The Old Station Inn is a tourist attraction in its' own right in my opinion. It was built in the 1920's and was originally commisioned as a Hotel for the now closed Hallatrow Railway station. Inside the pub you will find cosy seating areas amidst an array of antiquities, signs and even a Citroen C3 car coming out of the wall! It has a great atmosphere and would be a joy to visit all year round. It is a Brains Pub (Welsh Bitter) and has won the award for Brains Pub of the year for three years running.
We were not able to enter the cathedral. I think a wedding was in progress as a troop of clergymen went and the doors were closed behind them.
I walked around and admired the facade with its numerous statues.
The tower , the doors, minor carvings all added to its majesty.
I am so glad I finally had the chance to see ity.
Vicar's Close is found to the north side of the Cathedral and is, or claims to be the oldest residential street in Europe with almost all of it's buildings intact. It dates back to the 14th century. At the entry, there's a gatehouse with a hall in it and at the back end there's a building that houses a chapel and a library. It is still in use by the nearby Cathedral School.
Alterations have been made to the houses over the centuries, particularly after Vicars were allowed to marry after the Reformation took place. Some have extensions added on the back and a few have walls knocked out to make one larger house out of two though it's not apparent from the front. The gardens were walled in a number of years after the houses were built and apparently the back end of the cobbled street is narrower to make it look longer from the entrance.
If you love architecture as I do, you would enjoy a stroll down the short street, admiring the houses, the gates, the doors, the detailing on the houses and chimneys. You can actually rent number 14, which is next to the chapel. It's got four bedrooms and is let on a weekly basis. How cool would that be!? It would cost you between 600 to 900 pounds per week depending on time of year, I think. Information here
There has been a church or cathedral on this spot since 705 when a minster church was founded here. The present cathedral was built starting in the 13th century. There has been damage over the years, particularly during the English Civil War when it was used to stable horses. The lead from the roof was melted down for bullets and they used some of the statues on the exterior as target practice! There was also some damage in World War II but has been restored now.
The Large square-ish west front is particularly beautiful with over 300 statues still surviving and two gothic towers. There's another main tower over the transepts that used to have a spire on top. It faces a wide lawn facing Sadler Street in the city itself. The church is dedicated to St. Andrew.
Inside, there are some wonderful original stained glass windows in the east side. There's a very old astronomical clock in the north transept that is one of the oldest working clocks in Europe. Its workings also are attached to a clock face on the outside of the cathedral though that clock is about 70 years newer. Not a big deal if the original clock dates to the 1300s! The fan vaulting is beautiful and there are large unique scissor shaped arches supporting the centre tower.
The Green and cathedral are reached via a tall medieval gate on the market square, called the Penniless Porch where the poor used to beg for alms. Next to that is the Bishop's Eye, a gate to the Bishop's Palace just behind the cathedral which is the seat for the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
After we had made the mistake to visit Wookey Hole we asked the owner of our bed and breakfast for other, more interesting sights. She recommended a hike in Ebbor Gorge, and that was for once a good decision. Ebbor Gorge is a canyon in the Mendip Hills leading up to a little mountain plateau from where you can enjoy gorgeous views over the hills and dales of Somerset. The circular walk is approximately 1.5km long but involves some climbing and requires sturdy boots as it can be quite wet in the gorge. There is also a second very short walk for those who can't or don't want to walk longer distances.
Vicar's Close is England's oldest row of terraced houses and Europe's oldest continuously inhabited medieval street, dating back to 1363. Every building looks quite similar with its little front garden and the huge chimney on its roof which gives the street a very attractive look. The look is enhanced by making the street wider towards its upper end so that it appears longer if you look into that direction. Originally, the houses were built for the men of the cathedral choir, and every building only consisted of two rooms. Numerous changes over the years have changed the latter, but it's still mostly clergymen and their families living there.
Penniless Porch is the name of the archway built around 1450 which takes you from Wells' market square to the cathedral green. It's the place where the beggars were allowed to sit and beg for alms. Nowadays, it's mostly the tourists taking a picture of themselves as beggars. I couldn't resist either...
Ever since I've seen a photograph of the scissor arches in Wells Cathedral, I wanted to go there. I finally managed to do that this year - and was not disappointed. Wells Cathedral is surely one of England's most beautiful cathedrals. Built from 1191 to 1240 (the towers are from a later date), it is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, namely Early English. The impressive west front is covered over and over with figures, about 300 still survive. They show scenes from the Bible but also kings, bishops and angels.
Even more impressive is the inside of the cathedral. You'll immediately discover the scissor arches that have made it famous. They were built between 1338 and 1348 but look much newer. Visitors often falsely believe that they are just a modern attachment to the cathedral, but in fact they were built to stabilize the foundations of the tower above.
Just around the corner is the second main sight in the cathedral: the second-oldest clock of England. It is an astronomic clock showing not only the time but also the phases of the moon, the motion of both sun and moon and the time since the last new moon. What is particularly interesting is the little jousting tournament taking place every 15 minutes. Little knights move in two circles and one of them always manages to knock another one from his miniature horse - every 15 for 600 years!!! Poor guy... Next to the clock is the figure of the "quarter jack" who marks the time by clicking his heels.
A third interesting and very beautiful part of Wells' cathedral is the Chapter House, the room where the bishop and canons met to discuss the affairs of the cathedral. It's an octogonal room with a single Gothic pillar (Decorated Style) in its centre, and of a kind that I've never seen before. A very bright and open room which could also be the main room of a palace or castle. Hard to describe, but definitely worth climbing up the most worn-out steps you can imagine.
Photography inside the cathedral is prohibited unless you obtain a permission from the souvenir shop for £2. The entry is free, but it is recommended to pay a fee of £5.50 as the cathedral has an upkeep of £3,000 per day.
