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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wandering In Wells and Gallivanting Across Glastonbury

Unfortunately, the Internet connection here at the hostel has been spotty, so I haven't been able to post anything before it shuts down on me, which is why there's now four new posts up. It's a significant amount to read, so sorry about that.

Anyway, today was my last full day in Bath, so I had to pack in everything that I wanted to see in this area into this last day. Whew.

I started out in the Bath Markets for a very specific reason: there was a stall full of discount paperbacks that I had heard from a very reliable source (i.e. Shannon) had books I was looking for. Sure enough, I found literally stacks of books by Jeremy Clarkson and even a couple by James May; I couldn't find Richard Hammond's autobiographies, which was somewhat sad. One of these days, I'll write a little more about my interesting relationship to Jeremy Clarkson, but for now, just suffice to say that I bought three of his books, sacrificing a dinner's worth of money, and have been reading Clarkson instead of Dickens all day.

I moved on with my treasures to the imposing and gorgeous Bath Abbey, which I posted a picture of in my previous post on Bath, to take the guided tour. The tour was just delightful: we climbed up the levels of the bell tower, saw beautiful views of the city from the tower in every direction, and looked at how the inner mechanics of the abbey's architecture and machinery work. I would've liked to have stayed longer in the abbey, but I was off again, this time to the Fashion Museum.

If you just said, "Fashion Museum? Jennifer? ...What?" then you know me better than Rick Steves does. He told me to get a combo ticket with the baths, so I did, but the Fashion Museum was rubbish and pathetically short. 'Nuff said.

From the museum, I walked across town and hopped on a bus to Wells. After careening around Bath all morning, the bus ride to Wells was very pleasant. I read my new book for the first half of the ride, then looked up at the rolling, sun-drenched hills and realized that not only should I enjoy the views, but I had no idea where I was. The bus trundled along between golden-green fields, cut into patches by ruler-straight hedges, on roads lined by chest-high stone walls and hardly wide enough for two cars to pass each other, even if you asked really, really nicely. The gentle hills were dotted with small houses, and every now and then we'd pull into an utterly adorable little town with some quaint English name, and I would barely have time to wonder where we were before we were off again through the countryside. I realized that if I had accidentally gotten on the wrong bus, or if I neglected to get off when necessary, I would never know until they finally threw me off at the end of the line in Bristol or Cornwall or York or wherever. Given the beauty of the view and the tranquility of a warm summer's day in south England, I couldn't really find any real problem with this, but it turned out to not be a problem, because the bus deposited me right in the middle of the market in the twee little town of Wells.

If you've never heard of Wells, that's fine, because I hadn't either until RFS told me about it. Apparently, its only draws are its markets, its general English-y cuteness, and, like a Lamborghini in a country shed, its gigantic and utterly gorgeous Gothic cathedral. The mighty structure towers over the town, its spiky towers looming across the rooftops, and looks, to me, altogether out of place. It is still breathtakingly beautiful and grand, and was the main reason for my visit.

I was facing a time dilemma at the moment, and in order to resolve the issue of having mismatching schedules and too much to do in too little time, I said "Screw it," bought a bag of strawberries from a nice lady in the market, and had a picnic on the lawn to admire the cathedral. That done, I ventured inside, which was similarly magnificent. I didn't, however, take any pictures, since I was unwilling to sacrifice £3 for copyright fees, and just chatted with one of the welcomers and bought a postcard instead.

The problem that I mentioned above was that I was planning on seeing both Wells and nearby Glastonbury that day, and I had to be back in Wells for Evensong in the cathedral and then catch the last bus back to Bath. By the time I arrived in Glastonbury, I had only an hour and a half or so to get the bus back to Wells for Evensong, so I cut the number of my sightseeing goals in Glastonbury by half and contented myself with the abbey.

Now, Glastonbury's a little bit different. It's also cute (I don't think there's much here that isn't), but to start, it's been overtaken by hippies and New Age types. Why? Because Glastonbury is the source of the King Arthur legends, and all of the Celtic mythology surrounding him. Chalice Well, which supposedly holds the Holy Grail and produces waters with healing properties, is nearby, and the abbey I came to visit has the tomb of King Arthur--or used to. Supposedly.

In the center of a town filled with Tarot readers and Egyptian goddess worshippers stands the grand old ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in their own beautifully quiet park. Only bits of the abbey and the surrounding buildings remain, and in some cases are just outlines in the grass; they are now carpeted by daisies and roofed by clouds. It was quite a jump from the cool and polished grandeur of Wells' cathedral to the warm, golden smell of summer and the rough remains of the ruined abbey. It was a sad but peaceful place, and I would've liked to have had much more time to explore and think about history and the passage of time, but I didn't actually have much time to spare.

Just outside the town of Glastonbury rises a huge hill (500-some-odd feet) with a tower, creatively called the Tor, at the top, with lovely views of the countryside. This had been my other goal in Glastonbury, but by then it was clear that I'd have to choose between climbing the Tor and hearing Evensong in Wells. I chose Evensong, so instead of taking the shuttle to the hill and climbing to the top, I just took a picture of it and returned on the bus to Wells.

Even though I returned in time for the service, I could only stay for about 20 minutes before I had to hurry back to the bus station to catch the last service of the day back to Bath. I didn't get to hear much of the service, but I strongly believe that, as beautiful as churches are during visiting hours, they are meant to be experienced in a service. The vaulted chamber reverberated with the hum of the choir's voices, which followed me out into the afternoon sunshine as I regretfully headed back across town to the bus station. I'd been fortunate enough to hear the organ being played when I had come earlier, but there is nothing like the harmony of a choir's voices in a church.

The ride home was uneventful, and I decided to celebrate my last evening in Bath by allowing myself to spend a little more on my dinner. I have been averaging £50 a day for everything except lodging--so food, transportation, souvenirs, admission prices, et cetera. I still had £15 left over from my original £250 at the beginning of my travels, so I decided to finish off a day of adorable Englishness with a very traditional (er, not at all, actually) meal of yakisoba and plum wine at a hip noodle bar. Tomorrow I depart in the morning for a week in London--a big change from the peace and relative quiet of the countryside. I am looking forward to London, though; I think I'm ready to move on.

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