It’s a cold but sunny January day, an early start and I’m heading to the West Country to see friends and family, but planning a day’s detour to visit Wells, Glastonbury and the wildlife reserves of Sedgemoor, in Somerset.
First stop is Wells Cathedral and the adjacent Bishops’ Palace. This site dates back to early Roman-Christians and the beautiful Cathedral we see today is over 800 years old. This huge building has so much to see, my highlights being the amazingly modern looking 1300’s scissor arches, the Chapter House with its wide spiral staircase worn down by the monks’ feet over the centuries and its ancient mechanical clock, still working after over 600 years!
Another ‘must see’ is Vicars Close, a purpose-built 650 year-old medieval terraced street of small houses for the clergy, still used by The Cathedral today, making it the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in Europe.
Next to the Cathedral is the Bishops’ Palace, built in 1220 and surrounded by its moat of pristine clear water. A pair of kingfishers are patrolling the moat, their flashes of metallic blue and orange as they fly low over the water are too quick for me to photograph. Within the walls of the Palace, its perfectly kept gardens are where the water springs up naturally from the earth creating the deep wells. These are the pools that give the City its name, as they were diverted into the ancient market square to provide water for the town which had evolved around the Cathedral.
Off to Glastonbury, only a 15 minute drive away. No time today to climb to St. Michael’s Tower on top of the famous Glastonbury Tor, with its fantastic views but gruesome history. Instead, to what is probably the most ‘perfect ruin’ in England – Glastonbury Abbey. Once one of the most influential and wealthy Churches in England and where we can see the graves, legend says, of King Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere. For 1000 years this monastery grew in size and riches until finally being stripped of its power and treasure, dismantled and dissolved under Henry 8th‘s instruction. However, the extent of the ruins allow one to picture and be awed by its sheer size and grandeur.
I’m keeping an eye on the time because my final stop is to see a ‘murmuration of starlings’, as the sun sets over the Somerset Levels. This won’t wait for me to arrive! Being a bit of a ‘twitcher’, this is a real treat and after a short drive it’s about a mile’s walk alongside the canal to reach the best viewing position on Shapwick Heath nature reserve. In mid-Winter, huge flocks of starlings gather over the marshes, creating stunning shifting patterns in the sky until finally descending together as one, to roost in the reed beds for the night. Sure enough, the information received about the location of their current nightly gathering was correct, and the amazing site of half a million birds in synchronized flight did not disappoint.
What a great way to end a long but rewarding day!
Visit Glastonbury Abbey on our private King Arthur Tour or talk to our planning team about customising your tour to also take in the stunning Wells Cathedral.
Post by Tom, British Tours Tour Guide