Wells and Cheddar

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Somerset or "The West Country" as it's colloquially known, is a county sitting logically in the west part of England, with only Devon and Cornwall extending further into the Atlantic. Somerset is largely agricultural and is well known for its products including cider and cheddar cheese. The largest city is Bath (on which I have written a separate page) but it has many other pleasant towns such as Wells, Cheddar, Glastonbury and Weston-super-Mare.

I took a trip through Somerset in summer 2010 as a day out from London, and was in Bath less than two hours after leaving home. It was a case at looking through the map and the guidebook just to see what I wanted to see, before deciding on visiting Wells, Cheddar and briefly Bristol before heading home again. I had a great day for it and only wish I'd had more time to keep exploring.

Beautiful Wells Market Place

Wells Market Place in the city centre, with the cathedral towers in the background. Wells is technically a city, although not a very large one, and it was the setting for the Simon Pegg film "Hot Fuzz".

The Bishop's Eye is one of the gateways to the cathedral and Bishop's Palace area from Wells High Street, and was built around the mid 15th century.

The Bishop's Eye

The Bishop's Palace

The Bishop's Palace looks very much the archetypal castle, complete with drawbridge and moat. This gatehouse dates from the mid 14th century, and the moat is fed by St Andrew's Well, one of the three wells from which the city gets its name.

Wells Cathedral is a fantastic example of sculpted English cathedral architecture, and was dedicated in the 13th century. I was very lucky to have such a nice day to visit too.

Wells Cathedral

Inside Wells Cathedral

Looking west inside Wells Cathedral in the late afternoon.

The interior grandeur of the cathedral is quite something, and I particularly like the curving stone bracing at the base of this shot, an unusual feature indeed. This "inverted arch" was built in response to subsidence discovered over 600 years ago.

Inside Wells Cathedral

The Crown At Wells

The Crown at Wells, another classic ye olde English pub and inn, on the Market Place.

A little further to the west is the surprisingly sudden geological feature of Cheddar Gorge. Just north of the village of Cheddar, this canyon runs for a couple of miles through the Mendip Hills, and is over 400 feet deep. To a Scot such as me, most of England seems very flat so it's nice to see interesting topography like this now and again.

Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge walls

The walls of Cheddar Gorge to the south are almost sheer cliff faces. See the car at the base of the shot for scale.

The north side of the gorge is mostly steep grass and climbable (but with warning signs advising against it). I found it much harder getting back down again, despite such handy features as this natural stone staircase.

Natural steps in the gorge

Beautiful Cheddar Gorge

South walls of the gorge in the late afternoon sun.

Profile of the jagged edges of Cheddar Gorge. There are frequent accidents with walkers and climbers, fortunately I am not included among them!

Gorge walls in profile

Hillside Cottage

Hillside Cottage tea rooms and garden at the base of the gorge, one of many where the Cheddar Yeo river re-emerges from underground.

Simply Gorgeous tea room at the Cheddar end of the gorge. Very English.

Simply Gorgeous tea room


No visit to Cheddar Gorge would be complete without that most famous of cheeses, the ubiquitous cheddar. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is now the only cheese producer left in cheddar itself, but cheese is produced under the Cheddar name worldwide.

My last stop before heading back to London was in Bristol, so I took the opportunity to visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It spans the chasm of the River Avon, and is a posthumous masterpiece of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the great Victorian civil engineers. The bridge carries two lanes of traffic who pay the princely sum of fifty pence to cross the river 75 metres below.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

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