(This is 8th in a series that begin with A Night in Steerage.)
On my way to the Old Pier to catch the bus to Wells I chatted with a man who ascertained for what felt like the hundredth time which side of the street I wanted. It’s funny: there aren’t that many buses in and out of Burnham and there are only two sides of the street; I don’t know why it’s so difficult.
Directions in general are difficult. I wish I had a pound for every time someone who gave me directions ended with “You can’t miss it.” As in: “Right. You carry on down to the bottom of the High Street, veer off onto the wonky road and turn right at the sign for Community Toilet Scheme. You can’t miss it.” As in: “Yes, I can.”
When I got on the Bakers Dolphin 67, I asked the bus driver, “How much is a Wells return?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means it won’t cost you anything.”
“Why is that?”
There followed an explanation that referred to the Webber bus that I had expected to catch, the phrases “belly-up overnight” and “keep the route going” and traffic commissioner. I didn’t quite understand because his accent was hard to follow and I was fascinated with the way three of his lower teeth stuck out like a gangplank.
My free ride to Wells was an hour of sheep, cows, villages and people walking their dogs. A Cathedral Lady got on: beautiful face, her grey hair pinned back in a top-knot with wispy curls around the forehead and neck. She wore a printed skirt, blue jacket and sensible shoes. When we got to Wells, she and I both made for the bus station toilets, in which a recording of a cathedral choir plays while you wee.
I hoofed it all the way past the front of the cathedral to the Tourist Information to find out where the library was because I wanted to e-mail a Happy Birthday to someone. Naturally the library was back the way I came and I found it tucked away in Union Street. That errand called for a cup of tea. I always try to channel Wendy when I am looking for a tea place as she has a sixth sense for the best ones. I ended up at the Swan Hotel, certainly not a place Wendy would choose, but quiet and empty was good enough. I had my cup and surreptitiously nibbled a gluten free coffee walnut muffin I had bought at Burns the Bread.
When I felt ready to go on, I entered the cathedral. This would be my third visit to Wells so when I saw that it was ten minutes of twelve, I knew to beetle over to the clock for its biggest performance of the day. On the hour, the knights of this medieval clock come out and joust before the bell tolls. I joined the elderly sitting on benches in back of the hordes of school children sitting on the floor.
The cathedral is really an enchanted place. The nave takes my breath away and this time I got tears when I entered the Quire. It’s a wondrous thing to have such a majestic and magical place feel familiar!
I was actually intent on finding a different kind of majesty: The Cathedral Cat. Since I was here last, a cat named Louis has made this his home. I had gone up past the Quire, idly looking for the Jesse Window. When I didn’t spot it up in the front (or is it the bottom, which means the end?) When I turned to go back, I saw a cat asleep on a chair. He endured being awakened, turned around the other way and fell back asleep. This turned out to be Pangur, Louis’ competition. The cathedral was apparently crawling with cats, much like Sue and Wendy’s cottage. I never did see Louis.
Neither did two other Louis Spotters who photographed Pangur and went with me to find the Jesse Window, which had been in the Quire all along.
“Cracked that one!” the man said.
“By jove!” I said.
I went to the Bishop’s Palace to see if I could find Maisie, the Bishop’s Palace cat I met seven years ago. I spotted her across the croquet lawn while I was eating my pea and charel soup at the Bishop’s Table café. I kept an eye on her until I finished my lunch and could go over and say hello. She wasn’t nearly as friendly as the day seven years ago when she shared my tea with me. She grabbed my hands with her paws and bit. But then she posed so I could take a photo.
I walked across the drawbridge onto the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace, surely the epicenter of the enchantment. If I lived here, I would have a membership and visit once a month to restore myself. I love the rampart walk where you can see the countryside and feel safe and protected and be enveloped by the quiet.
As I walked around the wells, the sky darkened and I heard thunder. I hurried to see the reflection of the cathedral in the wells before the rain came. Which it did and I finally needed the raincoat I had been lugging around for a week and a half. “Thundery showers” is what they call these weather conditions.
