Didn’t I just say in my last post that I was pretending I don’t have to fly home soon? Now that it’s even closer to my flight home, it’s a bit harder to keep pretending I won’t be home soon, especially since my stuff is mostly all packed up now. If I can’t keep up the illusion that my trip isn’t over yet, at least I can keep reliving it through this blog, right? And since yesterday was such a full day, I’ve got a lot to relive!
While I don’t do day trips every time I come to the UK, I do often build them into my itineraries. I debated doing it this time, especially as I’ve hit many of the notable, day trip-suitable locales over the years, but then I realized there’s a place I could revisit that I don’t have strong memories of, since I went so long ago. That place is Glastonbury, in Somerset, which was one of the stops on my very first international trip in 2003. On that trip though, Steve was driving me (plus our friends Zoe and Cory) around, so it was easy to get where we wanted to go. Plus, Glastonbury was just one of the places we hit on a little English driving tour over a few days, so it didn’t necessarily stand out amongst the several places we went to. So why not go again? I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend much more time there on this trip, but I’m a more seasoned traveler now, so I thought I could get more out of it this time. I also knew I could take advantage of being in the area by adding a new-to-me, nearby town, Wells, to my itinerary. With that in mind a month or so ago, I checked train fares and booked my tickets. Easy-peasy!
For better or worse, this day trip involved catching a train around 7 AM from Paddington, which meant I had to be awake by about 6 AM – certainly NOT ideal when on vacation, but we travelers have to make these sacrifices, don’t we? The nice thing about being up and needing to get around London at that time is that the city is fairly quiet, which is something central London definitely isn’t most of the time, so it’s neat to experience. And thankfully, I just had to meander to the station that’s a minute or two from the hotel to catch the tube to Paddington, so it wasn’t a long walk. Once at Paddington, it was easy to follow the signs to the main station, where I quickly found my platform. In a first (for me), I booked specific seats on this trip (rather than just sitting in whatever was available), so I just made right for it when I got to the platform. Just made the travel experience that much easier!
You want to know what DIDN’T make my travel experience easier though? The fact that, upon arrival at Castle Cary (the nearest station to both Wells and Glastonbury, neither of which have their own stations), there was literally NO way for me to leave the station to get to Wells. “But Jeff, how did this happen?!” I hear you asking. Dear reader, it just came down to a combination of bad luck and not knowing enough about the area, I think! While I knew that I would need to get a taxi from Castle Cary to get to Wells, what I DIDN’T know is that I should have pre-booked one. There’s no Uber there, but there are several local taxi companies, most (or all, perhaps?) of which have signs up at the station. I called EVERY one of them (5-6 companies) and none of them could pick me up. I mean, really?! I was shocked! I looked into bus service as well, which seemed to be mediocre at best (there was no bus scheduled to be there for an hour and, even when it arrived, it would have taken another hour and a couple of transfers to get to Wells). I was both surprised and a bit irritated, but these things happen when you travel, so you just have to roll with it. Thankfully, the guy who answered one of my calls said that although he couldn’t get me right when I arrived, he could in about an hour, so I called him back after I ran out of companies to call and he said he’d be happy to get me. That meant that I had to sit on the platform at this little station for an hour, but it could have been worse. I was worried it would rain, but over the hour I was there, the clouds dissipated more and more, so at least there was a silver lining. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long – the driver got there when he said he would and then he got me safely to Wells. The next time you need a taxi in Castle Cary, talk to Ian at IT Cars! And, to avoid the need to wait around for a ride, pre-book with him. 🙂
Once my new pal Ian got me to Wells, I hit the ground running to ensure I could see all the things I wanted to (and had already booked). Although only one thing during my day was booked for a specific time (more on that in a bit), I had limited time in both Wells and Glastonbury and having to wait at the station for an hour meant that I didn’t have as much time as I wanted, so I headed straight for The Bishop’s Palace (weird name, I know, since I don’t think of bishops living in palaces), which has been the home of the local Church of England bishops for over 800 years (I guess it’s called Bishop’s rather than Bishops’ because only one bishop lives there at a time?). That’s still true today for some of the space, but the majority of it is used for public functions and, of course, as a place for tourists like me to visit.
