Thursday, 18 February 2010


The Wells and the Cathedral

We have made a lot of trips on family business to Somerset in the last year or two and done some wonderful walks on the Somerset Levels and on the Mendips: for example Priddy, Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury, Shipham and Dolbury Hill, Allerton Moor, Axbridge, Crook Peak.

Today was probably the last such trip and I wanted to have a proper look at Wells, somewhere I had visited but only fleetingly. I downloaded the excellent City trail from the Wells tourism website - you can also get a printed copy from the tourist office. The trail is excellent - but beware the downloaded version which prints out at a size you need a magnifying glass to read.

You start the walk in the Market Square and with your back to the Town Hall of 1779, you turn right through the handsome 15th century gateway known as the Bishop's Eye, in search of the Bishop's Palace.

If you don't know Wells, the view on the other side is a real surprise: you come on high walls and a moat, behind which the palace is concealed. They were built in the 14th century. The gatehouse, of the same period, is on the left in the photograph.

The Palace is normally closed at this time of year, but was open today in honour of half-term. The central section of the palace dates from 1230, but the upper storey is the result of a 19th century restoration by the architect Benjamin Ferrey. The interior has a nondescript Victorian quality.

The chapel, to the right, dates from 1274-94 and is, to quote Pevsner, "a building of great beauty, especially internally". He says this apparently without irony. The chapel is indeed harmonious and striking inside, but from the outside seems entirely disproportionate to the palace. However, to the right of the chapel is the ruins of the great hall, with which it is more in scale.

I went through the grounds, rounds the ramparts and located the wells which gave the town its name. There are four of them and now come up in a sort of pond. The photo at the top of this post shows the view across the wells towards the cathedral.

The trail goes round the outside of the walls and the moat to a point where you can glimpse the wells and then the route returns to the market square. This time you take the other gateway, Penniless Porch, into the cathedral close.

The magnificent 13th century facade is to your right. Medieval church building started at the east end with the chancel, so the west front would normally be the last to be built. The main facade dates from the 13th century, while the towers were added in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. (The earlier parts of the cathedral date from about 1180-1240.) Pevsner is surprisingly critical of the west front , finding it harsh and angular.

Inside there is a wealth of treasures, but I was especially keen to see the great scissor arch at the end of the nave, which I have repeatedly seen in photos of the cathedral - and on the cover of my edition of the North Somerset and Bristol Pevsner. It is a magnificent sight. There are in fact two further sets of arches at right angles to the one at the end of the nave - that is, around three sides of the crossing tower. They were inserted a hundred years after the cathedral was begun to support the tower when the foundations began to sink. Although six hundred years old they have a striking modernity.

You emerge from the cathedral to walk across the close and walk along the road on the north side. Soon you come to Vicars' Close, built in 1363 for the Vicars Choral. Apparently they had previously lived in lodgings in the town and were sometimes unruly. The picture is slightly lop-sided because it was now raining heavily and I had to take it from the shelter of the gatehouse.

The remainder of the walk was rather foreshortened because I had run out of time - it was also very wet. I walked up East Liberty and turned left into North Liberty, passing various parts of the Cathedral School. I then went down Sadler St and along Chamberlain St back to where I had parked.

The main losses were that I was unable to see St Cuthbert's church with its painted roof and three sets of almshouses.

Rating: four stars. Some wonderful sights. It deserved much more time than I was able to devote to it, but it was still a memorable experience.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Bristol Cathedral

Continuing our series of walks with our friends in Bristol (last time we did a city walk in Bath), we did part of the Bristol Heritage Walk. Constrained by the limited options for parking, we started at the Abbey gateway.

The central archway is Norman, while the upper section dates from the 16th century.

We then had a short tour of the cathedral, although unfortunately the fine Norman Chapter House was closed (the cathedral was originally the abbey church). The cathedral we see today was built is a series of discontinuous phases: the east end of the cathedral up to the south transept was completed by the middle of the 14th century, the transepts and crossing tower were completed between 1470 and 1515, while the west towers and nave are Victorian (by GE Street). The view from College Green shows that Street made a pretty good job of harmonising his additions with the much earlier work.

On the far side of College Green is Langford's Electric Clock. It is thought to be the first public clock in Bristol to show GMT rather than the local time. The widespread adoption of GMT was driven by the need for coordination between the newly formed railways and dates from the 1840s. Previously local solar time was used - so presumably the differences between places were quite small.

A few feet further on is St Mark's, The Lord Mayor's Chapel. Pevsner explains that it was founded in 1220 as the chapel of the Hospital of St Mark and was bought by the Corporation in 1541 and became its official place of worship in 1721. It has been much altered over the years since its foundation. We admired the 16th century Spanish tiles in the chapel.

