Pilgrimage to Wells, Glastonbury and Bath: Journey with the History Guru to England and Spain

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 in category

30 September 2011 - A pilgrimage to Wells, Glastonbury to Bath via Cheddar Gorge.

Parking the VW Golf in Wells, England's smallest city, was no problem. A visit to the 12th century 'Bishop's Palace' that was built by Bishop Jocelin Trotman was short-lived as it was closed for restoration work. It's grand twin-towered early Medieval gateway entrance was protected by the Bishop's own devilish moat. The 'healing' springs inside the gardens had Celtic and Roman significance and the town owes its name to these magical springs or wells (wella in Saxon). Surprisingly, over 15 million litres of water flow from these springs every day. Wells deserves its name!

Beware the Bishop's Moat! An impressive gateway to some 6 hectares of gardens.

With an abrupt, 'about-face!' we left the restorers to their job and headed back to Wells Cathedral.

French Bishop Reginald de Bohun constructed Wells Cathedral about A.D. 1175 on top of a Wessex Saxon church (built in A.D.705). Talk about the 'WOW!' factor. 'WOW!' Wells Cathedral was a mighty mission statement for the Church of England. Its new Gothic style took about eighty years to build with the highlight being the West Front's 300 inspirational stone figures challenging even Westminster Abbey. The figures were built from a local yellowish Doulting quarry stone that hasn't weathered well.

Worshippers to Wells Cathedral were reminded here of 'The Day of Judgement'

Most of the columns have been restored with a harder, darker stone

See: http://www.wellscathedral.org.uk/history/

An even more spectacular architectural feature of 'WOW' Wells Cathedral is its four central 'scissor' columns, an engineering masterpiece. In 1313 a stone tower with a lead covered wooden spire was added to the Cathedral; however, the extra weight tested the foundations leading to major cracks. In 1338 work started on a solution. Ten years later, the four central scissor arches (along with other stop- gap measures like buttresses) successfully solved the problem.

View of one of the scissor arches The Choir or 'Quire'

This picture is literally worth a thousand words

An ironic moment occurred on exiting the Cathedral at its 'beggars' seat' used for almsgiving in the past when we were confronted by a person begging for money. A bit sad!

The 'beggars' seat' inside the gateway

Glastonbury Abbey provided a contrast to 'WOW' Wells Cathedral. Here an imagination is required to fully appreciate just how grand and important this Abbey was prior to its 'Dissolution' by Henry VIII in the 16th century. Our tour guide greatly assisted us by dressing in period custom and acting the part of a simple medieval maid. According to our guide, The Abbey Cathedral at Glastonbury is the longest in England.

A once awesome entrance

Although largely dismantled for building materials in Tudor times, enough of the Abbey remains to enjoy its former grandeur such as its tall stone walls, a shell of 'Lady Chapel' and the round 'Abbot's kitchen' building boasting four large fireplaces, one in each 'corner'. Other interesting features included the well construction, intricate foundations of the monks' lavatories and a reconstructed herbs/spices garden with information about their medieval medicinal uses.

The Abbot's kitchen/dining hall complex with its unusual spire chimney

One of the four large 'corner' fireplaces – many monks' mouths to feed!

The Doomsday Book, which was commissioned by the Normans in 1086, listed Glastonbury Abbey as England's richest monastery. One story tells how on rebuilding the original Cathedral after a fire, the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were found and ceremoniously reburied by Edward I in 1278.

In 1536 Glastonbury Abbey was one of 800 monasteries in England with some 10,000 monks in residence. Within five years there were none! Glastonbury Abbey was a major target of King Henry VIII's social and religious reforms.

Before leaving Glastonbury, one challenge remained – to climb to the top of 'Glastonbury Tor' (a Celtic word for 'hill'). The Celts called it 'the Isle of Glass'; the Saxons, 'the Isle of Avalon'. Moors or 'fens' surrounded the hill in Celtic and Saxon times. A nearby Celtic settlement has been dated to 300 B.C. – A.D. 100. A major concern of archaeologists is the effect climate change and man is having on the water levels of Somerset and sites like Glastonbury Lake Settlement. A huge amount of organic material like posts, villages and tracks are being conserved in the declining waterlogged Somerset Levels and moors in less than 90 cms. Some pessimists estimate the destruction of all such organic archaeological material by the end of the 21st century.

See: Joseph Holden, L. Jared West, Andy J. Howard, Eleanor Maxfield, Ian Panter, John Oxley's, Hydrological controls of in situ preservation of waterlogged archaeological deposits in  Earth-Science Reviews, Volume 78, Issues 1-2, September 2006, Pages 59-83

A lonely tower from St Michael's Church likely destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 1275 September 11!

Bath now beckoned, so the VW Golf was reeved up again for Cheddar Gorge, a limestone gorge extending 3 kilometres that is really the end of a 13 kilometres dry valley system and now quite a developed tourist site.

Mostly famous for its cheddar cheese that matures in the Gorge's numerous caves, Cheddar Gorge is also popular for its nature trails. Time stopped us trekking on these steep walkways so nibbling on cheddar cheese had to substitute.

One cave known as 'Gough's Cave' provided archaeologists with evidence of cannibalism and a complete skeleton dated to 9000 B.P. 'Cheddar Man' was found in 1903 but only recently DNA samples were taken from one of the molars. A perfect match with a local History teacher surprised everybody.

A pub 'The Riverside Inn' sited on the Gorge's cold mountain stream (I couldn't resist undoing my sandals!) seduced us to order yet another generous English pub meal (I also couldn't resist undoing my belt!).

Today's journey ended on the western outshirts of Bath at Weston Lodge, a former Victorian era hospital but now very comfortable apartments.

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