To be honest, I was a little surprised at how little there is to see here from a building standpoint – just a chapel, a couple of function rooms on the ground level, and a couple of museum-type display rooms one floor up. Unsurprisingly, there’s no access to the current bishop’s residence (I’m not even sure where it is in relation to the parts I did visit), but thankfully there’s also a ton of garden and outdoor space to explore. The weather played nice, though it did cloud over and threaten to rain at one point (I felt a few sprinkles while I was in the garden), so I got to have a good (if a bit quick) walk around those gardens before moving on to the next place. I will say that, given what you can actually see here, the entry price of £16/$20 USD seems a bit steep, but that price actually gives you a one-year membership to the site, so you can come back as many times as you like in that year. Obviously I’m just going to go one time, but it’s nice that I could come back if I wanted to.
I’ll let my photos tell the visual story!
One of the wells (springs from an underground river) for which the town of Wells is named.
The underground river also feeds larger pools like this one. Pretty cool that the moat provides an inbuilt way to deal with water overflow, eh?
These old walls provide a neat way to see the gardens from a higher view.
With my time at the palace at an end, it was time to move on to the next item on my itinerary – a guided tour of Wells Cathedral (next door to the Bishop’s Palace). It’s the seat for the local bishop (hence why the bishop lives next door) and was built in the late 13th century, so it’s pretty damn old. I’ve seen plenty of cathedrals and churches on my travels, but this one really stood out from an exterior standpoint, with its Gothic design and lots of interesting nooks and crannies.
I didn’t actually have much time to look around the exterior though as I had to get inside for my tour! This wasn’t just any ol’ tour though – it was the High Parts Tour which, I can say now, is a really unique way to explore any building, but especially one as old and storied as this cathedral. Rather than a standard tour around the building, the High Parts tour focuses on the hidden, behind-the-scenes stuff. We got to go behind the Wells clock to see its workings, we got to stand behind the holes where the choir would have sung on Easter Sunday to welcome the dean and the congregation, we got to walk on top of the nave (not outside the building, but in the space between the top of the nave and the roof), and more. Such a cool experience! It’s one that does require a fair amount of stair climbing (up and down) at times though and some of the spaces are a bit tight, so keep that in mind if you’re considering this tour. If you do it though, you’ll definitely experience 90 minutes of interesting, well-presented information! And at £15/$18 USD, you won’t have to pay a lot for it! I think this tour is fairly popular though, so definitely book early to avoid disappointment. I booked mine probably six weeks before my trip and even at that point, I think there were only 3-4 spots left (there were ten or so people on my tour, which I assume is the maximum).
After the tour, I did walk around the cathedral proper for a few minutes to get a better feel for it and see more of what it had to offer the public (as opposed to what’s available behind the walls). It was just a nickel tour of the place to take some photos, but at least I got to see it all (or most of it, anyway). That’s just more photos I can share with you!
Taking a couple of photos inside the church before we scurried behind the walls.
Getting back to the clock for a moment, I thought this was really cool. Here, our guide explains the works and how, until the last Keeper of the Clock retired around 2010, each of the three clock sections had to be manually wound by hand (250 winds per section, each done twice/week). You can see the winding mechanism next to the guide in the first photo – it’s big and heavy! To save everyone some manual work though, an electric winding mechanism was installed after the keeper’s retirement.
With my cathedral tour over, I found myself still feeling a bit rushed, even though I didn’t have any other time-sensitive stuff booked. Transparently, I was also feeling a little nervous about the taxi situation, even though Ian had told me that getting a ride from Wells to Glastonbury would be easy as they’re closer to each other than either is to Castle Cary and also because they’re both bigger towns, making taxis more plentiful overall (as I said above, they don’t have Uber, so that wasn’t an option). I knew I would have to move to Glastonbury soon, but I did want to swing by two more places, just to get photos, as you’ll see below.
Two views of Vicars’ Close – one looking from the entrance and the other looking back at it (and thus towards the cathedral as well).
