Wonderful Wells

I’m very fortunate that my job takes me to some of England’s more intriguing places. Today I was in Wells, my destination being blessed in glorious spring sunshine had to be appreciated both before and after work. I noticed it described as “a hidden gem in the heart of Somerset”. No truer words have been put on an advertising leaflet. Even though the film Hot Fuzz was filmed here, locals and tourists don’t flock to Wells to explore; their loss and my gain.

 

England’s smallest city doesn’t disappoint! Dominated by its grand and impressive cathedral and bishop’s palace, this city leaves the mind to wonder at its very existence. How? Why? Why here? The ‘when’ is quite clear as there are plenty of plaques to say that this or that was put up in this or that year with most reading a date in the 15th century. The two dominating parts of this city are slightly more than a stone’s throw from each other but are clearly linked through religion. It looks like bishops lived well back then!! But it is the why that remains unanswered by a casual stroll through what is nothing more than a small town but has city status. Like some of its neighbouring towns it offers no reason for its presence. It doesn’t appear to have been a strategic position in yesteryear battles, there is no castle, there are no signs of industrialism, confirmed by its lack of railway.

Bishops Palace

Firstly, the palace resembles a castle with its impressive moat. First impressions may well have confused more people than I but this is rectified upon entrance through an imposing gateway to read the informative signs. It is the home for the bishop of Bath and Wells. It’s fortifications, moat, drawbridge and portcullis wouldn’t look out of place at most castles around the country. Such a well-fortified home for a religious leader. Why? Does this highlight even more how much religion once played a huge part in this country’s history and how little it will play in its future? Step inside these fortifications and wonder where is the missing keep? Instead one is greeted with some ruins, and what looks like a stately home.

Secondly, the impressive cathedral, a spectacular example of British architecture. This cathedral gives the city its rights. Stand and admire this grand and impressive building from the greens to the front, marvel at the level of detail on the outside alone. Ponder the hours and effort that must have gone into making this cathedral

look so amazing. The western front facade is dominated by small figurines. We are so blessed in these isles with amazing heritage that it is all too easy to take these buildings for granted. Anything looks more beautiful in the sun, this was confirmed in my springtime visit as the sun waved its magic wand and lit up this majestic building. Standing there my breath was taken away.

Vicars Close

To the north of the cathedral is the charming Vicars close, a fascinating parade of similar houses and constructed way back (actually 1363 as a notice proudly displays). Walk to the end to get an impressive view of the cathedral with the forefront of the picture dominated by these ancient houses and chimneys.

My visit inside the cathedral took place back in Autumn last year. Stepping inside these buildings I marvel and wonder why they were designed this way. To have such high ceilings seems like a waste of space or was it part of an acoustic design? Perhaps a visit when this place is in full choir or song may prove the theory, not that I expect to see these places over packed with worshippers.

I would challenge anyone to discover some of these beautiful buildings and lovely locations that this country has to offer and let me know where my meanderings should take me next.

 

Springtime at Saltram

My latest NT blog is of plain looking Saltram in springtime. Idyllically located on the banks of the estuary it is easily seen why the Parker family purchased the estate. The house, however, looks so plain and ordinary at first sight with no grand and elaborate designs, and strangely enough from the inside doesn’t give a view of the estuary.

Inside the house I was greeted and welcomed by a proud volunteer; he was keen to explain the greeting by the god of mercury, wealth, travel and roads who looks down on the visitor from the ceiling. From here access to the rest house is through one of 4 doors, each doorway guarded by one of the 4 elements, fire, water, earth and air.

An unaccompanied walk around the house normally allows me to do my own thing, but today it draws my attention to room wardens (or theirs to me), who seem so keen to engage in conversation about the house. One in particular talked about how the interior design is down to Robert Adams. His eye for detail is evident in everything in the house but it’s the ceilings that are the most impressive feature. Maybe a fact that confirms that not all beauty is on the outside but on the inside.

As I was informed on my visit it perhaps wasn’t the house that they were after when they brought it but the grounds of the estate. It’s hard to argue with that as I meander my way around them in glorious spring sunshine, tear drops and blue bells awash the ground like an artist’s pallet. Add to this the grass and weeds that can’t be touched so as not to ruin the spring flowers. Having read the signs and notices I didn’t jump in to get my picture, unlike the kid on a school visit.  The walk along the tree path is a tunnel of green as the trees take full bloom now spring is in full swing.

Maybe with more time on my hands I may have found the river from the grounds, or taken one or bigger estate walks; instead I had to drag myself away to ensure I beat the bank holiday traffic. Sadly, I failed but consoled myself in the memories of another National Trust adventure, and a new place discovered.

History at Hughenden

View from the main garden

I’m finally starting to take full advantage of my National Trust (NT) membership. Living my manic lifestyle, finding the time has been difficult to use it to the full. With the long Easter weekend there was an opportunity to get out and explore should the weather had been kind. Who would have thought that I’m becoming fascinated with history! In England we’re blessed with an abundance of history that we really shouldn’t ignore.

Memorial in church

Until today I had never heard of Disraeli so this trip to Hughenden Manor was worthwhile. The house and grounds (though disappointing on first appearance) were crowded as there was an Easter Egg hunt under way. I will not go off on one about commercialisation of religious festivals as there was much to learn about an illustrious, though, to my way of thinking, stomach churning, creepy, former Prime Minister. There is much evidence on display to confirm my impressions. Evidently Queen Victoria thought that he was wonderful, and this is seen in a memorial in the church. And yet, in a perverse way, it is the TV series covering young Victoria’s life that has sparked my interest. It may well be, based on the numbers in the house and grounds, that I am not alone.

The house didn’t have the wow factor that some of the NT properties have that I have visited but it did have some interesting things going for it. The inside of the house was well maintained; the ground floor was mainly family pictures; in certain rooms there were inscriptions printed on the blinds. There was also a lot of information in the house regarding politics and Disraeli.

Portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Disraelis’ Bedroom

On the upper floor there were more pictures; these were different though as they were gifts from the queen. These could be spotted by the crown crowning the frame. The first room on the top floor has a timeline of his life. When we were there a passionate West Indian man spoke about Isaac Disraeli (his father) falling out with his fellow Jews at the synagogue and getting his children baptised into the Church of England. At the time this was a vital decision that enabled Benjamin to become Prime minister in adult life. Look around at the walls to see Disraeli quotes. Two of these appealed to me as a traveller, “Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen” and “One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes”.

Springtime

The final stop was to look downstairs to see how ‘Hillside’ was used in the construction of maps used in World War 2. Tight, congested and overcrowded it was time to leave. It was then time to witness an adult playing stuck in the mud by parking his car on some wet ground rather than the huge amounts of kids running around. The building and gardens looked dank but then so has been the weather of late. Wait for the summer as the gardens will look tremendous.