There is 800 years of history at The Bishop's Palace, hidden right at the heart of the city of Wells. Behind a moat and high walls, there is an oasis of calm beauty, with gardens, ponds, chapels and all manner of lovely spots to stroll through or have a quiet moment. With a cafe, toileting facilities and a shop full of local delights, you may find yourself staying all day. Adjoining Wells Cathedral, this place is massive, and three hours there flew by four us.
The one-way system and some very well organised hand sanitizers make this trip perfect for social distancing. Only the outdoor areas are currently open, but there is a great deal of ground to cover, so you won't feel like you are missing out.
The entrance to the Palace, with its own gatehouse and portcullis
A hidden paradise behind water and tall walls
The palace gatehouse looks like a fortress, but as soon as you pass through it, an ocean of green opens up. The lawns and shop are free entry, but you will need to buy tickets to access most of the gardens and the chapels. It is well worth buying a ticket, because the gardens are stunning, and immaculately kept. You can also request a free upgrade to your tickets, offering you unlimited entry to the gardens for a year from your first visit.
There have been swans gracing the moat and ponds of the Palace for centuries. You will know you have arrived at the palace if you see them, sunbathing (or sheltering) in the waters of the moat. These swans are under the protection of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and even have their own silver bell which is rung when they have their dinner, delivered by the Cathedral staff.
"Ingenious sluice gates, above the 'bottomless' spring that feeds the gardens.
An allegedly bottomless spring feeds three ponds and the moat at the Palace, and there are sluice gates that are controlled by the gardening team at the palace, to keep everywhere watered. You will find hundreds of varieties of plants and flowers here. There is everything from wild strawberries to artichokes. The kitchen gardens which surround the children's play area have been in place since Medieval times, and now have a very cuddly tabby cat that lives in the strawberry beds.
Members of the 'Palace Croquet Club', hard at battle!
A place for quietness, peace and contemplation
In many ways, this is the perfect English Country Garden (just like in the folk song). There is even a resident Croquet club at the palace, and we watched them play. What could be more English than white-clad ladies and gentlemen knocking croquet balls through hoops in the sun? The Palace is also full of comfortable wooden benches for visitors use, with lovely memorials to people on brass plaques. My favourite commemorated a gentleman who was described as 'not famous, just special'. All this and more adds to the gentle peace of this unique place.
Lawns and picnic places in front of the ticket office
We went prepared with a picnic, and were spoilt for choice when it came to picnic spots. We went for a bench on one of the rampart walls, but we could have picked the kitchen gardens, lawns, ponds or the open area in front of the croquet pitch. There is a small but well-stocked cafe/coffee kiosk that we could also have visited, and the Palace is at the very centre of Wells town, which has many, many eateries to choose from.
Beautiful Wells cathedral, with a pilgrim's sculpture in the foreground
The Cathedral is the neighbouring building to the palace, and is always in view as you walk through the gardens. The Cathedral is superb in its own right, and is a destination for a visit in itself.
The chapel of Peter and Paul and the trinity
One chapel was open to the public today, and we had a quiet moment, just before we left. You can light a candle if you wish, and enjoy the many coats of arms and names of past bishops that line the wall in varnished panels.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus in the gatehouse
Although beautiful in a secular way, this palace is full of religious imagery and worship. Many glass sculptures grace the gardens, with an angel theme. My favourite votive place was a little shrine to Jesus and his parents, tucked in to the gate house entrance. Whether you are religious or not, this place is so very peaceful that it offers all visitors, of all faiths (or none), a place to rest and relax.
Sleeping in the strawberries, we met the Bishop's cat
If you are lucky, then you might even bump in to the very contented Bishop's cat. He loved the cuddles we gave him, but heeded the advice on his collar (Please don't feed me).
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and are already looking forward to another visit very soon. I would imagine that the Palace is stunning in all weathers and at all times of the year. Perhaps we'll pop over on a rainy day. I feel sure that the colours would be marvellous.