On stage at Glastonbury, a natural light show

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In the mists of dawn yesterday it looks even more mysterious, but Glastonbury Tor in Somerset has an enigmatic air however you see it. For some people these days it may be merely the hill that looks over the world's biggest music festival, but for others, for hundreds of years, this has been the site of Avalon – the legendary river-island in the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The Tor rises like a surprise out of the flats of the Somerset Levels, now largely reclaimed, but once a wilderness of wetlands. For prehistoric peoples it was an easily defended island; after Roman times it became a stronghold of the ancient Britons, and by the Middle Ages Glastonbury was the fountainhead of several legends.

One was of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who took Christ's body down from the cross and who is said to have travelled to Britain with the Holy Grail, the cup used in the Last Supper; he is said to have planted his staff in the ground, whereupon it turned into a hawthorn bush, still on view to visitors in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.

The Grail legend was at the heart of the Arthurian saga and the connection increased the mystique of Avalon, where Arthur was brought to die after the battle of Camlann in which he defeated and killed Mordred, his mortal enemy.

The tower on the top of the Tor is that of St Michael's church, which was ruined in the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century; an even earlier church was destroyed by a powerful earthquake which shook southern England on 11 September 1275. The abandoned church only adds to the mystique of the legend-laden sandstone hill, seen here floating on its cloud of winter mist.

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