We’ve been in Wells for a couple of days, which is lovely. We’ve been to Bristol and Bath many times, but never Wells, and we both think it’s the nicest of the three. I love its oldness. Don’t know if that is a word, but it was very, very old. It’s not very big, of course, so easy to walk around the centre, but because it has a cathedral it’s a city, the smallest city in England, I think. We were in Truro the other day, also a city, but that’s only the size of a small town as well, but if there’s a cathedral there you can be called a city. Very confusing.
First off we we started off at the interestingly named Wookey Hole, which of course we sniggered at. Well, I did. Changing it to Wonkey Hole made me titter the most. We didn’t do the caves, but the surrounding houses were just lovely.
Had a walk about and decided which one we would have if we had two million to spare. We settled on a mill house with loads of stuff growing up the walls, and it had a thatched roof, ducks and 3 geese. I would have to factor in a gardener and a full time person to protect me from the geese. All in all a stupid idea then. That’s saved us two million quid. Liked the public toilets in the car park with signs saying witches and wizards very much, but didn’t need to visit either of them.
We had a latte at the local café and a bacon butty. The latte had more froth than coffee and we both ended up with a white moustache. Mine looked quite attractive, I was sorry to wipe it off.
We got back to the car park after our walk and there was a Morgan sports car parked next to us, the same Morgan that we parked next to at a motorway services about 150 miles away. Small world, unless he’s a stalker. I mentioned this to G and got the impression he thought it a bit unlikely. You never know. Will be checking for the rest of the day to see if I am being followed.
We went to find a cemetery, nobody following us, which a woman walking her dog told me about. She said ‘you’ll never find it, dear, it’s very well hidden.’ We both said, how hard can it be to find a cemetery, but she was right, it was very, very well hidden. In the end we asked another lady dog walker, very posh lady indeed, and she told us where to go. (Just realised, that sounds as if she told us to clear off, but she was very nice and gave brilliant directions)
We drove into a housing estate and, eventually, found a very narrow gap between two houses which led to the cemetery. Of course, it was closed and a notice said it only opened on a Sunday mornings in the summer. Another dog walker, they like dogs here and like chatting too, showed us the best places to peep into the cemetery and told us all about it. The cemetery was the burial ground for the Somerset and Bath Pauper Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Wells Mental Hospital, and later still, the Mendip Hospital. There are nearly 3000 former patients and a few staff buried here and the last ones were buried in 1963, so quite recent.
Our dog walker friend told us the grass is only mown once a year to encourage birds, and wild flowers. There’s a wildlife pond too. Most of the people buried here were very poor and classified as ‘lunatics’ so there are very few gravestones, just numbered metal markers. Very sad. The cemetery isn’t sad at all, it’s really lovely and peaceful and there are some wooden sculptures in the grounds which we weren’t able to see. Will have to come back again another time on a Sunday morning.
Next stop was Glastonbury. We didn’t wear the ‘uniform’ - either Jesus Sandals or wellingtons – and it was very hot. There were quite a few people wearing those funny trousers with a very low crotch or crutch which look as if they have filled their pants! The shops were full of fairies, crystals and vegan food. We were not tempted by any of their offerings. The street musicians were brilliant, and it was great fun.
I was chatting to a couple wheeling a little dog in a shopping trolley and I never even noticed the man was wearing a skirt until they had gone and G told me. He was very nice so I suppose he thought a skirt would be a good idea on a hot day. Saw him again a bit later and the skirt was a kilt, so that’s okay. The dog in the shopping trolley looked very fed up, think he wanted to get out and run around a bit.
We drove to Street as well, just for a quick visit. It used to be just a small village, but is now larger than its next door neighbour, Glastonbury. Again, it’s very old, Roman times, and its name comes from a road used to transport stone from a quarry to build Glastonbury Abbey.
Clarks Shoes, was founded in Street and still has its headquarters here. When a few empty factory buildings were converted into the Clarks Village retail park Street took off and today thousands of people visit the ‘outlet village’. Not our sort of thing at all so we carried on and found our hotel in Wells instead where the bar sells over 100 different varieties of gin. Not that I sampled any of them.
We had intended to be staying at Wookey Hole, which I suggested as I liked the name, but we ended up at a hotel in the middle of the ‘city’ of Wells which was great as we could walk around Wells and not bother about parking.
I read a leaflet about the Vicars Close when we got up the next day and told G we should go there. He said, ‘okay, that’s easy enough, it’s just over there.’ I took notes so I could pretend to be knowledgeable when I wrote about it. We walked across the green facing the cathedral, just across the road from our hotel. and a man in robes, a vicar/priest/whatever, nearly knocked us over. He dashed into the Deans’ House so we decided he was running because he was late for morning coffee and the Dean gets cross if people are late.
