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.


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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