Wells

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West front of Wells Cathedral, started 1175

img_9815I was brought to Wells as a child and have no recollection of this wonderful sight! I can’t remember any of it: not the west front, not the individualised carved capitals, nor the scissor/fish arches (very art nouveau, yet from the 14th century) added to take the extra weight of the extended central tower, not even the astronomical clock with the jousting knights . . . no impression whatsoever. Thank goodness I am revisiting.

The cathedral was badly damaged during the English civil war (Cromwell’s troops – the fundamentalist iconoclasts of their day) and the coloured surfaces have long gone, leaving a building of stunning elegance and grace. The forest of perpendicular columns and fan vaulting of the chapter house were wonderful.

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Window smashed by puritans but stuck back together in random fashion

The rest of Wells looks very charming as well, albeit rather twee and new-ageish. There’s plenty to explore and learn about around here. I noticed through the steamed-up windows of the bus from Bristol that the road was hilly with lots of 11% signs: that was the Mendips. There’s lots to learn about Somerset topography: how all water, from the Severn high tides to the run-off from the Quantocks and Mendips, ends up in the Somerset levels. It’s only in the last 150 years that anyone has built on the flood plains; earlier settlements were always on the islands of higher ground. It’s been a big peat producer, and peat is also an excellent preserver of prehistoric artefacts. The ecclesiastical authorities were important landowners: not just Wells but also Glastonbury and Muchelney. “Moors” here refer to low-lying, unproductive land – a reminder that moorland does not have to be high.

More tomorrow.

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