Wells is England's second smallest cathedral city (City of London is the smallest). There has been a church on this site since the early 8th century, but the present building dates from the 12th century and was virtually complete by the time of its dedication in 1239 (although it wasn't until 6 years later that it was confirmed as a cathedral). But successive centuries have seen considerable expansion, including the Bishop's Palace, Cathedral Close as well as the cathedral itself.
Wells has had its up and downs thoughout history, but survived with remarkably few major disasters - Roundheads turning the cathedral into a stable, the great storm of 1703 that blew in windows in the west facade as well as chimneys in the Bishop's Palace, killing the incumbent Bishop and his wife - pretty tame history compared to some of the other cathedrals in the UK!
Not quite sure what it means, but Glastonbury claims to be 'traditionally the oldest above-ground Christian church in the world', dating the first evidence of a church here in 63 AD, although the first stone church was laid by King Ine of Wessex in 712 AD. By 1088, during the time of William the Conqueror, Glastonbury was the richest abbey in the country. A fire in 1184 destroyed a great deal of the abbey, but if pilgrim numbers were down, the 'discovery' of the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere in 1191 resulted in a complete turnaround!
As a result of its power and wealth, the abbey suffered under Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 and, just 50 years later, the abbey was a ruin.
Nowadays, the grounds of the Abbey have been landscaped with the ruins suprisingly limited considering the former glory and importance.
The ruins are open throughout the year - opening and closing times vary month to month - but peak spring and summer, 9.30am-6pm.
GBP 4.50, concessions 4.00, kids 3.00, family tickets (2 adults, 2 kids) 12.50
When the castle was expanded in the early 1400s by the addition of an outer wall and more towers, it enclosed the parish church shown here. The Hungerford's then began using the church as their own chapel and in compensation, it is believed that they built the existing nearby parish church as a replacement for the local villagers.
I know how the Hungerford clan must have felt when they eventually had to relinquish their castle, because we were run off the property too!! Shortly after we began wandering around, a couple of local farmers drove through on their tractor and said they would advise us to move the car out of the way because they were "driving an 'erd of cattle" through the gate in a few minutes time! I would hate to have to explain those damages to Hertz! The second photo shows a view from the interior of the castle looking back out through the Gate House. Notice those small fences alongside the car path, to keep the cattle off the grass as they stampede through! I should add that, during the winter season, we happened upon the place (on a Monday morning) when it was officially 'closed' to visitors.
Exmoor, along with Dartmoor, is one of two National Parks located in the southwest part of England. Named after its biggest river, the Exe, this 693 sq. km. park of upland open moors was made official in 1954. Because of its higher elevation, peaking at 519 m (1700 ft), this area can be prone to more severe weather, especially because the land in this part of England has the Bristol Channel on the north side and the English Channel on the south side.
There were some amazing views as we entered this area, with the opening photo of my Somerset page showing the view from high above as we looked down on a cultivated portion of the Park. This photo is a zoom shot of the same scene, showing a closer view of the farm buildings and the long shadows being cast on the fields as the winter sun started to dip low on the horizon.
The high ground catches a lot of rain, resulting in quite a few rivers carving deep channels to the sea. The highway twisted up and down extreme grades (sometimes reaching 25% or a 1 in 4 slope) as we made our way along the northern edge of Exmoor National Park. Small seaside towns like Lynmouth are located in these deep valleys where the rivers meet the Bristol Channel. While driving along we also came across a flock of about 12 ring-necked pheasants spread out along one side of the highway (see second photo). When we stopped for a picture, they walked quickly into the hedges rather than fly away, but we did manage to get one shot off!
Due to time constraints, falling early winter darkness and the sun low on the horizon in our eyes, we did not have the time to fully do justice to Exmoor (including photos of the amazing views)! This place deserves more time!
Finishing up with Cheddar Gorge, we drove for about one and a half hours through the mostly forgettable industrialized area around Burnham-on-Sea and Bridgewater before turning directly west along the north coast - headed for Exmoor National Park. A short way along this road, we diverted off the A39 highway to the small coastal village of Watchet so we could both enjoy the views and find ourselves a pub lunch.
The tide was out as we wandered briefly along the harbour edge, admiring the pretty flotilla of small boats moored there. Leaving Watchet after our meal, we continued along the coast with occasional views out over the Bristol Channel as we began climbing up into the high ground of Exmoor (see the third photo).
It was great to be out driving along again after our quick stop-off at Farleigh Castle. This seemed to be a particularly picturesque part of eastern Somerset as we meandered along a high ridge on the A366 highway west of Norton St. Philip. In most cases, high hedges, trees or houses block the best views when driving along but, in this spot, we had some clear views out over the valley below.
