A Travellerspoint blog

August 2021

Bath, Somerset and the Wye Valley

Route: Gunnerside - Farrington Gurney - Whitebrook (Wales) - Portsmouth

semi-overcast 20 °C

JUNE 2021

Our journey now took us from Northern England down to the South West. We were prepared for a long drive, Google Map indicated around 6 hours. What we hadn’t expected was the volume of traffic and the nine and half hours it eventually took us. On the up side the weather was good all the way and the new accommodation very nice.
We were now staying in village called Farrington Gurney, on the edge of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and only 12 miles from the historic city of Bath. Therefore our exploration would concentrate on these two locations.

Our first day consisted of recovering from the drive, watching a bit of Rugby on the TV and visiting the local Farm Shop. The produce in the Farm Shop were so good there was no need to shop anywhere else.

The following day we felt recovered enough to check out what the Mendip Hills have to offer. With the sun shining and a walk selected we headed off to East Harptree Woods. The woods are managed by the Forestry Commission so the paths were well laid out and easy going, just what we needed. The dense tree cover made quite a change from the more barren landscape that we had been used to over the past month. It was good to stretch our legs and loosen up, ready for a greater challenge the following day.

Smitham Chimney, the last of its kind

Smitham Chimney, the last of its kind

Chimney history

Chimney history

The famous English landmark of Cheddar Gorge (see below) was next on our list to explore and a circular walk around its rim was the plan. The day started with a drive across the Mendip Hills finishing with the spectacular decent through the gorge. Part way down we parked and got out to better appreciate the sheer cliffs that rose either side of the road, as high as 137m in places. Photo’s taken, we continued our drive down the gorge, into the town of Cheddar (where the famous cheese originated, a style of which is now produced all over the world) to the start of our walk.

Cheddar gorge view from the road

Cheddar gorge view from the road

Road through the Cheddar Gorge

Road through the Cheddar Gorge

Our route began with a steep 250m climb through woodland eventually emerging at the rim of the gorge. Even though it was a bit hazy, you could see for miles, all across north Somerset and as far as the Bristol Channel. We now followed a path close to the cliff edge and with views down into the gorge. At the half way point we descended down to the road before climbing up again on the other side. We were now on the opposite side of the gorge with more great views to take in. Every so often we would spot a small herd of goats munching at the foliage. These had been introduced to aid the biodiversity of the area. Our walk ended at a steep set of steps, known as “Jacobs Ladder”, which took us back to where the car was parked and the end of the circular walk.

Start of the Cheddar Gorge walk was quit steep as you can see on the photo

Start of the Cheddar Gorge walk was quit steep as you can see on the photo

Cheddar Gorge views from the other side

Cheddar Gorge views from the other side

We walked both side of the Gorge

We walked both side of the Gorge

Looking down the gorge

Looking down the gorge

Anne was due her second Covid-19 vaccine during our stay, we had arranged for this to be done locally. With that sorted, we switched our attention to a bit of sightseeing. Not far from the vaccine centre was the city of Wells and that’s where we went.
Wells has the distinction of being the smallest city in England. Although not being much more than a village it is designated a city due to its cathedral. The whole city has retained its period buildings making you feel that you have stepped back in time.
The 13th century cathedral dominates the city and that where our self guided tour started. Renovation scaffolding restricted our view and a film crew limited our access, but we were still able to appreciate what a magnificent building it is. Once we had finished admiring it from the outside we ventured inside. What struck you first was the amazing vaulted ceiling followed by an admiration of all the other stone work on display. The interior was an amalgam of almost 800 years of alterations and additions whilst the exterior courtyard had relics dating back to roman times.

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral

Stone work on the outside of the Cathedral

Stone work on the outside of the Cathedral

Wells Cathedral Ceiling

Wells Cathedral Ceiling

A short walk from the cathedral is Vicar’s Close, and our next stop. A magnificently preserved medieval cobbled street, reputedly the oldest purely residential example in Europe. Vicar’s Close dates from the mid 14th century and, interestingly, the street narrows towards the end which makes it look longer from the entrance. Many of the residences were originally built to accommodate the chantry priests and are now Grade 1 listed buildings. Entry to the close is via a stone gateway, big enough for both pedestrian and wagon evidently, and once inside you feel cut of from everything outside. With very few tourist in town on our visit, we had the place almost to ourselves which made it all the more impressive.

