I’m a little bit in love with Somerset. Despite thinking of myself as a bit of a city girl my whole life, there’s something about the rolling hills and tranquil villages of this county that instantly relaxes me. Not to mention the fantastic character that Somerset has – Bristol, on it’s Northern border is after all, the most charismatic place I’ve ever known, and there’s plenty of quirky towns and interesting fables that make this historic area wonderfully unique. There’s so many options for days out in Somerset, Wells and Glastonbury being a perfect example.
Wells and Glastonbury have both been on my constantly expanding and never to end ‘to visit’ for a while, and now I’ve seen them I’m wondering why on earth I didn’t go sooner. They’re both wonderfully historic cities, revelling in the very best that the region has to offer.
Wells retains its marvellous medieval atmosphere, as many of the buildings lay unspoiled. The current standing cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and it has been a prominent British cathedral for centuries. Wells Cathedral has been described as both “unquestionably one of the most beautiful” and “the most poetic” of English cathedrals. With largely gothic architecture, well preserved secular buildings and fantastically maintained stained glass windows, the cathedral is a wonderful place to visit.
Vicars Close is known as the oldest residential street retaining all its own buildings in Europe, and Bishop’s palace has been the home of the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years. The whole city is a charming bubble filled with old-world charm and fascinating history and is the perfect place for history lovers to visit.
Glastonbury is equally as intriguing in a different way. A hotbed for myths and legends, the town was supposedly the birthplace of Christianity in England, and it is a popular pilgrimage site. It has since become a popular destination for non-Christian visitors, who come to revel in the spiritual atmosphere of the town and drink the healing water at the Chalice Springs.
Glastonbury Tor has connections to ancient Pagan fables and has always been a place of Christian worship. King Arthur and the knights of the round table are also rumoured to have visited the Tor. Glastonbury Abbey was never fully restored after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and has since remained in ruin as the town centre has sprung up around it. The high street is, nowadays, eerie yet magical. Instead of the usual Sainsburys Locals and Boots the Chemists lining the streets, it is full with shops with hippy clothing, buildings offering tarot card reading and community buildings offering meditation classes. It’s the perfect place to go to get in touch with your inner zen!
You can experience both Wells and Glastonbury on the mega cheap – one pound, to be exact. Here’s a suggested itinerary of a day trip to Wells and Glastonbury and how you can get away with only spending just one pound all day:
10:00am arrive in Glastonbury town centre
Free parking can be had on the roads around Glastonbury town centre; some of it is time restricted, but you’ll only be spending an hour here anyway.
Part of the draw of Glastonbury as a town is just walking around and taking it all in. It’s got a wonderful hippy vibe, with people dressed in bright clothes, greeting each other in the street, lots of notices about community yoga classes and the most fantastic shops. Most of your time in Glastonbury centre will be spent marvelling at these shops, where you can purchase anything spiritual and natural.
Of course, if you don’t want to dent your £1 budget, you won’t be able to buy anything – but it’s an experience just going into these shops, marvelling at the clothes and reading signs and books about spirituality. Try to have a who can spot the most mystical name competition, too!
Glastonbury Abbey is unfortunately hidden behind a wooden fence and charges quite heftily to enter. However, if you want to be a real peeping tom, you can peer through one of the holes in the fence and make out the ruins of the abbey. Don’t worry too much about missing it, because you’ll get your old church fix in Wells!
11:30am Chalice Well
Either walk or drive up to Glastonbury Tor area. It’s only a 15 minute walk, or a short drive and there’s free parking on Ashwell Lane.
Before you start the trek up to Glastonbury Tor, you’ll want to stop at Chalice Well to stock up on water. These natural springs produce the clearest water, which supposedly has healing properties! There’s a white tap and a red tap – make sure to refill from the white tap (the red water has lots of iron in and tastes a bit like blood – although is worth trying just to experience!). If they’re open, the caves are well worth a look in. A spiritual place for centuries, they are where the springs were formed and are now a significant site for bathing and self cleansing. If they’re not open, try them again on the way back down.
12:00pm Walk Up Glastonbury Tor
Time to trek up the hill! It doesn’t take too long (about 20 minutes) and there’s steps most of the way. Enjoy the views all over Somerset as you ascend higher and higher, and make sure to snap an iconic photo with St Michael’s Tower at the top! There’s a compass dial the other side which tells you where to look and how far away various towns and cities are. I couldn’t quite make out Bath or Bristol, but could see a lot of local landmarks.
We originally planned to have a picnic at the top of the Tor, but it’s extremely windy. There’s lots of more sheltered areas where you can sit and enjoy your food. We had the picnic lunch of kings – lots of cheeses, olives, mackerel pate, sundried tomatoes, vegetable sticks and hummus and strawberries and flapjack for afters! Absolutely delicious (sorry, I’m bragging)– but of course, for a picnic, whatever you can grab is just as great. It’s all about the experience after all.
Remember to check out Chalice springs on the way back down, if you couldn’t before!
13:30pm Leave to go to Wells
It’s a two hour walk to Wells through lush Somerset countryside. If you’re a hiking enthusiast, is certainly doable, and you’d still have time to do everything in the city if you left by one thirty (Wells cathedral doesn’t shut until 7pm). Otherwise it’s a 15 minute car ride. If you don’t mind going over your £1 budget and you don’t have a car, buses leave every 20 minutes and costs just £3.50 for adults.
I’ll write the rest of this guide on the basis that you’ve drove or taken the bus, but just push everything an hour and a half later if you want to walk!
14:00pm Arrive in Wells
Free parking can be had on the edge of the centre – Wells is actually England’s smallest city, so it’s just a short walk into town.
Walk up to Bishop’s Palace. The gardens are free to enter until a certain point, where you have to pay to go any further and enter the palace itself. But the grounds and ruin of the building, as well as the moat and wall around the area, is pleasant to stroll around and admire.
14:30pm Wells Market
Stroll to the cathedral through the farmer’s market. There’s lots of West Country produce here, which is a great experience if you’re just visiting the area. You can even nab some free samples of cheese if you flutter your eyelashes and smile sweetly!
15:00pm Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral is an absolute masterpiece and needs some time to be taken in fully. The exterior is gloriously well designed and sculptured, with plenty of significant details. I always find it baffling that it was made so long ago!
Entry to the cathedral is where your £1 is going to go. Entrance is done on a donation basis, so you don’t actually have to pay – but it’s important to retain the upkeep of the cathedral. The interior of the building is just as fascinating as the outside. There’s different areas to pray for different things – such as a justice and peace area, where we sent a few vibes off to world peace. There’s also a very touching section dedicated to the men of Somerset who lost their lives in WWI. With choral music echoing round and fantastic architecture and stained glass windows to marvel at, an hour soon passes in the cathedral.
16:00pm Vicar’s Close
This road claims to be Europe’s oldest solely residential street, with all of its original buildings surviving. Without the cars, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported straight to another era.
There’s cobbled streets and fascinating medieval buildings. The wonder of this street is that people still live there (not the original inhabitants, of course), going about their daily lives in this legendary and beautiful location.
There’s so many places you can travel to from Wells. There’s loads of things to see in Bath or Bristol (both about a 40 minute drive). You could venture south to the Jurassic Coast or west to Exmoor, or east toward Salisbury and Stone Henge.
If you’re travelling from London to Cornwall, Wells and Glastonbury make for the perfect day stopover. Likewise, they’re ideal for travellers exploring the west coast of England and Wales. And great train connections from London to the West Country mean that they can be visited easily from the capital.
Have you explored much of Somerset? What are your favourite cities and towns?