Elizabeth II has been Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand since 6 February 1952.
In the southwest of England, in the midst of the rolling Mendip Hills in Somerset, sits the tiny medieval city of Wells. Named after the natural springs that bubble up behind its magnificent cathedral, Wells is one of my favorite places in all of England. On my first visit there, my mother and I stayed at The Swan, a hotel directly across from the cathedral. The Swan dates back to 1422, but offers modern amenities, including an elevator (or as the English call it, a lift). After our first night, we walked across the street to have breakfast, and were asked by our waitress if we had remembered to move our car. Confused, we answered that it was in the car park at the Swan. She replied that if we planned to leave the city that day, we needed to do so soon, because the roads were about to be blocked off for the Queen’s visit. The Queen! A couple of hours later, my mother and I stood on the tiny sidewalk outside of our hotel, and waved with the crowd as the Queen rode by, wearing a light green suit and hat. It was fascinating to listen to the locals gossip around us as she passed, offering up amusing (to us, anyway!) comments about the royal family.
Wells is a traditional market town, with a central square where markets are held twice weekly. Right on the square, visitors can stop for lunch at The Crown at Wells, where William Penn was arrested for preaching without a license in 1682. Near The Crown is the entrance to the Bishop’s Palace, the home of the Bishop of Bath and Wells for over 800 years. The palace is surrounded by 14 acres of beautiful gardens and a moat, populated by resident swans who are trained to ring a bell to be fed. The palace itself hosts guided tours, and rotating historical and artistic exhibitions. Reflected in the waters near the palace is Wells Cathedral, so let’s visit there next. The entrance is graced by well-worn marble steps, which lead to unique inverted arches (known as “scissor arches”) which support the central tower. Free tours are offered throughout the day, except on Sundays, as this is an active cathedral. Don’t miss the famous clock, which was made in 1390 and is thought to be one of the oldest clocks in the world still with its original mechanism. At every quarter hour, jousting knights move around above the clock and strike the time. If you can, try to catch Evensong in the cathedral, and listen to one of the most beautiful children’s choirs in the world.
Wells is filled with quirky shops, restaurants and welcoming residents who will make you feel right at home, and give you suggestions of other places to visit. Just a short drive from Wells, you can visit the town of Glastonbury, home to a large annual music festival and the site of the mystical Glastonbury Tor. Visit the nearby caves in Wookey Hole, or drive through the breathtaking Cheddar Gorge, and the (slightly) less touristy caves there. (The caves in Cheddar Gorge were the inspirations for the caves behind Helm’s Deep in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers.) Somerset is famous for its apple trees, and for its hard cider known as “scrumpy”. Why not visit a local cider maker such as Sheppy’s and try some for yourself? Whether exploring Wells proper or venturing into the Somerset countryside surrounding it, you are sure to have an enjoyable visit.