It's surprisingly easy to get to from Exeter, even on a Sunday: about an hour's train journey to Bristol Temple Meads, then a bus from the end of the station approach road. This is also takes a bit under an hour, and after climbing up through the slightly seedy south side of Bristol, the route crosses farmland on the undulating limestone plateau of the Mendips.
Wells is very worth seeing, the cathedral complex in particular; this includes the cathedral itself, its close, and the associated Bishop's Palace. It brings home the sheer wealth that the area commanded in mediaeval times. It's also generally a well-equipped town centre, and a bonus was finding a food festival on the Market Square at the head of the town: Thai curry never disappoints.
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|Wells, Market Square|
|Wells, Market Square|
|Gateway toward Bishop's Palace|
|Cathedral - west face|
I had a look inside - they don't officially charge, and the requested donation is reasonable - but unfortunately it was in the middle of Evensong, and there was only access to the nave. So I didn't see the famous astronomical clock or the prettier architecture such as the Chapter House and Lady Chapel, which was described in Alec Clifton-Taylor's 1967 The Cathedrals of England as "one of the most subtle and entrancing architectural prospects in Europe". I did, however, get to see the 'giant angry owl' arches at the base of the central tower.
While undoubtedly striking, and unique to British cathedrals, they're not just some inspired architectural conceit. As with many cathedrals (I've already mentioned the scary internal bracing of Salisbury Cathedral) they exist to remedy a structural problem. The owls are actually 'strainer arches' (aka scissor arches) inserted as an elegant load-bearing solution after the central piers of the crossing began sagging in the 14th century.
|Cathedral from the Bishop's Palace - that central tower is what the 'owls' help support|
|Picture in Crown Hotel, Market Square, Wells|
Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and director Edgar Wright
|Entrance to the moated Bishop's Palace|
Although the allusions in Hot Fuzz are largely to action cop movies - the joke being to bring the genre to a small rural town - but there are also definite Wells motifs. One of the favourite fixtures of Wells is the Bishop's Swans in the moat, which in a reversal of Pavlovian conditioning are trained to ring a bell when they want feeding. A rogue swan is a recurring motif in Hot Fuzz. And the director Edgar Wright being brought up in Wells, you do wonder if the film is also saying something about Wells and towns like it. Once you get past the police action movie jokes, Hot Fuzz - with its Neighbourhood Watch Alliance that will kill to maintain Sandford's niceness - is also a savage satire on the domination of community agendas by middle-aged middle-class elites, in any number of small English rural towns.
|A giant false swan in the Bishop's Palace moat|