England's Countryside & Wales

Day 09 - Friday, May 22, 2015 - Free Day in Bath; Optional to Wells, Glastonbury & Cheddar to Visit Wells Cathedral, Abbey of King Arthur & Guinevere, & Cheese Making

The skies were weeping - drizzle greeted us when we went out to the bus at 8:15. We had decided to take the Optional Tour and go with Steve, Galen, Mary Ann, and Betty along with Pebbles and Arvie who drove the bus. The rest of the group stayed to see more of Bath.

As we drove from the hotel, Arvie took us on a little detour to see The Crescent, a very exclusive semicircle of row homes. Johnny Deep, Nicholas Cage, and other dignitaries have flats in this complex.

We circled around and crossed over the Pulteney Bridge. Traffic was light so we had no problem negotiating the narrow street. People were hustling on their way to work and school children were making their way slowly to their destinations.

The first stop was in the little village of Cheddar in Somerset District. Pebbles changed the itinerary so we could get there early to see the cheese making process. The sun came out and we saw a rainbow, a great omen!

The lane to Cheddar was so narrow, we had to stop and pull over into the hedge to allow another car to pass. The dairy cattle were happily grazing in the green pastures; no wonder the cheese is so tasty here!

We passed through the Cheddar Gorge and into the village. Our appointment for the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company was at 10:00 but they opened early for us.

Our guide, Craig began our tour in the cheese processing area where the fresh milk was brought in just an hour ago at 9:00. The milk comes from one single farm to insure a consistent quality.

We watched the cheese makers boil the milk and then with knives continually cut through the curds. The next step was to put the curds in to a press and then the water (whey) is squeezed out of the curds.

It takes 250 pounds of fresh milk to make one whole cheese. From the milk stage to the filling of the mold takes at least 7 hours. Then the mold is pressed for 54 hours to get as much water out as possible giving the cheese the hardness typical of the cheddar variety.

After the pressing, the cheddar is taken out of the mold, wrapped in a gauze cloth, and then "larded" by frosting the whole cheese with pig lard to produce a hard rind. The wrapped cheeses mature for at least 15 months in a cooler at 11 degrees C.

When the Cheddar is matured the large cakes are cut with piano wine to avoid as much waste as possible. Craig showed us the industrial knives that are sometimes used and they did have a thicker blade. The last step is the vacuum packing.

We were able to ask a few questions and then Craig took us into the tasting room where we permitted to sample over twenty different types of Cheddars. There was a shop to buy these quality cheeses. They needed refrigeration so we did not purchase any cheese.

Right next door there was a traditional cider shop, Rich’s Cider. We went in to have a sample taste of the apple juice. We bought a bottle of the juice because it was so good.

The next location on the optional tour was in Glastonbury. Our appointment to have a guided tour of the Abbey was at noon. Our Anglo Saxon guide named Leofric, was at least 1000 years old! Dressed in the traditional garb of a servant of the monks, he began his explanation in the museum with the model of the Abbey.

Once a monastery and home to 80 Benedictine Monks, the Abbey was a very rich center of the Catholic Church. Begun in 64 CE, the legend says that Joseph of Arimathea came to England after the death of Jesus and began one of the first Christian communities.

The Abbey is now in ruin after King Henry VIII declared himself head of the new English church in 1539. He took all of the wealth from the monastery, killed the monks, looted and stripped the valuables, and left a skeleton of stone.

Many of the locals took the stones for their own construction making the Abbey only a shell of the former majestic cathedral. Markers in the ground show the outlines of the size of the main church, one of the largest ever built in England.

In the great church, in the great hall, was a great shrine, in a great black marble tomb it was said that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were supposedly buried. That is, if King Arthur actually ever existed; it was a good story anyway.

We also saw the Abbot's Kitchen that was preserved and then restored. It was laid out with reproductions of the foods prepared and eaten in medieval times.

The town of Glastonbury had a very unique aura. There are many shops specializing in mystic, witchcraft, New Age culture, and it is supposedly a prehistoric landscape zodiac.

This community is said to be the center of several important Ley Lines; symmetrical circles or paths imprinted in the ground made in 3,000 BCE. Signs advertise tours to neighboring sacred sites including Stonehenge and sites that feature standing stones.

We had an hour to have a sandwich and fizzy drink and then we walked around to check out the shops and watch the people. The group met at the car park at 1:30 to go to Wells, our last destination of the day.

When we got to Wells it was 2:30 and we had an hour on our own to visit the 10th Century Wells Cathedral. The stained glass windows, the Gothic style, the scissors arches, and the huge footprint of the structure makes this church one of the most beautiful in the Europe.

The Wells Cathedral Clock is an astronomical clock thought to be made by Peter Lightfoot, a monk at the Abbey, sometime between 1386 and 1392. When the clock strikes on the quarter hour, four knights on horseback come out and joust around in tournament.

At 3:30 we went back to meet Arvie and Pebbles and then had to fight the Friday afternoon traffic all the way back to Bath. We arrived at 4:30 and took time to look at our hundreds of photos and begin the journal.

It was 6:30 when we went out to find a spot of tea and a biscuit for dinner. Instead we spent an hour looking through the wonderful Waitrose Supermarket and admired the immense offerings of fruits, vegetables, food stock, housewares, liquors, wines, and a wonderful deli.

We got a sandwich from the deli and a bag of chips that we took back to our room to enjoy with our apple juice while finishing the journal. We repacked our scrambled bags and had a relaxing evening in Bath.

Tomorrow we have a new driver as Arvie has passed his eight driving days and was going to London tonight. There is a 6:30 wake up call for our last day of the tour on Saturday.

Accommodations: Hilton Bath City Hotel - - - Meal: B

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All so interesting!

Dee   May 23, 2015 - 5:39pm

Hard to believe a church built back in the 1300's having all those elegancies. The video was great and so up close to the horses.

Norma   May 23, 2015 - 1:55am

WOW!!! That cheese producer sounds really interesting, but it was a shame you couldn't take any with you. That is one of my weaknesses!! I have missed talking to you, but have had blast with my newest grand daughter, Isabella. She is truly a blessing into our family. Perfect in every way and syo very cute.

Pat   May 23, 2015 - 12:13am
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The Wells Cathedral Clock, Wells, England - 1390 CE

The Wells Cathedral Clock, Wells, England - 1390 CE (1:49)

  Open Video Player

Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

Vic and Gennie at Glastonbury Abbey

Vic and Gennie at Glastonbury Abbey

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

Leofric, Anglo Saxon Guide

Leofric, Anglo Saxon Guide

Wells Cathedral Scissor Arches

Wells Cathedral Scissor Arches

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