Obviously.....the cathedral is what gives this small settlement its city status, and it is a wonderful example of Medieval craftsmanship.
Wells cathedral was started in the 1180s, gained cathedral status in 1245 and had reached more or less its present form by 1306, with the eight-sided Lady Chapel being completed by 1326.
It is a stunning building. The west front, with niches for more than 500 statues (300 still remain) is a stunning, but I found the superb scissor arches inside the building even more stunning...they look almost modern, and their creation without anything approaching modern technology is simply mind-blowing.
Like all Medieval English cathedrals there is a wealth of carvings, tombs, memorials and architecture to explore and enjoy. I'll add some more tips about specific things to look out for.
Allow at least an hour to wander around.
Evensong is at 5.15. Even if you are not a Christian it is worth attending to enjoy the beautiful acoustics and the superb choral singing. You will be seated in the choir itself. The cathedral is well-used to visitors, so you will find a helpful laminate telling you exactly what to do and when. This is not a mass; there is no communion (the taking of bread/wine) involved.....it is simply an evening service, with readings and choral works and prayers lasting around 45 minutes.
There is no entrance fee, but a donation of at least 5.50GBP is requested and should be given, imo. The very expensive upkeep of our wonderful Medieval cathedrals is not funded by the government.
You will need to buy a photography permit (2GBP) if you want to take photos.
Within the cathedral you will find the most wonderfully-worn set of stone stairs leading to the chapter House.
This is the part of the cathedral where the 'chapter' (the clerics involved with the cathedral) had their meetings.
Wells' octagonal Chapter House dates from the early 1300s, the same as the main body of the cathedral. It has a beautiful fan-vaulted ceiling and there are 40 stalls around its edge, for the 40 members of the chapter who once reached decisions here.
Although the Medieval stained glass no longer remains (replaced with transparent glass, giving the place a light and airy feel) many Medieval carvings do....carvings of real faces, of real people who really lived at the time the cathedral was constructed.
You can see one here, but you will see more in the travelogue on my Wells page.
And when you walk up those worn stone steps, think about how many millions of feet must have walked that same way over the centuries.....stone does not wear away quickly.
An English cathedral 'close' is the area which housed all the offices and clergy of the cathedral (and still does, in many cases).
In Wells this area is called the 'Liberty of St Andrew'
The Liberty was originally fully enclosed. You can still see a large and ancient gateway on Sadler Street, a smaller entrance gateway near Vicars' Close (see tip below) and the 'Penniless Porch', constructed on the orders of Bishop Bekyngton around 1450 and providing a sheltered space where beggars and the penniless could sit and seek alms (beg for money). A further gateway leads from the Liberty into the grounds of the Bishop's Palace.
Within the Liberty are many fine Medieval (and later) buildings. Although you cannot enter most, it is still worth wandering past to enjoy the architecture....and you should also walk around the side of the cathedral, for the gargoyles and sculptures and decortaive carvings are not only on the superb west front.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, there's a street market in the town center of Wells. The market is not very exciting, but if you are in a foreign country, it is - in my opinion - interesting to see what they have on offer. Beside fruits and vegetables, there was the usual stuff like warm food and clothing.
Things become interesting when there is also the indoor market at the town hall. On these days, both markets join to form an interesting mixture of "everyday market", flea market and antiques/crafts market. Of course, they do not have the size of London's Camden markets, but I still liked it a lot. I even found one item, a small aircraft model, on the flea market to take home.
For indoor market days or similar events, take a look at the website below.
Much of relevance to the story of Wells can be found in the City's Museum which is housed in one of the historic buildings beside the Cathedral Green. There are other ancient houses, too, in this delightful area - including the Vicars' Close, the Cathedral School and the Bishop's Palace, the latter with a moat on which live swans who are one of the most visited features of the City. Over all rises the Cathedral which is one of the most beautiful examples of Early English architecture with its great west front, the Chapter House and the unusual strainer arches as particular treasures.
Although it would be hard to find a city of greater charm and interest, Wells does not just live on its past. It is a busy place of some 10,000 residents with markets and shops in profusion and well designed areas of modern housing that are served by good schools, leisure amenities and a range of unobtrusive industries.
I. like many visitors to Wells, thought this was the cathedral as I drove into the city.
It isn't.....but it is the largest parish church in Somerset, and a truly imposing building with a huge tower.
This building, dating from the 1200s, is probably the third church on the site. It was massively restored in the 1400s and this, more or less, created an new building.
The interior church roof is beautiful. Dating from the 1500s, it is a wonderful example of carving and includes angels, rosettes and shields.
St Catherine's Chapel has what is left of two magnificent Medieval reredos (altar screens). They must one have been truly beautiful but were seriously damaged by reformers during the reign of Edward Vl. Then the reredos were plastered over, only being rediscovered in the mid 180s.
The wooden pulpit (1636) is beautifully carved. I was particularly taken by the lady with the exceptionally large bosoms.
It's well worth taking a wander down Wells High Street to visit St Cuthbert's.
The light was wrong, so I apologise for the photos.
But this is a very special place. It is the oldest inhabited Medieval street in Europe.
There are 27 'houses' now, although originally there were 44. The street was originally built in the mid 1300s for the 'vicars choral' of the cathedral.
You enter the tapering street under a gatehouse, which had a bakehouse and granary on its ground floor and a 'common hall' for the vicars choral above.
The houses were built from 1363 to 1412, but have changed many times over the centuries. The existing chimneys date from the 1400s, replacing the originals. Each chimney is octagonal, with heraldic shields.
The gardens and garden walls are much later additions.
Some of the properties are now rented and used by Wells Cathedral School, others are still used as residences for cathedral staff.