A day out in Wells

The photo shows a pair of swans with seven small cygnets

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.

The Cathedral

Wells_Cathedral_2008

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 Bishop’s Palace

Men playing croquet in front of the bishop's palace Wells
A croquet match in progress on the lawn in front of 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 photo shows a pair of swans with seven small cygnets
This was the Swan family on the moat taken a couple of years ago.

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.

Terrace houses with high chimneys from the cathedral close in Wells
This shows part of the cathedral close in Wells

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.

The photo shows a soldier sitting in a trench
Wells museum has an exhibition to mark 100 years since the end of the first world war.  I took this photo of a Tommy sitting in a trench.

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.

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

 

 

Visiting the Alhambra

An Islamic arch

 

 

Gateway to the Alhambra photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.  It is probably the main reason  why most people visit Granada and it has certainly been on my bucket list for quite while. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

So when my son said he would like to visit it I was keen to join him.  We had been advised to book tickets online before we flew to Spain  to save time.   I was surprised how reasonable ticket prices were at between seven and fifteen  Euros each.  We also booked an English tour and we were very pleased we did.  Our guide actually had an M.A. in Islamic studies and was able to translate the classical Arabic inscriptions which decorate the walls. We were given headsets which enabled us to hear her clearly.

Click here to book tickets up to three months in advance

If you are visiting the Alhambra you will need to show your passport or identity card.  We caught the bus from Malaga which took about two hours and then took a taxi to the Alhambra.  I am lucky that my son speaks Spanish and was able to act as our interpreter.

The Alhambra was built between the 11th and 15th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name means the red one and reflects the colour of the local clay. I had not realised quite how big it is.  It is a fortress and palace complex covering  35 acres. It was once home to several thousand people including a sizable Jewish population.  We did a three hour walking tour and my pedometer recorded almost twenty thousand steps.  Yet I still felt I had only seen a small part of it.

This shows the layout of the soldier's quaters
The remains of houses for the soldiers. The modern city of Granada is in the background. photograph Richard Fraser

The complex evolved organically over time but most of the palaces were built in the 14th century by the Nasrid dynasty.  In 1492 the Moslems were defeated by king Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the Alhambra fell into disrepair. Now Ferdinand and Isabella are probably best known for backing Columbus’s voyage to America and for historians 1492 marks the end of the middle ages.

Looking out through an Islamic window in the Alhambra
A window with Islamic arch and decorated plasterwork

Our ticket did not include the Nazerini palaces but did include the Generalife gardens. The Generalife palace was used as a summer palace and the gardens are planted with fragrant roses, oranges and jasmine. Like most Arabic gardens they are filled with pools and gentle fountains. Water was suppled by a five mile conduit from the local river.

Garden showing a pool and low hedge.
The Gardens of the Generalife palace. photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is on top of a steep hill and we walked through pine woods to reach the top. Although it is in southern Spain it was quite windy and cold at the top and I wished I had worn a coat.

The site has cafes and souvenir shops and for the less adventurous a car and coach park near the entrance.

You can see the White walls and redish brown roofs of Granada
The modern city of Granada seen from the Alhambra

This post follows on from Half term in Malaga

What is bonfire night in England?


This shows someone holding a lit sparklerPlease to remember the fifth of November

I got the idea for this post  from a cyber exchange with an American blogger.  She wrote a post  about things she loves about the fall.  At the end she asked her readers ” what do you love about the fall?”   I answered “burning the guy on bonfire night”.  She quickly sent back a shocked reply  asking “is there  a typo in your comment?”

I am taking a blogging course and today’s challenge is to “write a post aimed at a particular reader containing at least one element you have not used before”.   So here goes…

I realise that visitors from overseas might not know about bonfire night  and how and why we celebrate it on November 5th each year.

People watching a bonfire
Crowds enjoying a bonfire

Bonfire Night

Every year in England on November 5th, people light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.

Fifty years ago  when I was young, children would make a dummy by stuffing some old clothes with straw and then beg for “a penny for the guy”  for a few weeks before November 5th .  (My mother did not approve of this so I did not join in).    Most families would save up dead leaves and other garden rubbish and have a big bonfire and fireworks in their garden.  Mothers prepared hotdogs and toffee apples. This was long before men learnt how to barbecue.  Excited children saved their pocket money for sparklers, Catherine wheels, bangers and rockets.

In England it is now more usual for people to attend public firework displays with better health and safety regulations.  Children often still have some smaller fireworks at home. Fortunately they are no longer allowed to buy fireworks or beg for pennies. If you go outside you will see fireworks being let off long into the night and some people still make a guy to burn on the bonfire.

Guy Fawkes with a bonfire on the left and Gun powder Barrels on the right
Guy Fawkes with his barrels

What is the story behind bonfire night?

On the 5th of November 1605  a group of conspirators tried to blow up the houses of Parliament when King James 1st was visiting to open the new session.     The conspirators wanted England to return to Catholicism. They even managed to place 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar.  Luckily for the King they were betrayed when one of the plotters wrote a letter to his friend who worked in the house of commons telling him to stay away.  Guy Fawkes the unfortunate man who had been left to light the fuse was discovered.  The rest of the plotters were arrested and executed as well.  Later The king ordered that bonfires be lit to celebrate his narrow escape and this has become an annual event.

if you click the first line of this post you will find a You tube video of a well known nursery rhyme which commemorates this day which was originally known as treason and plot day.  It is now usually called Guy Fawkes night or simply bonfire night.

A short video of fireworks

 

Please to remember
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.

