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A mid-week break in Wells, Somerset

7 October 2022

The cathedral city of Wells boasts a stunning Bishop’s Palace and Gardens as well as a magnificent cathedral. Every Wednesday and Saturday its marketplace is filled with the stalls of a street market and visitors to the town are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. Set in the beautiful rolling Somerset countryside, Wells is an enticing destination for a short break.

Mid-week makes one of the best times to visit Wells, one reason would be to incorporate the Wednesday Market into your trip. Here, you’ll find an excellent mixture of local produce, handicrafts and standard market stalls. The local town crier is often on hand to open the market with a poem or two. Just beyond the market place, an archway leads into the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. A wall surrounds this lovely building and water fowl float serenely around the moat that encircles the wall. Next door to the Bishop’s Palace is his church – Wells Cathedral – a must-see attraction with its unique scissor arches and medieval mechanical clock. But there is so much more to this pretty cathedral town.

Let the adventure begin

Our adventure starts on Tuesday when we arrive in the village of Croscombe, just outside Wells, and check into our bed and breakfast accommodation. This lovely little village offers a good variety of different types of holiday stays. This typical Somerset village, of which the inhabitants are very proud, is on the bus route between Wells and Bath. It features true ‘local pub’ offering good food. Ideal after a day’s sightseeing. You might even be invited to join in a game of darts in the snug.

Market day in the city of Wells

This morning, Wednesday, take the bus into Wells for an early visit to the weekly market in Market Square. Here you will find a fine mixture of local produce, hand-crafted clothes and household goods. Stop by the pie stall and buy one of their delicious home-made pies for an al fresco lunch. Be sure not to leave it too late as they may all be gone! Leave Market Square through the arched gatehouse that leads into the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace.

The Bishop’s Palace in the City of Wells

Cross the bridge over the moat, skirt the lawn in front of the palace itself and buy your tickets in the café. Make sure you arrive before 11 am if you want to join the tour of the palace gardens which is included in the price of the ticket. During this tour you will gain an understanding of how these gardens were developed and extended by the succession of bishops who have lived here. The tour starts in the ruins of the Great Hall, a vast hall during the thirteenth century where the bishop intended to entertain his king. During the sixteenth century the lead was stripped off the roof and decay set in. The building was partially demolished during the nineteenth century, which was when the picturesque garden was created.

Behind the palace, on the far side of the moat, is a complex of small pools and channels fed by the underground river and the site of the wells after which the city is named. For centuries, these wells provided clean water for the citizens of Wells. After the tour, find a seat on the top of the wall to enjoy the views across the surrounding countryside or sit in the quiet garden to enjoy your picnic pie surrounded by seasonal blooms.

In the afternoon, join the tour of the palace itself (also included in the price of the entrance fee). This tour generally starts in the bishop’s private chapel. Around its walls are the coats of arms of all the bishops with a mitre at the top except for the Roman Catholic bishops, whose coats of arms were topped by an image of the Catholic head wear. It then moves into the palace itself through a spacious entrance hall that was restored during the Victorian era. through the spacious undercroft. There are some very interesting features in the palace including the undercroft, a wooden Jacobean staircase and the long gallery on the first floor. When the tour ends head for the café on the far side of the lawn for tea and cake before strolling along the High Street to the bus station, browsing the many independent shops as you go.

Dinner in the city of Wells

Free on-street parking and a variety of good restaurants makes Wells an attractive proposition for dinner this evening. Some of the restaurants occupy historic buildings in the centre of town including one of the Gatehouses in the walls that surround the cathedral. An evening visit is also an opportunity to see the cathedral when it is floodlit.

The catheral in the city of Wells

Resplendent on the far side of the Cathedral Green is the magnificent cathedral of Wells but this thirteenth century building is not the original cathedral. When it was built, the west front was colourful array of different hues, a cathedral was built here as Wells was deemed a sacred place due to its supply of plentiful water. There is a row of trumpet holes at the top of the west façade and when trumpets were played against these holes, beautiful music would float out of them and below these, the voices of the choir could be heard through a row of singing holes. A famous feature of this Gothic cathedral are its scissor arches, which were constructed in the mid-fourteenth century to stabilise the tower where cracks were appearing due to unstable foundations.

The building is also graced by two medieval quarter jacks, one inside the building and the other on an exterior wall, these sound the four quarters of the hour and a bell in the steeple chimes on the hour. The outside clock was placed on the wall opposite the communal hall of the Vicars Choral – the men of the cathedral choir. Originally these men lived in lodgings in the town, but this did not work due to the many distractions. In 1348, the bishop founded a College of Vicars with a communal hall and houses around a quadrangle. Each of the original 42 houses were designed to accommodate one vicar. The clock ensured that they were always aware of the time and never late for their many duties in the cathedral. A passageway linking their dining hall with the cathedral meant they never got wet in bad weather. This is the oldest continually inhabited street in Europe and well worth a visit.

The Wells and Mendip Museum is close to Vicars Close and an interesting distraction for those wishing to learn more of the history of Wells. Maybe a lunch stop is in order so head for the Market Square café a popular haunt for locals and the source of tasty food at reasonable prices including a savoury cream tea. A refreshing break on the journey home is a visit to Glastonbury. It’s also worth a climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor, for the more energetic of visitors, to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The famously hippy town of Glastonbury is an interesting contrast to the more traditional cathedral city of Wells and a lovely way to end a short visit to Wells and Somerset.