A Magical Staircase, Wells Cathedral

My recent visit to Somerset included a day trip to Glastonbury to see the Tor and the Abbey, and also to rootle around the town’s many esoteric shops. It’s certainly a fun place, but its reputation inevitably draws crowds of visitors and tourists, and I am sure even its greatest fans would admit that Glastonbury has become rather commercialised in recent years.

The historic city of Wells, however, which lies only a few miles away, was a lucky find which turned out to be much more atmospheric. With its pretty old streets and many historic buildings, the centre of Wells is dominated by a huge medieval cathedral and the picturesque moated Bishop’s Palace that sits next to it. Inside the cathedral I discovered this beautiful staircase, completed in 1306, which leads up to the chapter house.

The worn stairs leading up to Wells Cathedral chapter house

The worn stairs leading up to Wells Cathedral chapter house

Worn away by centuries of use, ascending the stairs is a rather precarious business, and coming down is even more tricky. The stairs split half way up, with the entrance to the chapter house itself at the top of the right hand branch of steps. In fact this is the only octagonal chapter house to be built on a first floor with a strong room below, and was constructed in this way as the high water table here made the more usual underground crypt impractical. With its high ceiling decorated with elaborate vaulting, the chapter house itself is definitely worth the steep climb up these slippery old steps, but in the end it was the stairs themselves, elegant, ancient and distinctly magical, that grabbed my attention.

9 Responses to “A Magical Staircase, Wells Cathedral”

  1. Wow, I can see what you mean! It deceives the eye, very intriguing. Beautiful!

  2. Beautiful. There’s a famous photograph of these steps by Frederick H. Evans, called ‘A Sea of Steps’, taken in 1903. Almost the same aspect as you’ve caught here!

  3. Oh my goodness – what a beauty. I can feel a day trip coming on…

    I’ve never been able to look at Wells with the same eyes, since seeing Hot Fuzz – certainly adds a certain something to it’s charm…

    • It is definitely worth a day trip, a charming place. It made me think of the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells from Blackadder – although I am sure the current bishop is nothing like that!

  4. a magnificent shot and think how many feet have climbed there!! I feel a story! I missed out on Glastonbury but agree I hate being jostled about by crowds and am always looking for atmosphere somewhere away from the rest! You found a perfect place!

  5. Don’t miss seeing the tierceron roof structure over the chapter house – and whilst the left branch of the staircase leads to what is “claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe” (Wicki) you will need to exit the Cathedral and walk round to see it.. DO..!!

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