Vicars Close is fabulous. Like a scene from Dickens, but much, much older. Vicars Close is the oldest purely residential street with its original buildings surviving intact in Europe. John Julius Norwich called it ‘that rarest of survivals, a planned street of the mid-14th century.’ The street has appeared in Harry Potter films, so it gets even more visitors now.
On 30 December 1348, Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury presented ’44 dwellings newly built for the use of vicars, and quarters with appurtenances built and to be built.’ He made it quite clear in his original deed that each house in the quadrangle was designed to accommodate one vicar, but some of the houses were joined up to make a bigger house following the Reformation when vicars were allowed to marry, so there are now only 27 separate houses, occupying the original double sided street.
That’s the end of what I found out in the hotel leaflet so don’t expect any more facts and figures from now on. If G was writing this he would have told you what ‘appurtenances’ are. I haven’t a clue, but that’s all the ‘research’ you’re getting.
We chatted to a man who was repairing windows, one of two men who carry out repairs to all the houses. He told us the work was very involved as all the houses are Grade 1 Listed and only the original materials can be used when doing repairs. He said the people who lived in the street still included all twelve men forming the Vicars Choral, plus the organists and vergers. The Vicars Choral have sung at Wells Cathedral since the 12th century and are recognised as a world-class choir.
‘You should do guided tours,’ I said.
‘No thanks, can’t stand all the visitors we get here,’ he replied, ‘can’t even leave the front door open when I’m working in case someone wanders in so I have to put up with working in clouds of dust.’
Unsurprisingly, and despite my many hints, we didn’t get to look around the empty house he was working on! G was talking to him about different types of plaster so I wandered off and looked for the other workman thinking he might be a bit more obliging but couldn’t find him.
There were lots of young children, only about four or five years old , being taken to school by their parents or nannies. They looked lovely in their uniforms, all the girls were skipping and all the boys had their hair sticking up at the back. One of the nannies was skipping too. It’s obviously a very rich area, but almost everybody smiled and said hello. I told G, ‘I could live here,’ and we walked up one side of the road and back again on the other side, picking out which house we would choose. I would love all the tourists going past madly jealous, and I would say “just another property we own.”
We both picked out the same house, but G said he didn’t think they’d let him join the Vicars Choir. I hope not. He thinks he can sing, but unless he’s being Elvis, he can’t. He does Elvis quite well though. We didn’t go inside the cathedral because it was such a sunny day, so we walked back into the centre.
Wells has been in existence since Roman times, because there are three natural springs here, fresh water wells. A man in a shop tried to sell me a hobby horse. That doesn’t happen every day. Perhaps he thought I was seven years old. He did have very thick glasses and I aren’t very tall.
Wells is named after the three wells, what a surprise, and there is a fountain in the market square, but I’m not sure that’s one of the three wells. There’s also a plaque marking Mary Rand’s World record long jump – she was born in Wells - and there’s a brass strip on the pavement marking out the distance. It looked a very long way to me. If I did my best ever long jump, repeated six times, I’d still only be halfway there! She was the first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal and also held the world record in the Triple Jump. No wonder they gave her the Freedom of the City.
We spent the morning in Wells, but some gourmet friends had recommended a pub in ‘the Levels’ and we decided we’d try and find it and perhaps have lunch. One of our very best decisions! It’s only about ten minutes or so from Wells and on the way we stopped and looked around an architectural salvage yard which was brilliant. Like a huge junk yard with some things you never even imagined to find for sale. If we had bought the big house in Wookey Hole we would come here for ‘stuff’ to go in it. Obviously, we didn’t, so we didn’t buy anything.
The pub in Lower Godney is called the Sheppey Inn and has been there for hundreds of years. It’s not exactly inviting from the outside, pretty scruffy actually, but inside it’s lovely. The owner is named Liz and she told us all about the pub. She and her partner, Mark, used to own the Wookey Hole Inn and won many awards there, but took over the Sheppey eight years ago when it was very run down. Liz collects glass, Mark collects toys and the pub is packed with knick – knacks, big pictures and wonderfully eccentric furniture. We loved it.
They have lots and lots of different beers and ciders and also brew kombucha, which we used to do when we lived in France. It’s very trendy now and Liz gave us a sample of their experiments with different flavours. The menu was very inviting so we ate lunch in the garden, next to a stream, with cows looking at us from the opposite bank. They dig out peat from all around here, as they have for hundreds of years, and it’s a very peaceful scene.
Our waiter told us that every year between November and February, starlings flock together and their displays are so spectacular that hundreds of people turn up to stand and watch them. ‘A murmuration,’ G said and the waiter laughed. ‘I didn’t want to say the word,’ he said, ‘because people think I’ve made it up.’ Yes, it is the correct word for those amazing shapes made by many thousands of starlings in flight.
We’ve seen them in Spain and it’s a fabulous sight, but if you want to see them in England, the area around the Sheppey Inn is the place to go. Lots of photos coming up so that’s enough from me for now.