One of my favourite places to visit in Somerset is Glastonbury. A beautiful, historic town full of spiritual energy and mystical fantasy. Set in the Mendip district of Somerset, there is so much to do and see here, from the wonderful shops, to the ancient sites that tell the story of Arthur’s Camelot.
Not far from Glastonbury is the smallest city in the world, Wells. Wells boasts an incredible Cathedral, the oldest inhabited street in Europe and, of course, it is the home of Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions.
My husband and I have just returned from a short break there and I just had to share it with you! Read on to find out about the places we visited, where we stayed and what we thought of it all, and to find your free travel packing checklist at the end of the post!
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The Bishop’s Palace has been the home of the Bishop’s of Bath and Wells for over 800 years. It’s 14 acres of land is now open to visitors and there are beautiful gardens inside. Around the outside of the Palace is a stunning moat, home to swans, ducks and fish.
You can cross the drawbridge to enter the grounds of the Palace for a small cost and see the lovely well pools which feed the moat. There are also play areas for children, a cafe and guided tours to learn more about the history of this wonderful building.
We didn’t actually go into the grounds of the palace, we walked around the moat and watched the birds on the water. Even from the outside, this building is very beautiful. We were intending to come back to visit, but unfortunately ran out of time. Maybe on our next visit!
The first thing you notice about Wells Cathedral is the sheer size. It is an imposing, but stunning building. Stained glass windows dominate the front face, and the typical arched doorways are not out-of-place here.
The Cathedral was built between 1175 and 1490 and is considered to be the most beautiful of all the English Cathedrals. It is also the first English Cathedral to have been built in the Gothic style, and is listed as the number one sight to see on TripAdvisor. Tourists from all over the world come to Somerset specifically to see this building for themselves!
A Unique Building
Wells Cathedral has some impressive and unique features to boast; It contains ‘scissor arches’ also known as strainer arches, which were put in place after a lead topped tower was added to the building and caused cracks to form under its weight. They are, none the less, incredibly beautiful. It also contains one of the largest stained glass collections in the country.
The famous Wells Clock is situated in the Cathedral, thought to be the second oldest clock in Britain with a working mechanism. The octagonal chapter house and one of only four chained libraries in Great Britain are also housed here.
There are guided tours which will take you to the high parts of the Cathedral (unfortunately we missed it), and hidden chambers, and give you all the history of the Cathedral.
The chapter house upstairs is the octagonal room where the prebendaries would meet to discuss Cathedral business. The stone echoes sound back to you and you can almost imagine the booming voices of the men as they talked.
Even though I’m not a religious person, I still found this place to be incredibly spiritual and I was impressed and awed by the skill and craftmanship that goes into building something this immense. If you go to Wells, you must see the Cathedral.
Across the road from the Cathedral, you will find yourself in Vicar’s Close. It was built for the men of the choir around 1360 and is Europe’s oldest inhabited street.
Originally there were 44 houses, but now there are only 27 and all are Grade 1 listed. It was built for the Bishop of Shrewsbury with a chapel and library at the north end and a hall at the south. It is still connected to this day to the Cathedral via a walkway over Chain Gate at its southern-most end.
The street is around 460ft long with cobbled paving that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Most of the buildings are in desperate need of repair and there is restorative work going on. this must be a huge challenge with them being listed, meaning nothing can be altered!
We really enjoyed this street. The sound of music being played can be heard from the houses and it kind of feels like you have stepped back in time. The houses all have huge chimney’s on them which makes them look a little odd, but they are beautiful buildings all the same.
We couldn’t pay a visit to Wells without going to Wookey Hole! The world-famous caves are just amazing. We were taken on a guided tour through the various chambers and regaled with the lore of the people who lived there throughout history. The caves are larger now, as more exploration has been done to reveal even more of the various chambers.
There is a constant temperature of 11° celcius all year round, so personally I recommend a light top during your visit!
The tour begins in the first chamber, known as the Witch’s Kitchen. You are told of the legend of the witch who was turned to stone by a priest and still resides there! You are then led into the Great Hall which is around 80ft long and 75ft high.
Next up is the Witch’s Parlour, which leads to Cathedral Chamber.
Up until 1935, Cathedral Chamber was the furthest you could explore the caves on foot. Between 1948 and 2004 various explorations took place, with new tunnels blasted and divers were able to reach chamber 25.
We visited the magical mirror maze, where all is not as it seems! It was fun trying to figure out which way to go to find our way out! We met King Kong, a 30ft statue of the iconic ape. I loved the mystic fairy garden, a lovely little fairy village where it’s fun to try to spot all the fairies! We visited the penny arcade, which frankly I found a little creepy (but then, I don’t like puppets!), walked with dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Valley, complete with animatronic models, and visited the Hand-Made Papermill where they can still teach you to make paper by hand!
There is truly so much to see here, I don’t think we actually managed to get it all in! And with over 20 attractions included in the one ticket price, I would highly recommend it!
Glastonbury Tor is famous for being one of the most spiritual sites in the country, and the Pagan beliefs that surround it are still celebrated today. It is connected with Arthurian legend as a place that Arthur and his knights visited on several occasions.
The tower that sits at the top of the tor is all that remains of St Michael’s Church and was the site of the hanging of the last Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting.
The tor rises 158ft above the surrounding land and gives spectacular views to anyone who dares to climb to the top via the steep hills and 301 steps!
