Monday, May 20, 2013

Official Post: May 21, Wells

Today we had the experience of seeing the town of Wells in south central England. It was a long bus ride - nearly an hour and a half, but at least we didn't have to change at all on the way. The roads to Wells from Bath were very scenic. It was very hilly, and the roads were narrow. It still seems odd to me that major roadways here are limited to one lane width with no shoulder for extended lengths. I know for sure that I would never want to drive here!

We arrived in Wells at around 10:30. To begin, we had a scheduled tour of the Wells Bishop's Palace. We were greeted by a pair of swans on the moat surrounding the palace. The swans had seven cygnets, which they were teaching how to ring a bell for food. When the swans were hungry, they would pull a rope next to a window in the palace, and a worker in the palace would throw food out the window to them. The Bishops have lived on this site nearly since the cathedral was built - around 1200. There were some ruins of an older great hall, but for the most part, all of the buildings from the early middle ages were well maintained and are still used and lived in. The palace itself appeared to be more of a castle than a place of residence from the outside. There were arrow loops and a large gatehouse with a drawbridge over the moat, with matching outer battlements. However, the actual defenses of the palace were never used in battle. They were mainly to show off how much power the Bishop had.

Within the palace was a mixture of gardens and old buildings, with a beautiful view of the cathedral's towers. The buildings that were still standing had been renovated and maintained well, and when we toured the inside of the buildings, it seemed much more like a 1900's mansion than an 800 year old palace. It certainly wouldn't be hard living.

We also toured the Wells 'wells.' These natural springs are fed by an underground river that flows underground from the hills in the distance until it is forced up through the ground just behind the palace and cathedral. On average, these springs push nearly 4 million gallons of water out of the ground each day, and feed the moat that surrounds the palace. These springs are essentially why the town of Wells exists, and named for. Early neolithic travelers would have settled here due to the natural existence of clean water rising from the ground. These waters may have been seen as a very religious site, and hence why the site was also a site of religious observation for years, and why the cathedral was built so close to the wells. The 'most photographed spot' in Wells happens to be the view of the cathedral from one of these wells, where you can see almost the entire cathedral reflected in the waters. The spring water's flow was carefully maintained, to help provide water for the town and the palace. There was even a pump installed that was powered by the waters, that helped move the water towards town and the palace.

For lunch, we had reservations at the cafe within the Bishop's Palace. We had a soup and sandwich, along with tea or coffee. The food was very good, and was presented very well. In the words of some of the group members, the food was 'very pretty.' I would also add that it was delicious cafe food.

After this, we moved on to the cathedral, where Erin was to give her tour. The view of the front (or west) end of the Wells Cathedral was magnificent. We also walked on Vicar's Close, which is one of the oldest streets that is still in use. The houses that line the dead-end street were built in the late 1300's to house the singers of the choir for the cathedral, and still stand today.

The cathedral itself was also very magnificent from the inside. Unlike many of the other cathedrals we have seen, this one was maintained very well throughout the ages. There was some work done to maintain and add to the cathedral, but the building itself was still the same. The most prominent features of this cathedral included the scissor arches, the chapter house, and the attention to detail. The massive scissor arches were added a few hundred years after the cathedral was built to help support the weight of the central tower. They are both decorative and effective. The chapter house is an octagonal shape rather than square or circular, and has two floors. The bottom floor was mainly used for storage of important objects, while the upper floor was used as a traditional chapter house. The steps up to the first floor were very worn, and helped show the age of the building. The entire cathedral had many small details that I thought really gave the effect of being in a great and ancient building. Tapestries were well maintained, the stonework on the pillars was very clean and new-looking, and many of the ceiling arches were nicely painted. The length of the cathedral also amazed me. Looking down the side of the nave you can really get an idea of the massiveness of the cathedral. It is difficult to put the magnificence of this building into words. Check online for some pictures if you really want to know!

After the great tour of the cathedral by Erin, we had some free time to explore the town of Wells before catching our return bus to Bath. There were many shops that lined the street. In the town center was a fountain that was powered by the underground wells near the Bishop's Palace. On the streets, between the road and sidewalk, was a small stone ditch that allowed excess water to flow down the street. Water would literally be pushing up through the cracks in the street. This amazed me, as it really shows just how high the water table is in the area, even though they were saying that it had been fairly dry. The cathedral was essentially built on water, as well as the rest of the town. Any buildings that had a basement would also have a swimming pool. I imagined digging a hole in the ground, and instantly having it fill with water. The engineering behind building the town and the massive cathedral on top of this water was incredible, especially when you think of how old the buildings are.

Once we were back in Bath, we were free to go do what we wanted in the city. Cassie, Tate, and I ate dinner at 'Ask Italian' and had some very nice pasta dishes, and explored some of the shops. We are still fairly disappointed that many shops close at around 4 or 5, which sometimes makes it difficult to visit some of them.

That's all for now!


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