Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Get your Wellies, we're off to Wells

Forecast is for rain. Let's take the bus to Wells, England's smallest city with about 12,000 inhabitants. The reason that this town is a city is the Cathedral and that's what I'm going to see.

Front seat upstairs in a double decker bus gives an exciting ride, lurching around corners between high-rise buildings with inches to spare, ducking under low over passes (well. I ducked anyway), and brushing past the trees that have formed a bus-shaped tunnel along the country roads. Those roads! Absolutely no room for cyclists. The bus is hard up against the kerb on one side and hanging over the double white line down the centre of the road on the other side.

Check out how much passing room there is with a tractor. It would have been suicide to try to cycle.

And this is way too much fun to miss. Not only am I dry, but the tannoy is announcing the stops along the way and it is like listening to a poem about the English countryside. "Temple Bridge Farm. Roger's Close. Gibbet Lane. Pensford Bridge. Sheep Lane. The Priory Lodge. Featherbed Lane (let me off here). The Cottages. The Crossroads. Rush Hill. Hollow Marsh. The Ploughboy Inn. Chewton Mendip Way. The Old Rectory. Sleep Lane (there's a theme here), Back Lane, Clutton, Whiteley Batts, Countersip Gardens. Cholwell Farm. Seriously, I didn't make up a single one.

Maybe what brings poetry to mind is the brochure I picked up on the bus, which says 'Wells Cathedral is "the most poetic of the English Cathedrals". A masterpiece, both beautiful and historical, it goes on to say. The front of the building (which is a bit hard to appreciate in the pouring rain) is described as one of the biggest galleries of medieval sculptures in the world.
So this is obviously not one of my photos.
Blue sky is the clue.
Inside, the stand-out feature is the huge scissor arches that look so modern, but in fact were put in during the Middle Ages as internal bracing to stop the towers from collapsing because of sinking foundations.

Construction of the cathedral began in about 1175 and it is the first cathedral in England built in the Gothic style.

I loved the symmetry of the interior architecture but browsing through the images that the masses have selected to put up on Pinterest, most photographers (like this one) choose angles that play off this tidiness to find a deliberately unbalanced harmony.

The cloisters were a bit disappointing.

They are very plain but wikipedia tells me this is because Wells was never a monastic cathedral, it was secular. Now there's a puzzle. How can this thoroughly religious site be called secular? The Oxford English dictionary explains all, you can check it out for yourself.

The clock is the second-oldest surviving clock in England. It has had an electric winder put in but for hundreds of years it had to be wound for an hour 3 times a week.
This clock strikes every fifteen minutes when jousting knights charge at each other to the sound of Jack Blandifers, who strikes the bell above him with his hammer, and two more below him using his heels.

Who's Jack Blandifers? I have not got a clue.

Alongside the cathedral is Vicars’ Close, possibly the only complete medieval street left in England. 

The Vicars' Close and all its buildings, including a library,  are Grade I listed. The current occupants still include all twelve men of the Vicars Choral, plus the organists and vergers.

Something else that has been important in the history of Wells is cheese. The only cheesemaker left these days is the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. Their mellow cheddar won bronze in the recent British Cheese Awards. They say their cheddar is the only cheddar made in Cheddar. I have to try some. Off to the deli.  

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