And a little further on we were delighted by something more modern: this signed Banksy wall painting. The blue splodges are not original.

The official heritage trail goes north along Park Street from College Green, but we headed south, which provided a nice view back to the Council House (started 1938), which makes up the third side of College Green.

We walked down to Broad Quay and along past the Watershed Media Centre and the Fire House and through a plaza where the Winter Olympics were showing on a large screen.

We then crossed Pero's Bridge, built in acknowledgment of the slave trade. I learned from Wikipedia that the bridge is named after "Pero" who lived from around 1753 to 1798, arriving in Bristol probably from the Caribbean island of Nevis in 1783, as the slave of the merchant John Pinney. We then walked up to the splendid Queen Square, laid out in 1699. It is apparently the second largest square in the country (after Lincoln's Inn).

Much of the square was burned during the reform riots of 1831 and subsequently rebuilt. These are some of the least altered houses.

Then along Queen Charlotte Street to find the wonderful Granary in the so-called Bristol Byzantine style.

By now we were cold and in need of wine and a gourmet lunch and so we headed back to the car to be taken away to enjoy them. We were not disappointed!

Conditions: Bright but very cold.

Distance: only about 1.5 miles.

Rating: Four stars. Full of interest. We look forward to doing the rest of the trail in the future.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Barley Mow bridge

Continuing our exploration of Hampshire, today's walk starts by the Barley Mow pub in Winchfield, just by the Basingstoke Canal. The latter part of the walk involved walking in the reverse direction along a stretch of the canal we walked from Hazeley Heath to Odiham on the Three Castles Path last year.

You initially walk along the canal bank in the direction of Fleet. The characteristic sinuous curves of this wide, shallow canal are immediately apparent. The rhododendrons on the other bank were reflected prettily in the still water.

According to the official website, the canal was built between 1788 and 1794 to link Basingstoke to the Thames via the Wey Navigation. It is 32 miles long with 29 locks and has now been fully restored. This seems pretty quick work, but is probably typical of the great age of canal building. What is not obvious is what was going to travel from or to Basingstoke. Agricultural produce is the answer. By the 1840s of course it was already under threat from the coming of the railway age.

After 1.25 miles you leave the canal and enter Dogmersfield Park, a former country house built in 1728, now a hotel. To the left is the attractive tower of Dogmersfield church.

Soon you reach Tundry Lake. At the far end are a pair of very harmonious triple arched bridges which cut off one end of the lake and join a small island to the park.

You walk through pleasant parkland for a while and then rejoin the canal and again walk in the direction of Fleet to regain Barley Mow bridge. Two more attractive bridges can be seen in a line in a rare straight section of the canal.

From: Pocket Pub Walks: Hampshire by Nigel Vile (Countryside Books)

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch).

Conditions: cold, dry, cloudy.

Distance: said to be 6 miles, but actually only about 3. We felt a bit cheated!

Rating: Three and a half stars. Interesting and varied. It is a lovely canal.

Friday, 5 February 2010


North east from the view point

We met up with friends for another of our series of walks in Surrey. This one starts in the pretty village of Thursley. We were struck by how peaceful it was, although located only a couple of minutes away from the busy A3. We parked at the pub and initially walked through the village heading west down a winding hill - with frequent evasive action action being necessary to avoid a series of vehicles hurrying up or down it. We then headed into an area of woodland and emerged at a view point (136m) overlooking a large bowl criss-crossed by tracks and used by the Army for tank manoeuvres and the like.

We followed a curving track on the west rim of the bowl.

And soon the countryside dropped away to the left with nice views over open heathland.

At the end of this rim we entered a wooded ride.

We followed this for a while, curving east, to reach a point marked on the map as Lion's Mouth, where several tracks met. The name is perhaps a touch over-dramatic. We continued the curving route, soon into woodland and then along a road. The final leg was through woodland called Houndown.

We finished with a very good lunch at the Three Horshoes pub, which we learned had been closed for some years before being bought by a syndicate of 20 villagers and reopened.

Maps: Explorer 133 (Haslemere and Petersfield) and 145 (Guildford and Farnham).

Conditions: cold, clear and mainly cloudy. Mainly sandy soil, so not too wet for once.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Rating: Three stars. Nice views initially and very pleasant countryside to walk through.


We were having such a great time chatting with our friends about a vast variety of topics, some serious, some very light - and interspersed with banter about the risks of tanks and soldiers appearing at any moment - that we did not pay the usual amount of attention to the environment. We didn't hardly notice the countryside we were walking through and certainly didn't spot any birds, interesting trees, fungi or anything at all. Not a model for all walks, but really good fun, which is certainly one of the things walking should be.