The Friends’ Day Out to Glastonbury and Wells – a personal perspective by Spen and Cathy Instone – 9th July 2018
On Monday July 9th a group of 33 Friends gathered in the Crescent to board the Cheltenham Town Football Club coach (very swish!) for the annual day out. The day started and continued sunny (too sunny for some) as we zoomed down the M5 towards Glastonbury, where we arrived in time for a welcome drink in the outdoor Summer Café, followed by a guided tour.
The ruins of the Abbey are splendid and date back to 1186, but the legends about Glastonbury, about which our guide spoke in detail are even more splendid. At its most exotic, the tales tell of Joseph of Arimathea visiting the site, together with Jesus himself, who helped to build the first monastery here. And of course the famous Glastonbury thorn (which flowers at both Easter and Christmas) was the result of Joseph sticking his staff into the ground when he arrived, when it took root and has blossomed ever since (despite being cut down by the Puritans!). To complement the Arithmathean legends, our guide also entertained us with tales of King Arthur and Guinevere who are said to be buried here – but in the words of the guide book “the monks staged a fake exhumation in a desperate attempt to attract funds.” How little has changed in the last 1000 years!
After our excellent and entertaining visit, we went off again in our coach to Wells, where we had several hours to have lunch and explore the town before our guided visit in the mid-afternoon. Even though the heat was now most un-English, Cathy and I enjoyed a picnic lunch and visited the amazing Vicars’ Close, where the cathedral’s lay clerks have lived since 1348. It claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in Europe and is quite magnificent. And no visit to Wells would be complete without seeing the Bishop’s Palace where the swans in the moat ring a bell when they want to be fed. Several members of the group spent time looking around this part of Wells and some also went to visit the church of St Cuthbert.
Our cathedral guide was unfortunately a little hurried, as we had to avoid a funeral before and choir practice after our tour. The cathedral was begun in 1175, and is of course famous not only for its scissor arches in the crossing, but also its west front with one of the greatest collections of medieval sculptures in the western world. For one of us, seeing the clock (installed 1390) striking was the high point of the visit; for the other it was the stained glass tree of Jesse in the east end, 50 years younger than the clock.
And as a final treat we attended Evensong – sung by a choir from Alabama, as the cathedral choir had gone on holiday the day before.
Then coach home with a diverting, if accidental, tour round a new (and amazed) housing estate on the way – arriving back just at the scheduled time, as estimated by our wonderful organiser, Patricia Purkiss – to whom we all owe very hearty thanks for her efficiency and attention to detail.
For a gallery of photographs from the day please click here.