Wells, twenty miles south of Bristol across the Somerset border and the same distance southwest from Bath, is a miniature cathedral city that has not significantly altered in eight hundred years.

Wells Cathedral

Hidden from sight until you pass into its spacious close from the central Market Place, Wells Cathedral presents a majestic spectacle, the broad lawn of the former graveyard providing a perfect foreground. The west front teems with some three hundred thirteenth-century figures of saints and kings, once brightly painted and gilded, though their present honey tint has a subtle splendour of its own. The facade was constructed about fifty years after work on the main building was begun in 1180.

The interior is a supreme example of early English Gothic, the long nave punctuated by a dramatic “scissor arch”, one of three that were constructed in 1338 to take the extra weight of the newly built tower. Beyond the arch, there are some gnarled old tombs to be seen in the aisles of the Quire, at the end of which is the richly coloured stained glass of the fourteenth-century Lady Chapel.

The capitals and corbels of the transepts hold some amusing narrative carvings – look out for the men with toothache and an old man caught pilfering an orchard – and, in the north transept, there’s a 24-hour astronomical clock dating from 1390. From his seat high up on the right of the clock, a figure known as Jack Blandiver kicks a couple of bells every quarter-hour, heralding the appearance of a pair of jousting knights charging at each other, and on the hour he strikes the bell in front of him.

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written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 12.05.2021

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