During an August bank holiday trip to Somerset, I visited the wonderful Bishop’s Palace and Gardens. The stunning medieval palace and mesmerising gardens are located in the heart of the city of Wells and took only 20 minutes by car from our glamping accommodation at Petruth Paddocks Campsite. I had the best day wandering around the gardens, learning about the history of the palace and enjoying some scrumptious food in the Bishop’s Table, the onsite café. I can only apologise in advance for the masses of beautiful photos that are included in this post – this isn’t even all of the ones I took – it was all just too gorgeous not to photograph!
The Bishop’s Palace and Chapel
To reach the entrance to the moated palace you have to walk through the heart of Wells. The entrance is literally at the end of the high-street / market area and every Saturday there is a local market directly outside. Given its location, there is no parking available on site and so I recommend planning ahead and finding a suitable car park. The day I visited the town was super busy and so do allow additional time to park and arrive.
On arrival at the Palace, picking up my complimentary ticket and guidebook was easy; and the staff were friendly and welcoming. Tickets can be brought in the shop which is attached the café – The Bishop’s Table. This area is free to enter and people can have the pleasure of sitting outside enjoying the views of the Palace and Palace Green.
The Palace has been home to the vast number of different Bishop’s of Bath and Wells for over 800 years so as you can imagine there is a huge amount of history here. The architecture is just sublime – so intricate and interesting to look at.
I decided to take one of the free guided Palace and Chapel tours that are provided twice daily (at 11am and 2pm). Nick, the tour guide, was super friendly, chatty and very knowledgeable. He introduced a group of 15, including me, to the city of Wells and provided an overview of the area before taking us to the Bishop’s Private Chapel.
Here he told us about the Chapel’s history and how it had been built by Bishop Burnell between the dates of 1275 and 1292 – can you even again what life would have looked like back then?! It was nice to see the pretty stained glass windows and there was a place to light candles for loved ones too.
Next, Nick took us through to the Palace and showed us around its grandeur. The Palace’s exterior is very opulent and given it dates back to the early thirteenth century it’s looking pretty good! Nick’s detailed commentary and clear passion for the Palace and its history shone through as we wandered around admiring the Palace’s décor. You can wander around the vaulted undercroft area before heading upstairs to see the rooms that the original Bishop Jocelin would have used.
In the long gallery, you are able to admire portraits and a timeline of all the previous Bishop’s which was really interesting. I love seeing the changes in what the Bishop’s wore and how they looked through the ages – I can never imagine posing for such a formal picture – we just snap a quick selfie now and then and upload it to Instagram nowadays don’t we! Nick was sure to point out particular Bishops of interest and told us stories of the portraits and the Bishops’ legacies. Apparently, you can have your wedding reception at the Palace – how magical and posh would that feel?! After 30 minutes Nick leaves you to admire the rest of the Palace at your own leisure.
The Palace is surrounded by a moat which was put in place by Ralph of Shrewsbury, who was Bishop from 1329 to 1363. The gatehouse to the moat remains the main entrance which gives it such an imposing and grand impression. Apparently once a year there is a moat race for people to take part in – given there hasn’t been much rain this summer I’d be intrigued to see how that went!
The Well Pools and Gardens
After admiring the Palace I joined Nick for the next tour of the well pools and gardens. This was a 45 minute tour and was a little smaller than the Palace and Chapel tour with their only being 5 of us in total. This meant it felt like a nice intimate tour and we were able to ask more questions as we were guided around the lush gardens. This tour again runs twice a day with its start times being 12pm and 3pm.
We started the tour by examining the ruins of the Great Hall. The Great Hall was apparently built by Bishop Burnell in the early 1200’s, however despite its grand opulence and finery, in the 1550s Bishop Barlow gave up the Palace for a mere sum to the Earl of Somerset. History has it that shortly after this sale the lead from the roof of the Great Hall was sold and the building soon began to crumble. Today, you can gaze at the old walls and see where the tall windows would have been. There are trees and plants growing up and around the walls which I thought was truly beautiful. There is loads more history of the great hall and the surrounding gardens which can be found on the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens website.