The history behind the Abbey is extensive and fascinating. The Saxon king, Ine of Wessex, boosted the income of the Abbey in the 7th century and put up a stone church. The base of this now forms the west end of the nave.
The Abbot of Glastonbury made the church larger in the 10th century before he later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In 1066 the Normans invading England caused more problems than the Abbey could afford and the Normans added their own buildings to the Saxon Church. These impressive buildings were added to the east of the church, away from the old cemetery.
The Normans added considerable wealth to the Abbey; in 1086, the Domesday Book was started to record census of life in England. Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country.
The Norman structures were destroyed by fire in 1184. The story goes that the monks, needing to raise extra money to rebuild, dug up King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in 1191, from the south side of the Lady Chapel, and reburied them later in 1278 in the Abbey church in a marble tomb, in the presence of King Edward I.
The monks needed a new place to worship after the fire, and evidence shows that the nave was renovated and repurposed for this, whilst work was ongoing on the church.
In the 14th century the Abbot of Glastonbury was the head of the second wealthiest Abbey in Britain, behind Westminster Abbey, and used his wealth to build the Abbot’s Kitchen – part of the beautiful Abbots house started by John de Breynton.
King Henry VIII
In 1536, which was the 27th year of King Henry VIII, over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries could be found in Britain, but they were all gone by 1541. Over 10,000 monks and nuns were dispersed and the buildings were seized by the crown. Glastonbury Abbey was one such victim of this act, during the religious upheaval known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Well and Gardens are an incredibly peaceful place to visit. The flowers and water features throughout the gardens are beautiful and so relaxing. The water comes from the Chalice Well and is believed to have healing properties. There are various places to sit and just be at peace with nature, listening to the sounds of bird song and softly running water all around you.
This was such a serene experience, both my husband and I left feeling peaceful and calm after our visit. It’s not a huge place, but it is so worth a visit, if just to centre yourself.
Glastonbury itself sits on a ley line known as the Michael Line which lends the town some of its mysterious energy. There are over 90 faiths, cults and traditions in Glastonbury, but everyone gets on! The energy you feel whilst in Glastonbury is uplifting, calming and joyous, but I often find when leaving, I feel quite drained.
The shops in the town are numerous and varied. We visited one of my favourites, Elestial, where I buy most of my crystals. I couldn’t pay a visit to Glastonbury without buying one, so I bought a black obsidian for protection against negative energy, a cage to hold it and a new lace to wear it.
My husband also caught the bug and bought a carnelian, with cage and lace. It’s his first one so he was a little weirded out by the fact that it felt warm to him! I’m a lot more spiritually open than he is, so it’s always nice when he experiences something that proves I’m not crazy!
We ate at several places while we were on our little holiday. From pasty shops to supermarket fare and restaurants, but two places really stood out for us.
This lovely little restaurant does a wide range of vegan fare. We opted for a burger called The Pendragon; a sourdough bun filled with a mushroom patty and salad. The restaurant itself has a lovely atmosphere and the staff are very friendly. The prices however, were a little bit on the steep side, costing nearly £45 for two meals and two smoothies!
For us, this was the standalone best place that we ate during our stay. We started with vegan dough balls with balsamic vinegar, which were light and fluffy and still hot. For our main course, we chose pizza. Stonebaked and topped with vegan mozzarella (yum!) You can choose from three toppings for your pizza too! We followed this with the vegan blood orange and chocolate tart with raspberry sorbet.
The food was incredible, I think it actually made us judge everywhere else we ate at! The staff were amazing. There were only three servers, it was blisteringly hot and they were busy. But even when a party of children entered and it got really busy, not one customer was left unattended. Our server seemed to take everything in her stride, smiling, laughing and chatting with all her customers.
That great service, along with the amazing food, made all the difference to our visit. We were so impressed, in fact, that we gave a 15% tip even though our food came to £40.
If you find yourself in Wells needing a bite to eat, I would highly recommend this place!
We stayed in the Wookey Hole Hotel in Wells. The Wookey Hole Caves and Attractions are adjacent to the Hotel which was perfect! Originally we wanted to stay in Glastonbury, but it was cheaper to stay in Wells. From there, it was easy enough to travel to Glastonbury. We spent three nights at this hotel, and it was lovely.
The room was a great size, with beautiful views from our first floor window. The only down side was the heat. We had a bit of a heat wave while we were there and even having the doors open didn’t help! It would have been an ideal option if we could have had a fan provided for a small extra charge!
The breakfast was delicious, and very reasonably priced. However there weren’t many vegan options for evening meals which is why we ate out most nights.
I would recommend this hotel to anyone, it was a great price and the staff were very helpful. But if you’re staying when it’s really warm it might be worth taking a fan with you!
Stunning Places To Visit In Somerset
Wells and Glastonbury are great places to visit. We will definitely return one day to do everything we didn’t get to do this time around! Somerset itself is a beautiful county with stunning landscapes and so much history there is something for everyone.
All images in this post has been provided by my husband! Simon has discovered a love of photography and I adore his work. We are considering starting a blog for him to show case his images. What do you think?
Do you have any favourite places to visit in Somerset? I’d love to know your top destinations!
Booking.com – we always use Booking.com for holidays, they have the largest selection of holiday hotels I have ever seen and often the cheapest prices too!