"A Very Ille Rokky Waye"
"I have so traveled in your dominions both by the sea coasts and the middle parts, sparing neither labour nor costs, by the space of these 6 years past, and there is almost neither cape, nor bay, haven, creek or pier, river or confluence of rivers . . . lake, mere, fenny water, mountain, valley, moor, heath, forests, chase, wood, city, burg, castle, principal manor place, monastery, and college, but I have seen them; and noted in so doing a whole world of things very memorable." (1)
The lone traveler crossed over the pretty stone bridge at Dulcote and turned his horse toward the edge of the fast-flowing waters. After filling his flask with the cool spring water, he carefully laid out his handkerchief on a sun-warmed rock and opened it to reveal its contents of bread and cheese. He took a moment to bless the food before him and then, breaking his fast for the first time of the day, he pulled out his journal and began to reflect on his travels as he review his notes.
John Leland had left the town of Wells very early before the break of day so that he would avoid the chaos in the streets of a town going about its business, shy as he was of humanity. He found he had little interest in society and was thus ideally-suited to the task set out for him by his Majesty King Henry VIII. As Royal Antiquary, he was commissioned to journey throughout the nation to examine as much of its history and geography as he could -- with full royal right of passage into its churches, monasteries and libraries -- to document and appraise whatever treasures of truth, beauty and knowledge that he could uncover. His thirst for history and his devotion to his king often compelled him to hunch over manuscripts in the dank, dull and often unclean halls in which they were stored for days on end. He might have become diseased from such an environment if he hadn't balanced this seclusion with frequent walking tours.
In fact, Leland had been fascinated with Wells. After a day's study of manuscripts, he would walk about the town viewing its reputed architecture. Only last evening, after packing for the morning's journey, Leland had written in his journal ...
The town of Wells is large. I estimate it to be a bit less than 2 miles in circumference and for the most part built of stone. The streets have streamlets of springs almost in every one running. Much of the town business is occupied in the making of cloth. Mawdelyne was of late a great clothier in Wells, and so is now his son.
The main part of the town lies by east and west, and some part cast out with a street by south, in the out part whereof is a chapel, as some say, of Thomas Becket. There is but one parish church in Wells, but that is large, and stands in the west part of the town; and is dedicated to Saint Cuthbert. There is a hospital of 24 poor men and women at the north side of St. Cuthbert's church which is overseen by a sanctuary priest. Both the hospital and the chapel are built under one roof from west to east. . . There is another hospital of St. John in the town, standing hard by south of St. Andrea's stream. . . .
There are 12 right exceeding fair houses all uniform of stone high with fair windows in the north side of the market place, joining hard to the north west part of the bishop's palace. . . The area before the bishop's palace lies east of the market square, and hath a fair high wall toward the market square, and a right goodly gate house in it. On the south side of this area is the bishop's palace with a moat filled with the waters of St. Andrea's stream. This palace is strongly walled and embattled castle-like, and has in the first front a goodly gate house in the middle, and at each end of the front a round tower, and 2 other round towers be likelihood in the south side of the palace, and then is there one at every corner. The hall of the palace is exceeding fair. The rest of the house is large and fair. Many bishops hath been the makers of it, as it is now.
The canons of Wells had their houses, before the transfer of the see to Bath, where now the bishop's palace is. John of Tours, first Bishop of Bath, put them out and they since have built themselves 12 very fair houses, partly on the north side of the cemetery of the cathedral church, and partly without. . . The deacons place is on the north side of the cemetery. There is at the east end of the cemetery a vault and a gate. (2)
Leland reviewed his entry critically. He acknowledged his own talent and passion for gathering information on things historical, but although he could detail what he saw and learned in an instructive way, he was often frustrated with his inability to bring his writing to life with descriptive language.
Nonetheless he kept his journal with him always. For now, he had left the remainder of his work, several trunks of documents, back in Wells at one of the church-owned houses in the close which had welcomed him. He would return there after he had completed his survey to the south. For this morning's journey, he donned only his plain cleric's clothing, and although he had agreed to take a horse, he refused the offer of a carriage for this leg of the journey so that he could travel the roads, stopping often to take note of all he could see along the way. The cleric's robes were a sort of talisman against harm from any violent encounters with master-less men or de-commissioned soldiers who preyed on travelers. Always keeping in mind this need for safety, he journeyed only by daylight and ensured that by nightfall he had found asylum within one of the many church refuges along the way.
But, here was all tranquility -- at the base of the Dulcote Bridge where Leland sat eating his simple meal. The bread was tough and a bit moldy, but the locally-made cheese was very pleasing. Although he relished the feel of the sun upon his clothes, dampened as they had been by the early morning air, Leland could not see much of interest around him. He found little to make note of -- not the open fields of crops, not the meadow-lands with livestock, not even the steep hill in front of him, with its stony soil and sparse vegetation. His primary goal was to create a verbal map, and onto this map to locate the historical and ecclesiastical landmarks. Besides, the excitement of this day was in his next destination -- South Cadbury and King Arthur's Camelot -- and finding evidence of its truth by day's end.
Before returning his journal to its protective leather bag and continuing his tour, Leland made this simple notation ...
From Wells by south to Dulcote (Doultingcote) bridge of stone, under the which Coscombe water runs about a mile by a very ill-rocky way. Thence I will pass about a mile more by like ground, and thus far I see some store of elm wood. (3)
1 The preface to John Leland's travel journal (later published as The Itinerary Of John Leland In Or About The Years 1535-1543), presented to Henry VIII in 1545. John Leland was a scholar, clergyman and Royal Antiquary (first and only) to the court of the King. Presented here with modern English spelling.
2 and 3 The Wells section of The Itinerary Of John Leland In Or About The Years 1535-1543. John Leland. Translated into somewhat modernized language and spelling.