Martha Hayes grabs a break in an easygoing cathedral city
Martha Hayes grabs a break in this easygoing cathedral city
Why go: Wells is a quaint little city (it’s officially the smallest in England) with a surprisingly cool edge. It may be seeped in history – alongside its Gothic cathedral, architectural highlights include the moated Bishop’s Palace and 14th century Vicar’s Close (the oldest residential street in Europe) – but it’s also where the cult 2007 Nick Frost/Simon Pegg comedy Hot Fuzz was filmed. The cast even stayed in the warm and friendly Best Western Plus Swan Hotel, as well as hanging out in The Globe Inn (theglobeinnwells.co.uk), so eyes peeled for blue plaques and photographic memorabilia. Whether it’s market trawling, charity shop browsing, afternoon tea or local cider you’re after, this is the place to meander; whatever you’re looking for will soon find you.
Gothic splendour: The Swan Hotel overlooks Wells Cathedral
Best for: As well as catering for Hot Fuzz fans and history buffs, Wells is perfect for a change of pace. If you’re used to living life in the fast lane, a couple of nights at The Swan – right in the heart of Wells – will help you slow things right down. And with everything in such close vicinity, you won’t have to go too far, so it feels effortless. Take your other half, your mum, your book… and feel just as at ease wandering around the Cathedral as you do lying down on the grounds outside. There’s no such thing as a bad view in this picture-perfect city.
The look: A former 15th century coaching inn with log fires and original four-poster beds, The Swan looks grand but feels homely. A bit like being at your nan’s if she’d spent a lottery win on bringing her decrepit old townhouse bang up to date. The 49 bedrooms (including luxury suites and self-contained apartments) vary from boasting antique features (gold, free-standing bath, anyone?) to showcasing stylish contemporary design (the bold but chic wallpaper works wonders). We have a glorious view of the cathedral from our room and love seeing the local cat, Snowball (who doesn’t belong to the hotel but spends a lot of time there) purring away in reception.
Golden moment: the bathroom in the Cathedral suite at The Swan Hotel
I’m hungry: On first impressions the dinner menu (two courses: £19.50, three courses: £27) isn’t the most imaginative (if you were a vegetarian you would likely have ended up with cream of mushroom soup to start, followed by pasta and pesto), but the presentation and quality of the dishes soon win us over. A simple starter of Parma ham, olives and sun-blushed tomatoes looks like something out of a Michelin-starred restaurant and tastes exquisite too. Breakfast is also a winner; the chef’s signature breakfast of Taunton toast (a version of Welsh rarebit) and smoked streaky bacon was delish. Wells is also packed full of local bistros, pubs that serve food all day and a couple of curry houses, so you’ll never go hungry.
While you’re there: Wells isn’t called a ‘market’ town for nothing. As well as the aforementioned historic hot spots, there’s a thriving bi-weekly market (Wednesday and Saturday) in the centre where you can pick up everything from fresh-roasted coffee and homemade chutneys to local arts and crafts. We are lucky to wander into an antique fair, where haggling is very much encouraged and new (well, old) jewellery very much purchased. But don’t forget Wells is only a 13-minute drive from the hippie village of Glastonbury (worth visiting out of festival season), and attractions like the National Trust’s Stourhead (nationaltrust.org.uk/stourhead) and the new Hauser & Wirth Somerset (hauserwirthsomerset.com) contemporary gallery are also within reach.
Shop and drop: the market place in Wells
Dress code: Relaxed, so embrace doing ‘dressed down.’ That said, no one will judge you for popping on a dress for dinner. Especially if there’s a wedding on and others are in their finery. We almost consider gate crashing…
Book now: Best Western Plus Swan Hotel, Sadler Street, Wells, Somerset BA5 2RX. Double rooms from £147 for two with breakfast; the Cathedral suite starts from £300 including breakfast. Wifi is included in all the rooms. The hotel is a 25 minute cab ride (£30) from Castle Cary rail station. Book through bestwestern.co.uk or call 0843 634 1427.
Info: Bath, Bristol and Somerset (£12.99; Rough Guides) is a comprehensive guide, and also see wellssomerset.com.