Vicar's Close, Wells

Vicar's Close, Wells

Vicar's close

Vicar's close

At the end of Vicar's Close

At the end of Vicar's Close

From Vicar’s Close we skirted the old city, returning to the beautifully intact Market Place. Then past the famous conduit, originally a gift from Bishop Bekynton in 1451, and on to the Bishops Palace.
A stone gateway leads from the Market Place to the grounds of the Bishops Palace. A moat surrounds the palace and provides a pleasant waterside walk when we leave the city. A drawbridge gives access to the palace and a grassy courtyard. This was as far as we went before recrossing the drawbridge and heading back to the car. Around the corner from the drawbridge is a small bell which, historically, the swans of the moat were trained to ring when they required food. Charmingly this tradition continues and two of the resident swans are able to call for food service when ever hungry.

The Bishops Palace in Wells

The Bishops Palace in Wells

The bell that the swan ring to get food

The bell that the swan ring to get food

Bishops Palace resident swan

Bishops Palace resident swan

We thought Wells would be interesting but it exceeded expectations, we were so glad we made the visit.

The following day it was back into the Mendip Hills for another countryside excursion. A bit more energetic than planned but enjoyable all the same.

View from one of our many walks in Somerset

View from one of our many walks in Somerset

Any visit to this part of the world would not be complete without a day in Bath. We booked a couple of activities in advance, then planned our sightseeing around them. As with Wells we decided to do a self guided tour and started with what is probably Bath’s most famous landmark, the Pulteney Bridge (see below) over the River Avon and its crescent weir beneath it.

Pulteney Bridge

Pulteney Bridge

From the bridge we walked east to Bath’s 15th century Cathedral, built on the site of a 7th century abbey. Bath’s Roman Baths are right next to the cathedral but we left these as we were returning later for a detailed visit.

Bath Cathedral

Bath Cathedral

Moving on, passed the historic “Sally Lunn’s Eating House” (see below), down Bath Street, in front of the Theatre Royal then up hill towards the posher part of town. Half way up the hill we passed by the Jane Austin museum with people in period dress outside. Finally arriving at the top of the hill at the “Circus”.

Bath street

Bath street

Originally called the King's Circus, it was finished in 1768. The plaza consists of three large townhouse buildings, all forming a perfect circle at the meeting of Brock, Gay, and Bennett Streets. The name "Circus" comes from Latin and means a ring or circle.

King Circus (from the internet)

King Circus (from the internet)

It was a brief stop to admire the architecture and take a photo, then on to our next stop just a short walk away. We were now in the Royal Crescent. The buildings were originally only known as The Crescent, but "Royal" was added in the 18th century when Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany stayed here. This moon-shaped semicircular row of houses faces a sprawling lawn. The Crescent was built from 1767 to 1774 by John Wood, the Younger, who also completed The Circus. It is 500 feet long and contains 114 ionic columns and many other decorative and distinctive moldings. It is said to be the most stunning views of Georgian architecture that Bath has to offer.

Royal Crescent in Bath

Royal Crescent in Bath

Royal Crescent

Royal Crescent

Our route now took us back to the banks of the River Avon and the most leisurely part of the day. We had booked a river trip on one of the original vessels that plied these waters. Our thirty minute trip took us from Bath’s old industrial area up to Pulteney Bridge and back. We were the only cabin guests onboard so we received a personalised commentary from the guide.

Old Industrial Bath

Old Industrial Bath

View over Pulteney Bridge

View over Pulteney Bridge

Lunch followed the boat trip, then it was our last visit of the day, the Roman Baths (see below). The baths are housed in a victorian building and our visit was dictated by a one way system (to aid social distancing in the current climate). Numerous information boards explained the baths functionality as well as their history. A fascinating look back into times gone by.

Entrance to the Roman Baths but now the entrance to the Pump Room

Entrance to the Roman Baths but now the entrance to the Pump Room

Inside the Roman Baths

Inside the Roman Baths

Hot spring inside the Roman Baths

Hot spring inside the Roman Baths

It was now time for a change of country, as our next location was across the border in Wales. The journey was fairly short so we took the opportunity to visit Goodrich castles en route. The castle dates to the 12th century but was altered and modified during the subsequent 500 years. It was badly damaged in 1646 during an English Civil War battle and has remained a ruin ever since. There were very few other visitor when we were there, which made exploring all the more enjoyable.