Having stopped in the Gorge to take a few photographs, I noticed a young couple slightly uphill from me trying to take photographs of each other. When I offered to help them out by taking a shot of the two of them they very happily agreed to my proposal. Just as we finished up, they spotted their two friends coming up the hill toward us and shouted to them to hurry up so they could all get into a photo. Once I had done that for them, they insisted that Sue and I be included in a few shots as well ! These young people from South Korea were having a great time laughing and enjoying the sights as they walked up through Cheddar Gorge from the car-park at the bottom of the hill. My few weeks in South Korea many years ago came in handy as I was able to use one of the two emergency phrases I learned there - phonetically saying 'come sam me duh' (Thank you) to them. Unfortunately, I was not able to use the other phrase of 'hannah beck shew' (One beer)!!!
Not very long after pulling out of Bradford-on-Avon, we crossed the border into Somerset County and almost immediately came across the ruins of Farleigh Castle sitting undisturbed by human life right beside the A366 highway.
I pulled off the road into a small spot marked for tour coaches and we got out to have a look. It turns out that these were the remains of a manor house built in the 1300s and sold to Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1369. Sir Thomas was a skilled lawyer and represented the King in these parts when matters of land succession had to be dealt with. Although he became the first Speaker of the House of Commons, he did get into a bit of a bind by fortifying the place without Royal permission, but received a pardon for this in 1377! The walls still standing in these photographs were built by his son in the early 1400s as he enclosed the original works, with the gatehouse and curtain walls still protecting the interior courtyard. As is often the case with hereditary situations, the Hungerford clan grip on this property came to an end in 1686 after over 300-years in the family. Sir Edward Hungerford had become embroiled on the wrong side in the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion when Protestants in this part of England tried to unseat King James II, the Roman Catholic successor to King Charles II. It was all over in five weeks and it appears that Sir Edward was implicated in the plot. He had to buy his life by giving up the estate and it then fell into ruin and was partially torn down for building materials.
The chalice well and gardens really are lovely and worh a visit. The gardens are well kept with plenty of seating areas where you can admire the view. You can buy a bottle to taste the chalice well waters at the lions head spring half way down the gardens. If you do not wish to buy a bottle, you can bring your own and fill it! There is also a small healing pool where you can sit or just bathe your feet in the cold clear red waters. The small shop is worth a visit and holds a food range of pagan and historical books and artefacts.
The tor is a huge hill and is considered to be a sacred site used throughout history. At the top is St Michaels tower with some interesting carvings around it. The climb is hard going and steep aso take plenty of water to walk directly up the short route, however you can wind round and round the processional way. Notice also the egg like stones dotted around here as they are famous.
Obviously the gorge is mainly a place to walk and the scenery is lovely. However there are caves you can visit here, but having done Wookey Hole Caves I decided not to spend the extra money. There is a range of quaint little shops and some nice tea rooms where you can relax.
This is basically a sequence of caves and a guided tour through them, however the caves are lovely and the rock formations are very interesting. Also the local myths about the witch of wookey hole were fascinating. It is also a paper mill and you can learn about that. There is an old fashioned amusement arcade where you can change modern money into old and play on the machines. Beware the queues in summer as it is a popular tourist attraction!
At the north end of somerset, there is the Bristol Channel, and the "beaches".
This part of Somerset will remind you of the family holidays you took back in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Things dont change much round here. There is space, fresh air, and countryside, with a timeless atmosphere.
There is a wonderful steam train service that runs from Bishops St Lydeard (3 miles NW of Taunton) to Minehead. The journey is around 20 miles long, and takes around 40 minutes. Stopping at six stations along the way.
This is a real experience, as the whole service is beautifully run and maintained by a team of totally dedicated volunteers. There is an astounding level of detail in the way everything is presented, with the stations feeling like they are in a real time capsule. It can transport you to a different space entirely as you are reminded of a different time, and a different way of living.
Glastonbury town is famous for its annual rock festival and for the summer solstice on 21st of June. The music festival started on the 70s and lasts for three days in late June.
Glastonbury Abbey is a Celtic monastery and the main sights in town (a sight that I missed), however I strongly recommend bus 196 and getting a lift to Glastonbury Tor. From the bus stop, it is a five or ten minutes up the hill walk to St. Michael’s Tower which stands at the top of the hill. The views from here a magic, you can contemplate the beautiful tranquil Somerset countryside scenery. It is also the perfect place for a picnic.
Somerset Rural Life Museum deserves a visit to get an insight of the past rural communities of the area.
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