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Travels with an Eriba

Somerset

 

S
omerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Somerset's name derives from Old English Sumorsǣte, short for Sumortūnsǣte, meaning "the people living at or dependent on Sumortūn (Somerton)". ... The Old English name is used in the motto of the county, Sumorsǣte ealle, meaning "all the people of Somerset".

One would have to spend many weeks or even months to explore and enjoy all that this county has to offer. The area we concentrated on is famous for the cathedral city of Wells, Cheddar Gorge, the Somerset Levels, the interesting town of Glastonbury and its Abbey, Glastonbury Tor and of course, the music festival! As for local food and drink, the county is especially well-known for its apples and cider.

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey

We do not know precisely when the first monastery was established at Glastonbury, but excavations on the site and ancient written records suggest that there was a religious foundation here around AD 650. A devastating fire in the late 12th-century might help to explain why the monks of Glastonbury put so much effort into making their restored abbey a destination for pilgrims. They moved relics of two Saxon-era abbots, Patrick and Indracht, from the ancient cemetery into the Lady Chapel in 1186 and conveniently "discovered" the bones of St Dunstan and housed them in a specially-built portable shrine. Then soon after remains, believed to be those of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, were unearthed near the south side of the Lady Chapel. In 1278 these relics were reburied by the high altar in the presence of King Edward I. The royal couple lay beneath a black marble tomb, between the tombs of the Saxon kings Edmund Ironside and Edmund I.

Throughout much of the medieval period Glastonbury was the second wealthiest monastic house in Britain, The Abbey survived until 1539 when Thomas Cromwell had Abbot Richard Whiting sent to Wells, where a mock trial took place on 14 November 1539. Whiting was accused and found guilty of "robbing Glastonbury church". On the following day, he and two of his monks were taken to Glastonbury. They were placed on hurdles and dragged through the town to the top of Glastonbury Tor, where all three men were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Whiting's head was put on display over the gate of his abbey,

The Lady Chapel of Glastonbury Abbey is one of the finest late 12th-century monuments in Britain. It was built immediately after the disastrous fire which consumed much of the abbey in 1184, and was completed by 1186 or 1187. The chapel is famous for its very rich sculpted ornament including much chevron decoration, capitals in Early English style and portals with elaborate floral and figure sculpture.

In the course of conservation work in 1995 a detailed study of the chapel's interior revealed extensive evidence of a complex and very costly painted scheme covering many of the wall surfaces. It almost certainly dates to 1184-99, probably to 1184-89. The discoveries add a new dimension to an understanding of the chapel. They confirm the statement of Adam of Domerham that it was a work 'of the most beautiful workmanship, omitting no possible ornament'.

We had a great time exploring the Abbey ruins and the meadow-like gardens surrounding them. The weather was really behaving itself too, which further enhanced the whole experience. There is a very pleasant and informative visitor centre as you arrive and they also have a team of Living History guides who escort groups of visitors . Our one was really excellent. She expertly brought the place alive in a most entertaining fashion. There’s not a great deal of the original building left now at Glastonbury, as compared to others like Rievaulx or Byland for example, so it was great to have such a well-informed and engaging guide

 

A late Spring day at Glastonbury Abbey

 

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Glastonbury Tor

The Tor and its Legends

Glastonbury Tor is one of the most famous landmarks in Somerset, if not the whole of the West Country. The Tor seems to have been called Ynys yr Afalon (meaning “The Isle of Avalon”), The Isle of Avalon was considered the meeting place of the dead, and the point where they passed to another level of existence. It's not just famous because it can be seen for miles and miles around, but also because it has huge spiritual significance for many people. The conical shape of Glastonbury Tor is natural. Thousands of years ago it was an island. Before modern drainage, the Tor in winter would have towered above the flooded Somerset Levels.The terracing on the hillside has been dated to Neolithic times, around the same time as Stonehenge was constructed. It has been suggested that the terraces form a kind of maze that guided pilgrims up the sacred hill. Excavations at the top of the Tor have revealed the plans of two superimposed churches of St Michael, of which only a 15th-century tower remains.

We had a lovely walk up to the top from the campsite early one morning and were rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.

 

Wells Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace Gardens

The Story of Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral is set in the medieval heart of England’s smallest city and it was the earliest English Cathedral to be built in the Gothic style. The present structure was begun under the direction of Bishop Reginald de Bohun, who died in 1184, and it was largely complete at the time of its dedication in 1239. The striking West Front, completed in the mid-thirteenth century, has one of the most impressive collections of medieval sculpture in the western world. Local limestone from the Doulting quarry was used to create it and around three hundred of the original four hundred medieval statues remain.

