the glass door, when I saw a woman in a white dress pass from the door to the cellar, across the hall and into the dining room. My first thought was she seemed quite strikingly beautiful, long white hair … and it was then I realized the entire figure had been the same shade of white, and not of this world.
I immediately turned around to make sure that it wasn’t the reflection of someone walking behind me, but the seating area and parking lot in the rear were empty. I went inside and into the dining room. It was empty.
And so by accident and luck, I had stumbled into the only haunted hotel, restaurant or pub of all the ones I’ve visited, where I actually saw the ghost thought to haunt the place. Standing in the near dark of the restaurant, it felt eerie, but not at all frightening. And when I knew the woman wouldn’t be coming back through, I made my way back up the winding staircase one last time to my room, where I dreamt of King Henry, screaming monks and the glow of fire lighting up the Glastonbury sky above the abbey.
The next morning I was given a tour of the cellars and it’s easy to imagine two lovers meeting there. It’s easy to imagine many things happening there in fact, even though now it is piled high with cases of bottles and kegs of ale. There is an ambiance which you simply don’t find in most places, the smell of history, mold and dirt combining into a fragrance hard to replicate in a newer structure.
And then I took leave of my hosts, hoisted my bags over my shoulder and set out on a rainy morning, trudging up High Street to my B&B, built on the footprints of Dion Fortune, to Glastonbury Tor.
Real ghost stories and the places that inspired them