 

The Bristol Blitz – A walk in the past

The Bristol Blitz – A walk in the Past

I was a child of the baby boom generation born just after the war.  Growing up I remember large bomb sites in the centre of Bristol in particular the area around Castle Park  which was covered with grass and purple buddleia.  My husband who is older than me can even remember going into air raid shelters to escape the blitz and the big street parties which marked V.E. day in 1945.

However when I saw a walk advertised on the “Walk in the past” website “the Bristol Blitz,”  I realised I did not know very much about the actual details of the blitz itself.  My mother who was a teacher had taken evacuees to Cornwall and my father lived near Bath so they had not experienced it directly.

The Bristol Blitz memorial

Many people know St. Peter’s church which is in the centre of Castle Park close to Cabot Circus shopping centre and the galleries.  It was  destroyed during the blitz and only the shell remains.  It is kept as a memorial to the 1,299 civilians killed in Bristol whose names are listed on a board outside.  The area round Castle park had been filled with narrow bustling streets and small shops before the war.  St. Peter’s Church

The shell of St. Peter's chuch in Castle Park
St. Peter’s church was destroyed during the Blitz. The shell has been left as a memorial.

 

Before the war the government did not think Bristol was  a major target so did not make much effort  to protect the city.  The Germans however disagreed.  There was a large aircraft  factory in Filton and Avonmouth was an important transatlantic port.  Bristol was also a vital railway hub for South Wales and the South West.  Pilots could easily find the city at night by simply following the rivers Avon and Severn.

1941-1942 Blitz

There were several major air raids in 1941 and 1942 in which thousands of houses were completely or partially destroyed and many civilians were killed or injured.  Many eyewitness accounts exist.  People recalled how at first they watched the flares and bombs and thought it was   a rather grand Guy Fawkes celebration.  However they quickly realised the horror of the destruction and how the centre of Bristol would be changed for ever.

Our walk

We met by St. Peter’s church and looked at the names on the war memorial

This picture was given to my parents as a wedding present in 1947.We explo

and then explored  the area round Castle Park and the site of another ruined church St. Mary Le port .   We also looked  at pictures of the rather beautiful

This rail was embedded into the grass just feet away from St. Mary Redcliffe Church. It has been left to show how narrowly the church escaped damage

old Dutch house (right)which was destroyedduring the blitz and other photos of the pre war city.   we then headed  to St. Mary Redcliffe church and saw  a section of tram track which narrowly missed the church.  We next  looked at the ruins of Temple church, close to Temple Meads railway station which was originally a round temple owned by the Knights Templar.  Temple Church

We then climbed to Beckinghamham Road in Knowle where a large unexploded bomb nicknamed Satan lay undiscovered under the road for two years.  It  was estimated to weigh 1800 kgs and was one of the largest bombs to have been dropped in England.  It would have caused considerable damage if it had gone off  but instead was paraded through London for V.E. day.

Reflections

This walk was very different from previous walks looking at the medieval city or for Tudor   architecture as many of the walkers could remember being told stories by their parents or grandparents who had lived in Bristol during the blitz .  Some knew   the people who used to live in the houses that had been damaged or destroyed.  We also talked to some of the current occupants of Beckingham Road .  It was a real experience of living history  which brought the past vividly to life.

If you enjoyed this post you might like Roman Londinium A walk in the past

Two National Trust properties to visit near Bath.

Two of my favourite  National Trust properties near Bath.

My husband and I are members of the National trust.  For any one who is unfamiliar with the National Trust it is the organisation which looks after many stately homes and gardens as well as large swathes of countryside in England.  It is a charity and membership fees help pay for conservation and upkeep of the property and land.   It is also possible to pay an individual admission fee to each property.

I thought I would share two of my favourite local gardens for a relaxing afternoon walk .

Dyrham Park

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Deer relaxing in the Park.

This house was built  in the early 17th century by William Blathwayte who was a friend of William of Orange  and  had worked in the Netherlands so it has a decidedly Dutch feel.  It is particularly noted for its Delft china and Spring Tulip festival.  It is on the edge of the Cotswolds and is an ancient deer park.  The deer are quite tame and let visitors get close.  It has a good play area for children.   Dogs are not allowed in the deer park but there is a separate dog walking area.  The roof of the house was recently replaced and last year visitors were able to walk round the scaffolding and see how the house was constructed.  As well as a large park there is a lovely well maintained garden with a lake to explore.

A free shuttle bus takes people from the car park to the house or you can enjoy walking through the parkland though be warned there are steep hills.   It has a good café with out door seating and a large gift shop.

Dyrham Park  

This is a link to the National trust website with more details.  You will also find details of special events throughout the year.

Prior Park Landscape Garden

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This garden is on a hill above the city and has wonderful views over Bath.  The Bath skyline walk starts close by.

As there is not much parking nearby  we catch the number 2 bus from Bath bus station.  It is also served by the hop on hop off tourist bus.  The house was owned by Ralph Allen who was associated with the introduction of the 1d post.   The landscape garden was partly designed by Capability Brown with some suggestions from the poet Alexander Pope.  It has plenty of shady woodland and lake side walks and a small café.   The original house is now a college and not open to the public.

It is on a steep hill so not suitable for disabled visitors.  It is most famous for its Palladian Bridge which is listed on a website as one of the ten most romantic places to propose in the west country.  The last time we were there a bride and groom were having wedding photos taken.  If you plan to do this make sure you bring suitable footwear as the paths are steep and can be muddy.

Prior Park Landscape Garden click the link to find out more.