The gardens at the Palace actually outdate the Palace itself. Some of the gardens date back to the early 1200s and are still well maintained and looked after today. The current head gardener of the gardens, James Cross, actually lives at the palace which apparently many of the bishop’s staff have done over the many years it’s been standing.
The gardens stretch for 14 acres so there’s lots to explore and some lovely walks to be taken. There’s the quiet garden, allotments, community garden and the arboretum to enjoy. If that’s not enough then there are also the outer gardens too, where you will find the Dragon’s Lair – a place to stop for an ice cream or drink.
There were just so many lovely flowers and trees to admire and I really appreciated all the different colours that were on display. Nick had a folder which included some pictures of various trees and flowers that bloom at different times of the year. This really made me want to come back and explore the gardens in a different season and come to see the meadows full of snowdrops.
Nick took us to see the wellsprings which historically gave the city of Wells its name. He told us all about how the water from the well pools flows into the Palace moat, down along the high-street and onto the moors of Somerset. They were simply gorgeous and a great place for a photo opportunity of Wells Cathedral. I loved how the water in the pools reflected all the plush green trees – I could have sat on one of those benches for a good while if time had allowed.
The Palace Swans
So another tradition from Bishop’s Palace is the Bishop’s swans. Apparently, if visitors are lucky and patient enough they can see swans ringing a bell at the gatehouse entrance for food. Tradition has it that back in the 1870s, one of Lord Arthur Hervey’s daughters taught some swans to ring a bell at the gatehouse in return for food – I would be so intrigued to see if this still happened so many decades later! If any of you guys have visited and seen this happen then please let me know!
The Bishop’s Palace and Garden’s frequently host special events and for the bank holiday weekend were running a Bowlore Medieval re-enactment event. This was included in the admission price and added something a little bit different and extra to the day. The event included archery displays and a sword and weapons show which was fun to watch and had me entertained!
There was the option for visitors to have a go at trying archery and sword fighting which looked fun. All of the re-enactors were dressed up in period costumes which helped to bring some of the Palace’s history alive. You can check out the upcoming events at the Palace on their website and Facebook page.
The Bishop’s Table
I spent most of the day at Bishop’s Palace and Gardens and so was able to visit the café twice! I had a lovely cheddar cheese ploughman’s for lunch which was accompanied with bread, chutneys, pickles, grapes and apple – it was scrumptious! I was able to sit outside on the palace green and take in the atmosphere of the palace.
In the afternoon, after all that walking on the tours, I decided to treat myself to a cream tea – this included a scone with jam and cream and a pot of tea – it was delicious! Unfortunately, given the time of year, there were a lot of wasps around, but this was no fault of the café whose staff tried quickly to clear empty plates and glasses.
I really recommend the food at the Bishop’s Table, it was pretty affordable, tasty and had generous portions. There are ample places to sit both inside and outside and a range of hot and cold food options, as well as a host of tempting looking cakes!
I ended my visit by taking a trip to the well-stocked gift shop and treating myself to a few bits including some fudge and postcards.
Entrance Costs and Additional Information
Entrance to The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens costs £8.05 for adults, £7.15 for concessions and students and £3.55 for children aged 5-18 years. A family ticket for two adults and up to three children costs £21.60. I think these prices are really reasonable considering how much is on offer and especially given they included the two tours and the bowlore medieval experience. Memberships for The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens are also available and seem like a good idea to me, especially for locals. Dogs are allowed in the garden if on a short lead and all accessibility information can be found on their website.
I really had such a wonderful day exploring The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens – it was the perfect mix of history, beautiful gardens and tasty food! I enjoyed the added extras of the bowlore medieval re-enactment and the two guided tours of the Palace and Chapel and the gardens. The tour guide Nick really stole the show and is a real asset to the Palace’s team.
All the staff I spoke to were friendly and welcoming and the views of the cathedral were incredible. The Palace was full of history and medieval charm, but the gardens were the true selling point for me – the mix of flowers, trees and well pools were magnificent and so photo worthy! I loved how there were places of peace and calm in the gardens and I was able to take some time out to relax and reflect on life. I genuinely hope to return again soon!
***Entry to The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens and the inclusion of a guidebook was provided to me on a complimentary basis; however, all thoughts, pictures and opinions are entirely my own.***