In Search of Sacred England – Part 3

IMG_6225Our day started in Glastonbury, waking up in the yurt, crawling out of bed and doing the washing up in a tin bowl with water from a plastic container. It was glorified camping; glorified, but still camping. We didn’t stay for breakfast but instead headed for Wells.

Wells is one of those funny little towns (presumably strictly a city by virtue of its having a cathedral), stranded in time like an oxbow lake orphaned when the river of which it was once part meandered elsewhere. Wells must once have been important. Now it’s like a number of West-country towns for which I have warm feelings, a backwater, an enclave of the traditional where the worse excesses of modernity – endless retails chains and cookie cutter high streets – have drifted by.

IMG_6252Wells cathedral is beautiful. The statues in the niches suggest that, perhaps, the puritans held less sway here. We are appalled by the violence and brutality of militants and fanatics borrowing Islam as a cloak of convenience, not least when they destroy some priceless piece of human heritage, but forget that our own religious fanatics did much the same three or four hundred years ago.

I should have paid for parking. Instead I parked on a space that gave us no time to enjoy what Wells had to offer. So before we could properly take in the place’s considerable beauty we were on the road again, to Bath.

IMG_4757I have a soft spot for Bath. Many years ago my girlfriend of the time got a job in Bath and house sat for her boss while he was away for six months. And so I divided my time between Oxford and his place in St Catherine’s valley north of Batheaston. It was idyllic. It was a time when property was cheap and we indulged in the fantasy and went house hunting. I shudder at the memory. If only we’d known what was about to happen to the housing market. But we didn’t, leaving us to be wise after the event. However I did get to see the inside of a lot of beautiful houses.

I don’t get back very often but being able to do so was a treat. Bath is blessed with lots of great independent shops. I’m not the greatest fan of shopping but places flogging books or cheese I can wholeheartedly support. This trip took in two great bookshops; Much Ado Books in Alfriston and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading delights in Bath. From a third, Barnett’s in Wadhurst I bought my companion a fabulous book about Eric Ravilious which served as the perfect momentum of the trip as the Long Man, the Cerne Giant, other white horses we saw and the Sussex Downs all feature heavily.

IMG_4679But the highlight of Bath was probably the tea rooms. I stopped to ask a couple of parking inspectors for recommendations because they do say ‘ask a policeman’ and they were the closest uniformed types to hand. One positively sneered (personally I thought I was being nice by asking them as plenty of people treat parking inspectors as pariahs) but the other pointed us to the lovely Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms in Saville Row. The theme was 1940s, the staff wore headscarves a la Norah Batty and managed to make them look dead glam. I had the milk tart, as you do.

And that was Bath – lovely architecture, pretty views, enticing shops and a nice tart.

We made our way back to the airbnb place we’d booked off Lansdowne Road – a cosy garden room – and sat outside and feasted on cheese and wine and contemplated how much happiness is to be had from the simple things in life.

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