Goodrich Castle

Goodrich Castle

Medieval Goodrich castle, a stop en route from Somerset to Wales

Medieval Goodrich castle, a stop en route from Somerset to Wales

one of the finest and best preserved of all English medieval castles: Goodrich Castle

one of the finest and best preserved of all English medieval castles: Goodrich Castle

Following the castle visit we continued into Wales and to our accommodation in the Wye Valley. Home for the next seven nights would be a rustic cottage just on the outskirts of Whitebrook village. The cottage sat on land owned by our friendly hosts, plus Rocket the dog, Brian the cat and Gypsy the pig. The Whitebrook River flowed by the edge of the property which in turn nestled in a wooded valley. With our own garden to enjoy the sunny weather, it was hard to motivate ourselves to explore the surrounding area.

Our Accommodation at Whitebrook

Our Accommodation at Whitebrook

6 month old Pet Pig

6 month old Pet Pig

However, we did manage to move ourselves on most days with walks in the local area. The Wye Valley is designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, which our walks confirmed to be true. The walks normally comprised of river side paths and steep wooded hillsides with beautiful views from every vantage point; all the time being immersed in greenery and serenaded by bird song. There was also history to be learnt as each walk encountered reminders of industries long since gone but not forgotten.

River Wye (one side is England and the other Wales)

River Wye (one side is England and the other Wales)

Devil's Pulpit: Local myth states that the Devil created the Pulpit to preach to the Monks of Tintern, in the hopes that he could tempt them away from their religious ways

Devil's Pulpit: Local myth states that the Devil created the Pulpit to preach to the Monks of Tintern, in the hopes that he could tempt them away from their religious ways

View down to Tinten Abbey from the Devil's Pulpit

View down to Tinten Abbey from the Devil's Pulpit

Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley

Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley

View of the river Wye

View of the river Wye

Bridge between England & Wales over the river Wye

Bridge between England & Wales over the river Wye

Old industrial bridge across the river Wye

Old industrial bridge across the river Wye

Walk in the Wye Valley

Walk in the Wye Valley

Mill Stone

Mill Stone

The seven days flew by and we were now on our way to join friends and sample the delights of the Isle of White.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar, Somerset, England. The gorge is the site of the Cheddar show caves, where Britain's oldest complete human skeleton (“Cheddar Man”), estimated to be 9,000 years old was found in 1903. Above ground the area attracts both walkers and rock climbers.

Cheddar Gorge panoramic view

Cheddar Gorge panoramic view

Pulteney Bridge
Bath is a city of unique landmarks, and none are more recognisable than the Pulteney Bridge. Depending on who you trust, there are only one, two, or three other bridges in the world that are lined with shops. Whatever the exact number is, there certainly aren't many others like it.
The bridge opened in 1774 and was designed by Robert Adam. It was the brainchild of William Johnstone Pulteney, who named it after his wife, Frances. His vision was to create a new town nearby, but he needed a grand bridge to connect it to Bath. Adam's design was drafted in the Palladian style, harking back to the 16th-century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.
The Pulteney Bridge is a World Heritage Site and an English Grade I Listed Building. You will find restaurants of various cuisines, independent shops, and Bath Rugby Club's official store along the bridge.

Pulteney Bridge from the boat

Pulteney Bridge from the boat

Sally Lunn’s Eating House
This is one of the oldest houses in Bath. As the story goes, Sally Lunn was a French immigrant who arrived in Bath in 1680 and established this bakery. The house was built around 1482, but the masonry oven and other elements on the ground floor date from around 1137.

Sally's Lunns House

Sally's Lunns House

The Roman Baths of Bath
The baths at Bath are fed by a natural spring system. Rain falls on the nearby Mendip Hills, and it flows down through limestone aquifers until it is more than 4,000m (13,100 feet) below ground level. Geothermal energy heats and pressurises the water, which rises to the surface and escapes through natural fissures. The 46 degree Celsius (115 degree Fahrenheit) water bubbles up at more than a million litres (250,000 gallons) per day.
This natural spring has attracted visitors to the area for more than 2,000 years. The Celts worshiped here, and the early Romans dedicated the springs to the goddess Sulis. As such, the Roman name of the town was Aquae Sulis. It is also believed that pre-Roman British king Bladud built the original baths here and that their healing powers cured him and his pigs of leprosy.
Between 60 and 70 AD, the Roman temple was built. The Baths, or thermae, were created over the next 300 years or so. After the Romans withdrew from Britain, their complex fell into disrepair and was gone by the 6th century.
Today the spring is housed inside an 18th-century building designed by John Wood, the Elder, and John Wood, the Younger. The buildings were further expanded during the Victorian era in a similar style. The main entrance is currently through the Grand Pump Room, where visitors drank the waters and many social functions were held.

Ground view of the Baths

Ground view of the Baths

Posted by MAd4travel 13:06 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]