All’s Wells

Tuesday, August 18 Westbury-Wells

A great day for a bike ride with great weather and just over 2200 ft. of elevation gained. Interesting cottages and farm country.

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The 25 mile journey from Westbury to Wells was through hilly farm land with many ups and downs from one small village to another. Thankfully only a couple of the climbs were steep or long. We had great views with the best being at the end of the ride as we cycled down hill into Wells.

Our route brought us directly to the “Liberty” in front of Wells Cathedral which was built mostly in the 13th century.

Wells Cathedral from the Cloister
Wells Cathedral from the Cloister

The Bishop’s Palace next to the Cathedral  was built at about the same time and is in fact a palace.

Bishop's Palace
     Bishop’s Palace  

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Ceiling in one room in Bishop's Palace
Ceiling in one room in Bishop’s Palace

Both had additional work done in the 14th and 15th centuries.  The project also included a street lined with almost identical dwellings for the vicar’s choir and still  serves that function. The “street” is the oldest continuously lived in street in England. Every place has something to brag about.

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After lunch we went inside the cathedral. It is high Gothic and strikingly beautiful. It is huge

with very high ceilings and a clear story (window level) that illuminates the sanctuary.

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Since Wells was a clean city with few factories, the buildings, including the cathedral, are cleaner and as a consequence brighter than most others in the British Isles. The ceiling decoration has been restored to the original  as the result of finding the original decoration under white washed plaster added in the 1600’s by Cromwell’s legions.

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One hundred years earlier, the cathedral was left almost intact by Henry VIII because it was not a monastery. (Henry VIII started the reformation in the British Isles because the Pope would not grant him a divorce from his first wife, Catherine, who had not borne him an heir. Henry did not like that, so he installed the Church of England and decided that the King (or Queen) would be its head. He then went on to reform the buildings themselves, either sacking them or changing them to Anglicanism.)

Pictures do not adequately show the grandeur of this magnificent cathedral which is steeped in history. There is no other church that we have visited that is so striking and modern looking while being 800 years old. The unique and most outstanding feature are the scissor arches that were added in the 14th century to shore up the sagging columns. These were subsiding as a result of all the weight of the spires. The look they create is modern and classical at the same time and did the job. It is impossible not to be mesmerized by them.

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The cathedral is home to the oldest continuously used piece of furniture in the world which is a copse, a chest  to hold and preserve the triangular shaped vestments worn by the clergy, mostly on very important occasions. This piece pre-dates the cathedral itself and still holds their garments today. The church was built around it which is proven by the fact that it is too big to fit through any of the doors to the outside.

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The cathedral is also the home of the second oldest clock in the world which is still working today.

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The oldest is the one in the Salisbury Cathedral. It rings on the quarter hour when knights on horseback joust. The same knight has lost the joust and has gotten knocked down every quarter hour for hundreds of years.

A choir was practicing in the cathedral as we finished our self guided tour. We inquired and were told that there would be av Evensong service sung by the choir that evening and the public was welcome. We returned at 5:15 and sat in the choir area of the cathedral and were not more than a few feet away from the choir. It was wonderful to listen to their great voices and the organ accompanying them reverberate around the building.

After eating dinner we checked into our Airbnb abode which was less than sub-standard.

We spent the rest of the evening making plans after deciding to stay in Wells another day and reservations for our remaining time in England.

Wednesday, August 19 Wells

Left our  Airbnb room at 8 a.m. and dropped our gear at tonight’s lodging before returning to the town center. Wednesday is market day in Wells. It is held in Market Square so we did a once around and then went for coffee  and a sweet roll. With breakfast in our bellies, we went back to the market for more serious looking. It started to rain although we were prepared with umbrella, full rain gear and no socks underneath our sandals.

We went back to the cathedral for a look at things we missed yesterday (and get out of the rain). It is such a beautiful place that it deserved a second look anyway. It was getting even wetter. Ed took the 11 o’clock walking tour of the city which Maggie decided forgo because of the rain. The local guide was very good and humorous and covered Wells’ history.

After lunch the rain had increased substantially. We went to the Bishop’s Palace. We opted for the indoor self-guided “tour” first as it was raining very hard. It’s a large, residence still lived in by the bishop, more than 800 years after it was first used. The rooms are very large. We waited as long as we could for the tour of the gardens which cover 14 acres and also date to the 1200’s. Unfortunately, the rain did not let up. Ed opted to walk through the gardens and snap some photos.

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After a soggy 15 minutes or so we surrendered to the rain and headed back to our room to dry out.

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