A tor of Glastonbury

Dawn up the Tor

 There have been many occasions that I have visited various nature reserves in the vicinity of the town of Glastonbury and from which I have admired the view of the Tor in the distance with the remnants of St Michaels church on the top of it.

The land around it is so flat the Tor looks even higher than it actually is and makes it all the more a visually striking landmark.

In fact, it is said that back in Medieval times before the waterlogged land was drained the whole area would become flooded and the Tor became an Island. Hence it is thought to be the Isle of Albon from Arthurian Legend.

The Tor viewed from Ham Wall ( a Merlin Helicopter Flypast)

The Tor from the Avalon Hide at Ham Wall

The Tor has been long associated with mysticism, religion and legends of King Arthur and attracts people from all walks of life and religious beliefs to visit it for what is believed to be as way back when as 10,000 years ago!

So when my friend Paul Joy and I were discussing somewhere to go last week I suggested that if we're to visit RSPB Ham Wall for some bird watching then it may be a good idea to walk up the Tor for sunrise if the weather permitted.

The only thing about getting there on time for sunrise would mean we had to get up at "stupid o'clock".

On Thursday last week, I was rudely awoken by my phone's alarm at 4.10 am! I managed to stumble out of bed, get dressed in a daze of half-sleep, just about to remember to get my sandwiches out of the fridge before heading out of the door to travel to Pauls.

By 4.45 am Paul was chauffeuring me down the motorway to Glastonbury. By that time we were both pretty excited. As ever we were discussing the chances of a good sky for sunrise. The weather in Wales was cloudy and did not look at all promising despite the weather forecast being for clear skies and a temperature of -6.

As we crossed the Prince of Wales Bridge into England, looking southwards the clouds appeared to be breaking up and were looking a little more promising.

After a quick pit stop for a McDonald's breakfast, we eventually made it to our destination. On arrival at Glastonbury, we had to find a pay and display car park. You cannot park that close to the Tor so you need to be prepared to walk up to it from the town.

Paul found us a nice car park about a 15-minute brisk walk from the Tor. Not too far to walk when carrying the camera equipment. The weather was really on the change as we walked through the town. The sky was clearing up, a band of clouds was being pushed away Southwards and a very cold frost had formed.

National Trust information board

We eventually reached the path leading up to the top of the Tor and began our ascent. We had chosen the Southwards facing slope to climb up and be warned if you are thinking of doing a similar journey there are a lot of steps. Up we went. Paul Joy was puffing louder than the "Flying Scotsman" steam train but considering he is a bit of a "veteran" in age he did amazingly well. There is no stopping him once he gets going - one of the fittest blokes I know. I kept shouting down to him as he followed me up to make sure he had not had a heart attack - as I did not fancy running back down for a defibrillator at that time in the morning :).

The view as we climbed the steps to the top of the Tor.

The closer we got to the top the more the skies were clearing of cloud. An orange glow had formed on the eastern horizon.

Our ascent was complete by 7.40 am and we had finally made it to the top - 158 meters up. That gave us something like twenty-five minutes before dawn. Not bad work at all. Now, all we had to do was set up our camera equipment and enjoy the view.

It was time for me to get the drone ready and do a test flight. This would be the first flight of 2022. I had brought my DJI Mini 2 drone which would be ideal for where I was going to be flying it. There was some wind to take into account but it was not too strong for me to fly.

As we set up our kit more people arrived at the Tor. There were all kinds of people turning up and some of them were real characters and very memorable. At one point a young woman began singing a medieval song within the remnants of the Church Tower which was amazing. Then a young chap took his shoes off and barefoot stood doing yoga-like poses waiting for the sun to rise. Paul and I soon found we had an audience of people watch us set up the tripods and cameras and many of them settled down out of the wind and sat with their backs against the walls of the church.

There was a really friendly atmosphere at the Tor and a sense of excited expectation waiting for the sun to rise.

Launch commences in T -10 seconds.

Test flight view.

Satisfied that I could fly the drone safely after a test flight I launched it back into the skies just before sunrise. I wanted to get a picture of the sun rising with the church tower and the Tor all in view.

Drone photography takes a bit of planning and thinking to get things to work out alright. I often have to compromises the image quality as the DJI mini 2 has a relatively low-resolution sensor, and can struggle in poor light but in return, I can get amazing expansive panoramic views I could never achieve from the ground. 

The sun breaks the horizon

Sunrise viewed from above the Tor

Overall I am pretty happy with the results I got with the drone. I think the pictures have captured how flat the surrounding area is and how the Tor stands apart from the rest of the landscape.

The one thing I find with the drone is that you need to take pictures in the sweet spot during the Golden Hour. If you take the pictures too early everything is dark, if you leave it late the horizon and the rising sun gets totally blown out. If I am honest it gets tricky and I usually have to do some editing in photoshop afterwards.

Super panoramic

Whilst I was busy flying the drone Paul was taking pictures from all angles on the ground. He really was in his element. He took many a fine shot and included me in several of his pics.

Paul in his element

Sunrise across the lowlands by Paul Joy

Me up the Tor thanks to Paul Joy

I must admit the view from the top of the Tor was stunning and it's an experience I will never forget. You can see for absolute miles, apparently, you can see the counties of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.

Inevitably it was time to head back down the hill. We walked back the way we came and had a lovely view of Glastonbury in the morning sunshine. The moon remained visible above the clouds. The sun was now starting to melt away the frost and it was getting quite pleasant.

The descent

A view of Glastonbury town from the Tor

Paul and I had other places to go. A journey to RSPB Ham Wall and West Hay beckoned so we had the whole rest of the day to look forward to.

The trip to the Tor has been an overwhelming success and an experience that I will never forget.

Big thanks to Paul for doing the driving and being such good company.


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