Cornwall gets all the glory, but many of the locations in Poldark are shot elsewhere in the West Country. In series three, Wells, England’s smallest city, has had two cameos: the Bishop’s Palace doubled as a French convent housing prisoners of war, while the town hall was transformed into Warleggan Bank. Nestled in the foothills of the Mendips, Wells is a wonderful place for a weekend break, and is a great base from which to explore Somerset.
The Bishop’s Palace is possibly most famous for its swans, which ask for their dinner by yanking on a bell pull at the drawbridge gatehouse – as their ancestors were taught to do by a bishop’s daughter in the 1870s. The city grew up around a series of springs known as St Andrew’s Risings and one rises up in an ornamental lake. For over 800 years, the palace has been home to the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
The Bishop’s Palace
Next door looms the Gothic masterpiece of Wells Cathedral – often described as the most poetic of the English cathedrals (see main picture). The exterior is encrusted with statues; inside, you can marvel at the medieval stained glass. The unusual scissor arches were added by a pragmatic mason in the 14th century, who feared a new spire would collapse the central tower. Time your visit to coincide with Evensong or a lunchtime concert. Around the back is beautiful Vicar’s Close, which is thought to be Europe’s oldest residential street.
The Market Place, reached via a stone gateway, also features in Poldark. It’s known as Penniless Porch, although nowadays buskers rather than beggars ply their trade there. You can stock up at the farmers’ market in the cobbled square every Wednesday and Saturday. Its Gothic stone fountain is fed by another spring, which overflows down the High Street’s ancient gutters. As you meander down Wells’ only thoroughfare, look out for the old ironmongers Whiting & Son – an Aladdin’s cave selling everything from seeds to china lamps. Gallery Jewellers next door was the guardian of the cathedral clock for four generations, which was wound by hand for 630 years until an electric motor was added in 2010.
The wonky inn
The Bishop’s Palace and the cathedral have lovely cafés, or you can picnic in their grounds. The Good Earth on Priory Road offers veggie food and great coffee, while for fancier fare, you could book a table at seafood restaurant Goodfellows on Sadler Street.
The best place for a pint of West Country cider is The Crown at Wells, a 15th-century coaching inn with wonky floors and ceilings. It featured in the 2007 film Hot Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and written by local lad Edgar Wright. Swan Hotel on Sadler Street is over 600 years old and has hosted Henry VII, Sir Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Request a room with a view of the cathedral’s majestic West Front.
Britain’s biggest gorge
Cheddar Gorge is Britain’s biggest and the view from the top is worth the 322 steps, while the stalactite caverns below are equally spectacular.
Young children will enjoy Wookey Hole’s kitsch caves while older ones will prefer scrambling up Ebbor Gorge. Climb Glastonbury Tor if you still have energy to burn, then visit the 7th-century abbey and hippy town centre. Last but not least, elegant Bath is only a 45-minute drive away.
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