The isle of Avalon
Beneath Somerset’s Glastonbury Tor is said to exist the fairy realm of Annwn – home of Gwyn ap Nudd, lord of the Celtic underworld. That, at least, is what the oldest legends surrounding the site say. The Tor, or hill, is also said to be the Isle of Avalon to which the legendary King Arthur retreated after his final defeat in battle, and the place where Joseph of Arimathea left the Holy Grail. As a result, the site has long been a place of spiritual pilgrimage for Christians.
Glastonbury Tor is operated by the National Trust (entry free; nationaltrust.org.uk).
The collapse of Mount Mazama, a volcano in Oregon, was a seismic event that has been woven into the oral history of the Klamath tribe of American Indians. They believed it was caused by a battle between the gods of the sky and the underworld, and the beautiful, pure, inky-blue lake that has filled the deep caldera left behind is considered a sacred site by the tribe. The lake, in Crater Lake National Park, is the deepest in the United States at nearly 2,000ft.
America As You Like It (americaasyoulikeit.com).
Set in stone
Plenty of stories surround the footprint-shaped impression in the rock at the top of Adam’s Peak, a conical mountain rising to 7,359ft in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Some believe this is the place where Adam arrived on earth after being cast out of heaven; others ascribe the footprint to the Buddha, and the peak has been a place of pilgrimage for more than 1,000 years. Rickshaw Travel (rickshawtravel.co.uk) offers tailor-made trips to the island.
At 13,803ft above sea level, Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano (meaning “white mountain” because of its snow cap) is the highest peak in the archipelago. According to Hawaiian mythology, it was a home to beneficent deities including the deity of snow, Poli’ahu. Discover the World (discover-the-world.com) offers a helicopter ride over the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as part of its itinerary.
Origin of life
Sacred to the Inca people, Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, sits at 12,500ft above sea level in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Inca legend tells how the god Con Tiqui Viracocha emerged from its depths accompanied by humans before creating the sun, moon and stars. The Incas believed that, after death, their spirits returned to its waters.
Mercury Holidays (mercuryholidays.co.uk).
This iconic and still active volcano has long been one of the most recognised symbols of Japan and features frequently in art. Its distinctive conical form, rising to 12,388ft, is regarded as a holy mountain and a place of pilgrimage. A clear view of the snow-capped summit – which is often shrouded in cloud – is far from guaranteed, but Wendy Wu’s Trails of Japan tour includes an overnight stay in the area to maximise the chance of seeing the peak. The itinerary also includes a three-hour walk through the volcanic forest that wraps itself around the lower slopes of the mountain.
Wendy Wu Tours (wendywutours.co.uk).
The Ganges is considered sacred by Hindus who personify the 1,569-mile river as the goddess Ganga. The faithful gather at revered spots along its course to purify and cleanse themselves by immersion. The holiest site is the city of Varanasi in the north-eastern state of Uttar Pradesh, where pilgrims perform rituals on its stone-built ghats on the riverbanks.
On The Go Tours (onthegotours.com).
Where Oceans meet
The turbulent water created by the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean, at the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s Aupouri Peninsula, is full of significance for the Maori people. This remote spot on the North Island is where they believe the spirits of the dead begin their return to Hawaiki, the ancestral homeland. Picnicking is banned on this hallowed headland but visitors can admire the views from the cape’s lighthouse.
Distant Journeys (distantjourneys.co.uk).
Home of the gods
The 12 principal gods of ancient Greek mythology, ruled by Zeus, were thought to dwell among the deep gorges and snowy peaks of Mount Olympus, which features often in classical legend. The highest point is Mytikas (at 9,570ft) and ascents begin in the town of Litochoro, in the eastern foothills. It takes three days to reach the summit. The reward is breathtaking views across the Greek mainland.
KE Adventure Travel (keadventure.com).