City of Wells

Discover Wells, England’s smallest City and historic gem

City of Wells

Wells, named after the well of St Andrew’s, a sacred spring that bubbles up near the Bishops Palace. The residence of the bishop of Bath and Wells. Britain is famed for its Cathedrals; they are some of the most impressive in Europe. Wells Cathedral is a much lesser-known marvel and should be visited when travelling to the southwest of England.

See the Vicars Close, constructed in the 14th Century is one of the oldest and best-preserved streets in Europe. Enjoy the stunning Bishops Palace gardens with 14 acres of tranquil planting surrounded by medieval ramparts and moat. 

We have created a day tour from London that includes Cheddar Gorge and Glastonbury. It is a long trip, and we would recommend staying in Bath or using Wells as a stop-off en-route to Devon and Cornwall.

England's smallest city

A brief history of Wells

A city sprung from a spring
Like most old English cities the history of Wells revolves around the Cathedral and its asset, the spring. There was a shrine at the spring long before Christianity. Archaeological evidence suggests late Roman and foundations from the early Saxon times. The baptismal font from the Saxon period survives and is in use today, which is truly remarkable. 

The Cathedral
In 1180, building began on the present Cathedral, and within 60 years the bulk of the building had been complete. By 1345, stonemasons finished the central tower, cloisters and famous west front. 

The master mason in charge of the building was Adam Lock, see his carved stone face in his Cathedral, your driver-guide will show you. Under his leadership, the stone masonry is exquisite, inspiring later masons to complete the work to the same standard. 

Architectural perfection
The scissor arches at the crossing are a notable and a special feature of Wells. The central tower, once completed, weighed more than expected and caused the foundations to sink. The elaborate scissor shaped arches built-in 1338 transferred weigh from one side to the other, and this part of the building has been stable ever since. 

Masons carved figures on the capitals in the south transept; they tell moral tales and act as a warning. One character is an older man and a boy stealing fruit, with each capital telling the next episode of the story, much like a medieval box-set in stone. At Wells, there is one intricate stone design after another, such as the staircase leading to the chapter house. The chapter house is one of the most beautiful in England, with ribs like palm leaves radiating from each column.  

The west front
The west front of Wells takes your breath away in the afternoon sun. It is like a giant wedding cake of sorts. With layer upon layer of historical and biblical characters all positioned according to rank - Christ in majesty at the top and sections for Kings, Saints, Martyrs and Bishops. It is the finest west front of any Cathedral in England. 

Civil war
During the English civil war (1642-1651), the little city of Wells came under siege. Over 2,000 Parliamentarian troops surrounded the perimeter. The outnumbered Royalist evacuated the town, and the roundheads used the Cathedral as a stable. Unfortunately, they used the interior sculpture as target practice too.

William Penn
The advocate of religious freedom and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644-1718) was arrested by in the town square for 'addressing a crowd.' The incident was brief, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells negotiated his release. He stayed at The Crown Inn and shortly afterwards departed for America. Today Wells is a quiet and tranquil place and visit here is always calming. The day of sieges and rowdy gatherings in the town square is over. 

The Bishops Palace
People on day trips often miss the Bishops Palace, which is a real shame. There are 14 acres of gardens surrounded by ancient walls and a moat. They are delightful, and you can get some excellent photographs of the Cathedral reflected in the still pools. The gardens are of great importance due to their 13th-century origins and therefore have Grade II protective status. There is a fun area for children, a place for them to use their imaginations encouraged by the dragon theme.

Garden zones
The grounds have a quiet zone for contemplation, and the 'Wells garden' is another peaceful space with flower borders and the springs themselves, which give the city its name. Visitors can go inside the palace and see the bishop's private chapel. If you are lucky, you may see the mute swans pull the cord that rings the bell to indicate they are ready for feeding. Please try and catch the moment on camera.

Touring and accommodation
En-route to Wells, there is an opportunity to stop at Cheddar Gorge, once described as a 'deep frightful chasm.' By novelist Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. The gorge is a spectacular ravine cut through the Mendip Hills by rapid flowing streams during the interglacial period of the last ice age. It was the caves at Cheddar that provided the ideal level of humidity to store cheese to produce its tangy flavour. 

Glastonbury Town, Abbey and Tor is nearby, famed for its mythical connections to King Arthur, the Holy Grail and Celtic legends. Climb the tor (hill) a strange geological feature and be rewarded by the breath-taking view across the Somerset levels. We do have a suggested day tour from London to Wells, that also includes Glastonbury, please take a look. 

You can tour Wells in a day from the City of Bath. Our suggested Glastonbury and Wells day tour from London works with staying overnight and departing and returning to Bath; We recommend staying at either The Royal Crescent or The Bath Priory Hotel. Other day tours from Bath include Salisbury CathedralStonehenge and the stunning landscaped gardens at Stourhead

If you have more time, it makes sense to stay in the region. Stay overnight at the Royal Crescent Hotel, and we can have one of our driver-guides take care of you for a few days while you tour the area. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; CottagesManor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.

If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. 

The City of Three Springs

Enjoy England's Smallest City, with a Beautiful Cathedral

  • Enjoy 14 Acres of RHS Partner Gardens
  • Visit the Bishop's Palace
  • Tour the Cathedral
  • Stop at Cheddar Gorge en-route
  • See the Chained Library

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We will then prepare a draft itinerary and send it to you by email for your approval. Once agreed, we will send you a Booking Confirmation with Personalised Itinerary and Information Pack via email.

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