Early Saturday morning and all of London seems asleep. The only sounds I hear are that of my running feet on their way to the tube station. It is a good few hours to Wells and Glastonbury. And when you leaving in a few days, oh well, sleeping in on a Saturday morning is the last priority on one’s list. 😀
England’s smallest cathedral city, Wells, derives its name from the three wells within its walled precincts, which during the Middle Ages were believed to have therapeutic qualities. Its other key attraction, for nearly a millennium, has been its cathedral [Cathedral Church of St. Andrew], and understandably so.
Every cathedral usually has something unique to it. Here it is the scissor arches which support the central tower and the nearly 300 original medieval statues which adorn the west front. And then there is the splendid fan vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and grotesque sculptures which one finds in little nooks and crannies, adding dry human humour to one of England’s grandest architectural masterpieces.
It was a wonderful morning as I wallowed in the beauty of the old city—the Bishop’s Palace replete with a gatehouse and drawbridge around which mute swans ring a bell for food and silent ruins stand sentry; the Vicars’ Close, the oldest residential street in Europe; Penniless Porch, named after the beggars who carried out their trade here, 500 years ago and today as well; and Bishop’s Eye, the entrance to the Palace from the marketplace.
Of equal noteworthy mention is the Wells clock in which every quarter-hour jousting knights move around the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter-hours with his heels with oh so much gusto. And striving to match it with equal enthusiasm is the clapping and cheering of its human audience.
The millennium old Cathedral at Wells with its fan vaulted ceilings, scissor arches, and medieval Chapter House adorned with grotesque sculptures …
and silent graves enclosed in its cloisters
Around this cathedral is a palace, moat, Europe’s oldest street and medieval clocks
As the afternoon drew close, I left for Part 2 of the day. In contrast to Wells, with its English charm, is bohemian Glastonbury steeped in pagan myths and legends from the Holy Grail and King Arthur, and remnants of the annual Glastonbury Festival. Its connection with King Arthur can be traced back to the medieval monks who promoted the town as the legendary Avalon.
It is an amazing place with heavy doses of Hindu chanting and mentions of the “other world”, “auras” and “chakras” housed in rows and rows of shops dedicated to witchcraft! I even collected a few business cards from Witchcraft (Pty) Ltd and Man, Myth and Magik. You never know when someone’s card could come in handy!
But my favourite was the Glastonbury Abbey, a once-upon-a-time Benedictine monastery (712 AD) with King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s tomb at the main altar. As the sun set and dappled the mammoth ruins in golden light, it was magical of a real kind. The monastery was closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539. Today, it is a pilgrimage site for Anglicans (June), Roman Catholics (July), and modern pagans.
The golden ruins of Glastonbury Abbey—magic of one kind
Left: “Double Fast Luck”, Glastonbury’s magic of the second kind; Right: On my way back home