Sightseeing in Wells, England’s smallest city
Anyone who is following this blog knows that I earn some pocket money by mystery shopping. Last week I was asked to go to Wells to buy some chocolate ice cream. My husband came with me and we had a good lunch at the Quarter Jack and visited the first world war exhibition in the museum. We both love Wells so I have written a few notes and taken some photos to encourage you to visit.
Wells is England’s smallest city with only 12,000 inhabitants. It is a very easy bus ride from Bristol or Bath across the Mendips hills. You can also combine a visit to Wells with a trip to Glastonbury, home of the music festival, the Clark’s shopping village in Street or Cheddar caves. The tourist office has a town trail map and this provides a short walking tour of the main attractions. Wells takes its name from a spring in the garden of the bishop’s palace and water from it is still made to flow through the gutters to clean the streets. The Wells tourist website has more information about the city and its history.
Wells is probably best known for its enormous gothic cathedral built between the 12th and the 15th century. It has one of the oldest clocks in England and a chained library. (Think Harry Potter). Admission is by donation and free guided tours are offered every day except Sunday. The city has a famous choir school and choristers sing at many of the services. Also be sure to look out for the resident cathedral cat. More information can be found here Wells cathedral website
The Scissor arch was designed to give more support to the cathedral walls as builders had not quite mastered gothic architecture.
The Bishop’s Palace
The bishop’s palace is next to the cathedral and is famous for having its own moat which is home to a family of Swans. For centuries they have rung a bell when they need feeding. Once a year the bishop holds a raft race on the moat. Wells has adopted the swan as its emblem. The palace has been home to the bishop of Bath and Wells for 800 years. It also has a beautiful 14 acre garden and a tea shop I can personally recommend. You can buy tickets from the gift shop. Bishop’s palace website
The cathedral close
This is a beautifully preserved street originally used to house officials from the church. The houses date back to the 14th century and the street is still cobbled.
The last fighting Tommy
Outside the museum is a memorial to Harry Patch the last surviving soldier from world war 1. He died in 2009 at the age of 111 and his funeral in Wells cathedral was televised by the BBC. In later life he became a very fervent pacifist.
St. Cuthbert’s church
St. Cuthbert was a Northern monk who was much admired by King Alfred. The name of this beautiful church suggests a Saxon origin but the style is 14th century perpendicular gothic with a beautiful painted ceiling and well worth visiting. The guide said some people mistake it for the cathedral.
Eating, drinking and shopping
Wells has a very busy high street with a variety of shops coffee bars and restaurants to suit all budgets. A farmers market is held twice a week where you can buy a wide variety of West country delicacies including cheddar cheese and Somerset cider. We normally eat in the Quarter Jack (named for the figures who strike the quarter hours on the cathedral clock) which I can recommend for a reasonably priced meal.
As well as the town trail described above there is a very pleasant rural walk starting from the Bishop’s palace moat and crossing fields that once formed part of King John’s hunting lodge.
If you want to find out more about Wells, Cathedrals or Harry Patch. Here are three books I recommend. If you are staying in the area you might want to check out a couple of my other blog posts: Two national trust properties to visit near Bath or Westonbirt Arboretum