With sights seen and my hunger satiated, it was finally time to move on to Glastonbury. Hurrah! I asked at the pub about the best place to get a taxi and was told the bus station would have plenty of them, which thankfully turned out to be true. There was a taxi rank there, so I just went to the first driver in line, who happily drove me to Glastonbury, sharing all sorts of into about the area while he did so. Knowing that I had already booked a taxi from Glastonbury back to Castle Cary (I figured I may as well do that while I was sitting at the station in the morning), this was my last transportation-related hurdle to get through, so I was a happy traveler. And I was even happier as the sun kept playing a (mostly) winning battle with the clouds, which I knew would make the photos at my next stop all the better. Speaking of which…
Glastonbury Abbey! As I said at the beginning, this was the first time I’d been back since that 2003 trip, so it felt a little surreal in some ways. Déjà vu, but with good reason because I absolutely had been to this place before! You may be thinking “Another church?!” but this abbey is in total ruins, so it’s more an exploration of what used to be, which I find fascinating. During my first visit, I’d never seen anything so ancient and I know that helped solidify my love of travel and the desire to see other things like it, so it was just cool to be back. There were just a few other people there (benefit of going on a Monday afternoon, I guess), so I really got to look around a lot. There were a few occasions where I was struck with “Oh wow, I totally remember this exact view!”, so that was neat. And the longer I stayed, the more and more sunny it got, which was especially welcome because the forecast looked quite rainy at one point.
As always, I’ll let the photos tell most of the story!
A couple of angles of the lady chapel, which is also part of the ruins above.
Green grass on the ground and bright flowers growing along what was once a ceiling/roof. Nature certainly takes over, doesn’t it?
Before my final Glastonbury destination, I walked around the town a bit, snapping a few photos along the way. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular at this point, but did see a few things that caught my eye.
The church is St. John the Baptist, while the second photo shows the Tercentennial Labyrinth, just in front of the church.
At this point, the sun was shining and it was definitely the warmest part of the day. So what better time to climb the Glastonbury Tor to pay a visit to St. Michael’s Tower? This was once again a repeat of something I did on my first trip, but as I got to the top, I realized it was a new experience because I’m 99.9% certain we took a different path to get to the top of the hill (there are a couple of different ones). So now I can say I walked up that huge hill from two different paths rather than just one. 🙂
Honestly, this is one of experiences that’s much more about the journey than the destination because a) the top of the hill isn’t all that big and b) there isn’t anything there, except for the tower (and the fabulous views, of course). The tower is said to be the remains of a church that once stood on the hill (can you imagine having to walk up a huge hill just to go to church every week??) and today, it seems to be a place where people go to chill, meditate, and enjoy the views (based on the folks I saw there, at least). It’s a healthy climb, to be sure, and it’s ALL uphill to reach the summit (which makes sense since it’s a hill, but I call it out because I felt like I started walking uphill the moment I started heading towards it). Depending on where in Glastonbury you’re coming from, plan for at least 30 minutes of uphill walking to get there. There is a concrete path all the way to the top, but your legs will be feeling it by the time you reach the top. But if you can do it and the weather is nice and clear, I can’t recommend it enough!
A couple of photos taken on my walk towards the hill.
Look at those views from the top!
Two very similar messages I saw on my trip to and from the hill. The one on the left was at the base of the hill while the one on the right was at the base of the street I walked to get to the hill.
And that, my friends, finally puts a bow on my day trip to Wells and Somerset! Since I decided to skip the Chalice Well, I had time to enjoy a cold beverage and rest my feet in a pub for about 20 minutes before I met my taxi near the abbey. I had another really friendly driver who shared lots of info about the upcoming Glastonbury Festival. Having experienced Castle Cary for myself, I can only imagine how that little station manages the 250,000 people who come for the festival! Sounds like Glastonbury and the surrounding towns are used to it though, so they know what they’re doing. More power to them!
My train ride back to London went smoothly (not an empty train again, but not totally full either, which was nice). And now, dear reader, I’m actually back home in Minnesota! But don’t think that means I’m done posting about the trip though as I still have a whole day to blog about, so stay tuned for that. 🙂