There are many more outstanding features of this beautiful building such as the Scissor Arches, the medieval astronomical clock and the lovely staircase leading to the unusual Chapter House. The Scissor Arches were an ingenious engineering solution by master mason William Joy in the fourteenth century to deal with problems caused as a result of unstable foundations. The Wells Cathedral Clock is one of Europe’s most impressive medieval astronomical clocks and the clock face is the oldest surviving original of its kind. The mechanism, currently housed in London’s Science Museum, is the second oldest in the world.The octagonal Chapter House, built in the Decorated style, is the only one of its kind built above an undercroft.

Vicars' Close

Adjoining the Cathedral is Vicars’ Close, believed to be the only complete medieval street left in England.  John Julius Norwich called it "that rarest of survivals, a planned street of the mid-14th century". This significant landmark was designed to provide communal accommodation for the Vicars Choral, who sang daily worship within the Cathedral. The centuries-old tradition continues today and is a unique and much valued part of life at Wells Cathedral. The houses of the Close were built in the 14th century. Today, the Close comprises 27 residences, a chapel, library, treasury and muniment room. There is also a dining hall connected to the Cathedral by a covered walkway, the Chain Gate Bridge. Reflecting the Close’s significance, all its buildings are grade 1 listed. The current occupants still include all twelve men of the Vicars Choral, plus the organists and vergers. Vicars Choral have remained at the heart of life at Wells Cathedral since the 1100s and are now recognised as part of a world-class choir. (We had the privilege of attending a concert in the Cathedral during our stay.)

The Cathedral and Surrounding Area

NB Two Slide Shows
 
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Misericords and More

 

Faces in the Chapter House 1
Faces in the Chapter House 2
Faces in the Chapter House 3

 

The Bishop's Palace Garden

A visit to the Palace Garden

 

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The Bishop's Palace Garden

The Bishop’s Palace in Wells has been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over eight hundred years and, along with its fourteen acres of RHS-partner-gardens, is open for all to enjoy. Visitors cross a flagstone drawbridge over the attractive moat to walk under the portcullis and experience a true hidden gem in the heart of Wells, just next door to Wells Cathedral. A hundred and thirty years ago an American visitor said, "This is a palace of enchantment" - a sentiment which remains true today.

The Palace Gardens - an Overview

 

 

The Somerset Levels

Exploring Shapwick Heath

 

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    Atmospheric views across the levels
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    Willow harvest
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    Shapwick Heath
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A video from the Willows and Wetlands Centre

 

 

At the heart of Somerset lies the beautiful area called the 'Levels and Moors' which has international status as one of the most important wetlands of its type in the world. All of the levels and moors in Somerset were under water until about 4500 BC when peat deposits began to form in salt marsh, fen and raised bog environments. This unique landscape is one of the lowest, flattest areas in the country. In ancient times it was known as the summerlands... because it was too wet to use in the winter... and it is thought this is where the county of Somerset got its name. We had a most enjoyable day there, exploring Shapwick Heath area and then visiting the Willows and Wetlands Centre at Stoke St Gregory

https://www.coatesenglishwillow.co.uk/pages/visitor-centre.htm

More Notable Somerset Features

The Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar and is, perhaps, one of the best known natural features of Somerset.. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar show caves, where Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be over 9000 years old, was found in 1903. We did not have time during this visit to explore the gorge fully, but would love to do so when we get a future opportunity.

The Burrow Mump

Burrow Mump is a prominent hill in the heart of the Somerset countryside, with the ruins of a church at its summit - or a "tiny Tor". The church was built on top of an earlier medieval church and now serves as a war memorial to those who lost their lives in the Second World War. The summit offers panoramic views across the county is just a short climb away,from the carpark, which is run by the National Trust and is free ,

A Walk in the Ebbor Gorge

 

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The Ebbor Gorge

The Ebbor Nature Reserve is a heavily wooded area on the western edge of the Mendip Hills, It has excellent walks through ash woods and there is a superb view out over the Somerset Levels when you brave the steep climb to the top. The forty-one hectare reserve is dvided by two steep-sided valleys. The main valley is the Ebbor Gorge, carved from limestone. Set into the cliffs are two caves where bones dating to the Ice Age have been discovered. The National Trust calls it a "mini Cheddar"

Where we camped in Somerset

The Old Oaks

This is a multi award-winning, adult-only site a short distance outside Glastonbury, at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. In our opinion the site fully deserves all the recognition it gets. All the facilities are first-rate and the whole place is beautifully kept. The family who run it are constantly improving and developing it. The site is attractively divided into smaller areas. The only downside is that Old Oaks is so popular that you have to be quick off the mark making a booking if you are not to be disappointed.

https://www.theoldoaks.co.uk/

 

Our Pitch

The Ambience

The Fishing Lake