Wells is a beautiful medieval city within the hills of the Mendips and is the smallest city in Europe. Bath on the other hand is a stunning and truly unique destination, but by no means small! Both cities are a must-see on your travels through Somerset, England.
Wells is only a 15-minute drive and Bath about a 1-hour’s drive from our base in Street, Somerset. Decided not to drive Reg to these cities, as apart from tight roads and city traffic, it’s a hassle for parking a car, let alone a motorhome. So I can’t really offer any tips on touring in these cities. We were very lucky enough to be driven around on many occasions by kind relatives and friends instead; a taste of lovely English hospitality!
I love the historical architecture in this easy-to-walk around cathedral city. Not only is some of the architecture a thousand years old or older (mind-blowing in itself), it’s a quaint and lovely city to experience. Stroll around and stop for a peaceful picnic or just rest under an ancient tree and watch the swans at the Bishop’s Palace.
You may ask yourself, why this city is named Wells? Apparently, the name stems from the three wells: one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral – a dedication to Saint Andrew.
I fist visited this city in 2009 and I can honestly say that not much has changed here apart from a few new buildings here and there…that’s a good thing right? Wells still retains its charm – even the satirical action comedy movie Hot Fuzz that was actually filmed on location here in 2007 hasn’t changed anything.
The Bishop’s Palace (£7.95 entry) – Although the main features of the Bishop’s Palace are a 13th-century vaulted undercroft and imposing staterooms, which I haven’t seen, the tranquil gardens surrounded by a moat are definitely worth visiting. Whilst at the Bishop’s Palace, you can’t but help notice the Chapel and ruins of the Great Hall. In the 1550s, the serving Bishop sold the lead from the roof of the great hall, which resulted in ruining the structure. Around 1830, another Bishop purposely removed the south and east walls to create a “more picturesque ruin”. The planting of the area previously occupied by the great hall soon followed.
Vicars’ Close (short walk from the cathedral) – A mid-14th Century example of a ‘planned street’ and still survives today as the oldest purely residential street with original buildings. Very picturesque and claimed to be the oldest medieval street in Europe. Make sure you have a wide-angle lens to take photos here otherwise the result won’t be ideal.
Vicars’ Hall and Gateway – A first floor barrel-roofed common hall and storeroom below, were the first part constructed of the Close. The kitchen and bake house were completed in 1348. Chain Gate was abutted to the structure in 1459, which included a gallery over the gate into the cathedral for the vicars’ convenience.
Great to take photos at the entrance archway and into the close, which has a pedestrian gate adjacent to a waggon gate. The entrance is popular with local buskers playing Medieval music, which depicts this era’s lifestyle and adds to the square’s ambiance.
Wells Cathedral – a £6 donation fee is requested but not compulsory. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, Wells Cathedral stands majestically on meticulously manicured lawns in the heart of the city. The magnificent West Front features over 300 statues and carvings. Make sure you’re inside the cathedral on the hour to watch one of the oldest working mechanical clocks; it’s gorgeous.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a Wednesday, then keep an eye out for the Farmers Market in the square. About 17 stalls sell delicious local produce such as handmade cheddar cheese and butter, homemade cordials, free-range eggs, locally grown fruit and vegetables, game meats, baked products, and many more morsels but it’s not cheap.
There are loads of quaint little coffee shops, cosy pubs, and restaurants to stop in, especially from the cold and rain. If you’re a bit of a fast food addict, then the usual chains are scattered throughout Wells so you won’t be deprived.
Parsons Bakery (2 High St) – Take a rest in this lovely little family-run café serving delicious home-baked pastries, pasties, savouries, sandwiches and baguettes, and cakes; and the cheapest coffee around! Buy the scrumptious Pasty of the day for just £1.50, which is the cheapest around and great quality.
Started in the 1900s by the current Managing Director’s great grandfather, the family has been baking for over 100 years – a skill past down through generations. This bakery is very close to the cathedral and palace.
Bath and its Roman Baths
A lovely drive from Street along English country lanes, surrounded by florescent green rolling hills dotted with ancient stone cottages, is the UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Bath. Not only is the scenery along the drive very picturesque, Bath itself is a gorgeous place steeped in history, wonderful architecture centuries-old, and enjoys quite a lovely feel for a large city.
Many tourists add this city to their must-see list whilst in the UK, especially visiting the authentic and preserved Roman Baths, which I visited back in 1985 but not this time.
Founded in the 1st century AD by the Romans, Bath’s natural hot springs used as thermal spas was the initial draw card, although this became an important centre for the wool industry in the Middle Ages. Protected and displayed within a museum environment, you can still appreciate the baths for their original use.
You’ll need days here to really explore all that Bath has to offer and you won’t see everything by wandering around on foot for days.
I first visited this city in 1985 and again in 2009. These days, Bath seems to have more new buildings and it feels as if some of the historical pockets in the city are starting to be consumed with taller surrounding buildings. I’m sure none of the ancient buildings have been bulldozed down (as we do in Australia, not that we have ancient buildings), it just feels as if this city has exploded with new architecture – progress.
Pulteney Princess (£8 return trip) – For a totally different view of Bath, the Pulteney Bridge, lovely countryside, and a much more tranquil method of transport, why not hop on a small motorised boat?
You’ll glide slowly on the Avon River and under the famous city’s bridge for a different view and glimpses of the beautiful Avon Valley. Passing Georgian architecture along the way, a Victorian boating station, and then turning at the famous weir pool, the 40-minute round trip is very pleasant.
Food-wise, Bath offers a plethora of cafes, restaurants, fast food chains, bakers, and more options than you can try in a year of living in this city!
The Huntsman pub (1 terrace Walk, North Parade) – Built in the mid-1700s, The Hunstman is still the oldest shop-front in the city. I’m told that a while ago, this used to be a little seedy but did serve cheap and very good pub food. These days it’s been renovated along with the prices – it happens…frequently! The food is good and fancy sandwiches (Panini) are about £5.75.