There was an open air market outside the cathedral at the top of the High Street. I stayed under its canopies as I walked toward the bus. In the process I bought a hat and a carpet bag. When I lost the protection of the canopies, I looked for a place to have tea. There is a wide gutter between the sidewalk and the High Street in Wells and it was already nearly overflowing.
I ducked into Coffee #1, another place Wendy would have passed up. They had The Most Luscious orange cake I have ever eaten—gluten free. I wrote for an hour, keeping my eye on the rain and a big school clock. I needed to pee and to pick up a loaf of bread I had bought earlier at Burns the Bread before catching the bus home.
The 3:40 bus I meant to take was sitting in its dock with a sign saying “Not in Service.” I joined the people milling around. Information began to trickle in: the bus wouldn’t start, there were only two buses running this route, the drivers were Romanian and ours didn’t understand English very well, he also seemed frightened and not sure what to do, they were sending a relief bus in ten minutes, they were sending a relief bus within the hour, the 3:40 wouldn’t run at all, the only bus left that day was the 5:40.
A small woman in her early seventies hitched up beside me on the misericords they give you to sit on at the bus stops. When she heard my voice, she asked me where I was from.
“Oh, Seattle. Frasier. I love Niles. He’s a pantomime with words.”
This exchange made us instant mates.
“Would you like a doughnut, love?” she asked pulling two long packages out of her bag.
“Oh, no thanks,” I said. “I just had a piece of cake.”
She offered the doughnuts to the rest of the people at the stop.
“Here,” she said. “I’ve got custard and raspberry. Which would you like?”
“Why did you buy so many?” I asked.
“I couldn’t decide which I wanted so I got both but I was only ever going to eat one of each.”
Chris led the charge for us all to sit in the broken bus while we waited for Bakers Dolphin to rescue us.
“Sit with me, love,” she said, patting the seat next to her.
We were joined by a young man who looked like a young Alec Baldwin and I told him so.
“Ooh, I didn’t like him when he was young,” Chris said. “But now that he’s old and fat and gray, he’s lovely!”
Our companion was named Sam. It turned out that both he and Chris were out-of-work actors. They talked about Equity and I decided it was Rupert Graves that he looked like. Then we moved on to Brexit.
“It’s already over,” Sam said. “The politicians are just making noise now. We all know how it’s going to come out.”
“How is that?” I asked
“Remain,” said Chris.
“Leave,” said Sam at the same time.
The second Bakers Dolphin 67 showed up at 4:40 and the three of us boarded it even though it wasn’t due to head toward Burnham until 5:40. Here’s what I learned about the 67 route lately run by Webber bus and now by Bakers Dolphin: For every trip it makes from Wells to Burnham-on-Sea, it makes two trips to Wookey Village and back to Wells and two trips to Wookey Hole and back to Wells. The last time it goes back to Wells it becomes the 5:40 to Burnham-on-Sea. And not before. No matter that they hadn’t run the scheduled 3:40. The bus driver was beside himself trying to explain this to us.
It was pouring rain. Our options were to stand in the rain and wait until 5:40 or go back into town and sit somewhere dry. No one wanted to get out of sight of the bus station just in case a relief bus showed up. So we rode back and forth from the two Wookeys to Wells for two hours having a grand old time.
Finally we were headed home. Chris got off a few villages before Burnham at East Huntspill.
“I’m going to give our driver a doughnut,” she said as she packed up.
“Whether he wants one or not,” I said.
“Whether he wants one or not,” she laughed.
We kissed goodbye and I watched her insist the driver take a dough-nut.
“There’s raspberry and custard. Which do you want? No, take one. They’re lovely. Here. Here’s a raspberry one, sweetheart!”
She got off the bus, leaving the driver with a drippy dough-nut and waved to me until I could see her no more. I walked in the door of the house on Love Lane at 7:00 and went straight for the Talisker.