Stepping Out in... Wells

PUBLISHED: 17:09 27 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:54 28 February 2013

Stepping Out in... Wells

Stepping Out in... Wells

A visit to unspoilt Wells would not be complete without taking in the glory of the Cathedral, the hubbub of the Market Place and the tranquillity of the Bishop's Palace Gardens. Words and photos by Neville Stanikk

I know that any proposed modern development now would meet a storm of protest, but thereve been periods in history, especially in the 1960s, when people couldnt wait to improve everything. So how did Wells resist that? Maybe part of the answer is in the responses I got no one knew. People in Wells seem to regard it as a law of nature that the antiquity of Wells is inviolate. No one even seemed to contemplate any change so long may that remain.

My favourite spot in Wells is a seat on Bishops Fields from where you can see the Cathedral, Glastonbury Tor and Tor Woods. Theres a huge amount of art, sport and music so its a good place to be.
Phillip Peabody, retired teacher from Wells Cathedral School

Obviously there have been some changes since 704, when King Ine of Wessex built a church next to springs that rise from under the limestone of the Mendips. These waters fill the moat around the palace walls and are plentiful enough to provide a network of water courses around the city and, of course, give Wells its name.

As Bath is the second most visited place in Britain after London, Wells must be pretty high up the list since a great many visitors to Bath also find their way to Wells, as its so close. And what a treat they find, a city the size of a small town but packed with an incredible amount of detail, both historically and architecturally, and this begs the question that I always want answered in Wells just how has the city stayed so unspoilt?

Get off to a good start

If you get to Wells in the morning, pay a visit to the Bishops Palace and see the springs there, in their wonderful garden setting with the Cathedral reflected in their waters as the sun shines on its eastern end. Also, if youre there on a Wednesday, dont miss Wells market in, predictably enough, the Market Place. Basically a thriving farmers market, it also features wonderful crafts, fabrics and fashions when the Christmas markets start in November.

Id show visitors St Cuthberts Church because Hot Fuzz was filmed around there and I was in it only walking down the
street though!
Nick Sarjant, shop assistant at Insane Games

Why visit now?

Wells Cathedral is famous for its music and a programme of musical events continues all year round, but from 8-15 October, Wells will be holding its annual Festival of Literature that features, among others, Alexander McCall Smith (of Number One Ladies Detective Agency fame), the romantic novelist Sarah Duncan, and the photographer Don McCullin. As with other towns in Somerset, Wells also has its carnival, with brilliantly illuminated floats, coming up next month on 12 November.

Dont miss

Do walk around Wells, and not just the main street but keep exploring and youll find that the richness and variety of Wells architecture continues down streets you may not previously have ventured into. You may come across Black Dog of Wells, with their wonderful range of terracotta plaques. And take a look inside St Cuthberts Church at the beautifully carved and painted ceiling but, of course, make the focus of your visit the Cathedral.

The first Cathedral in Wells was completed in 909 but the present one was finished in 1239 and when the tower began to lean, nearly a hundred years later, the distinctive scissor arches were added to brace it. These arches are probably the Cathedrals most distinctive feature and, with their clean, almost pristine appearance, seem strikingly modern as their unusual shapes are much bigger in scale than were used to from medieval times. Obviously the Cathedral is monumental in itself but the scissor arches add to that sense enormously as hundreds of tons of stone seems to float above you.

When you sit on the Cathedral Green, its lovely. I always take my little boy up there.
Charlotte Crabb, hairdresser at Renaissance Hair Design

In contrast, the Chapter House and the steps to it are famous for appearing ancient as the stone has been worn down by millions of feet over the centuries. Try to get there early to experience the atmosphere of having it all to yourself.

The whole Cathedral is, of course, worth looking at, but dont miss the little carved scenes of medieval life at the tops of many pillars, the capitals, and take a look at the Chantry of Thomas Beckington, a bishop of Bath & Wells, which shows him, at eye level, in his ecclesiastical robes and then underneath as a bare corpse, presumably a comment on the transience of worldly glory. It was he, incidentally, who had built both the archway of Penniless Porch (with his emblem, his rebus, on the cathedral side) and the Bishops Eye entrance to the Bishops Palace both arches leading on to the Market Place.
Then wait until the evening sun lights up the richly carved West Front and marvel, once more, at the sheer amount of detail.

Latest from the Somerset Life