2003 Woodspring Priory

Monday 3rd February

We were ready to set off for Woodspring Priory - with one problem to solve. Mischief one of our kittens was at the top of the conifer in the back garden, about 50” up wailing miserably!

A squirrel sat above her chattering, is he telling her off or threatening her? Andrew eventually talked her down and kittens safely locked in we set off. The journey down was easy, no hold ups.

Woodspring Priory is a Landmark Trust building 3 miles outside Weston Super Mare. We were the first of our party to arrive at around 4pm - the front door key’s large about 10” long and very heavy. The kitchen/diner was huge with a fireplace that you can walk straight in to. Looking up the chimney you could see daylight. The trestle table was large enough to seat ten comfortably with a vase of daffodils in bud to welcome us.

The living room was big and airy with high ceilings and comfy-looking sofa’s and chairs and another huge fireplace. A door leads out to the hidden garden. A steep stone spiral staircase takes us up to the next floor where there are four bedrooms and a bathroom. From one of the bedrooms and the hallway there are windows with enticing views of the inside of the tower.

We continued onward and found another spiral staircase, in wood, leading us back down to a further bathroom and through a hall back into the kitchen. The whole place was charming with a lovely warm and friendly atmosphere.

The door under the stairs {when we found the right key} leads though to the tower and another lovely sitting room, these form the Priory Museum and are open to the public daily. There are various artefact’s and old maps etc. The original ceiling of the tower was beautifully carved and very ornate.

We explored this, then had a look around the enclosed garden and grounds. We found a little folly at the bottom of the garden with a stone seat cut into the sides and a turret roof, very pretty.

As we unloaded the car the others drove up, Nick, Gav, Rick, Jennifer, Bernie & Dave. Our group is pretty much the same as last year, except as Nick put it we have swapped Sproggie for Dave. They all greeted us and enquired after Sprog. There are ohs and ahs from all directions as they explored too. Gavin pulled up the trapdoor and jumped in to explore, there was another spiral stone staircase but leads to a wall - no luck with secret tunnels here then!

We set off for a trip to Sainsbury for supplies then a pint in a local pub followed by fish and chips in Papa’s, recommended by some local folks in the pub.

The stars are out tonight, we can’t believe how bright and beautiful they are here. Back to the Priory we unpacked the shopping, Andrew lit the fire and we opened some wine and settled down to relax, read and chat in the sitting room for the rest of the evening.

Tuesday 4th February

When we got up the others were out walking. They told us on their return that the curator had offered us a different Landmark house as the gas may run out during our stay. The work on the cattle grid means that the usual delivery cannot be made. We put it to the vote and eventually agreed to stay put unless it became uncomfortably cold.

My cousin Grahame & his wife Nikki are coming over to the Priory to visit us today. I prepared steak and Guinness pie for tonight’s dinner while we waited for them, then we had another wander around the museum.

The Priory is one of the smallest ever built and dates back to 1210 so is probably the oldest property we have stayed in so far. It was founded by William de Courtnay for Augustinian canons of the Order of St. Victor de Paris, and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, St. Mary and St. Thomas the Martyr. The founder was a descendant of one of the assassins of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, and the martyrdom is depicted on the priory seal. The priory was apparently never a wealthy one and construction continued right up until the 15th century when the earlier church was replaced by a completely new building of perpendicular style. The infirmary and barn also belong to this period and work was continued until 1536 when the priory with other lesser English monasteries was dissolved by Henry VIII. During the depredations that followed the English Reformation many of the priory buildings including the chancel were destroyed, but the tower and the western part of the church were retained and were used as a private residence. The original barn and infirmary are still intact and parts of the cloister and fourteenth century gatehouse also survived. On December 29th 1970 {the 900th anniversary of the death of Thomas Becket} a re-hallowing service was conducted at the priory by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The priory was subsequently passed into the care of Landmark Trust and after their restoration was completed was made available to the public.

Grahame and Nikki arrived and we showed them around the Priory and it’s gardens. They were suitably impressed, Grahame was going to order a L.T. handbook when he got home. We had coffee and chatted for awhile then set off to the pub down the road for some lunch at the Old Manor pub. We sat chatting and reminiscing for a few hours. Later we drove back to the Priory for coffee before Grahame and Nikki went home. Gav and Nick helped me prepare dinner, then we all relaxed around the fire.

Wednesday 5th February

This morning we decided to go to Wookey Hole to explore the caves. Jennifer, Andrew, Nick, Rick and I went for a walk up to the headland behind the Priory. You can see the sea on three sides from here. There is the Severn Bridge to the right, an island called Flat Holm to the left and straight ahead is Cardiff in the distance. We watched a Kestrel hovering and Nick took some pictures of it swooping to catch it’s prey.

Eventually everyone was ready and we set off to Wookey. The caves were interesting and well worth having a look around, apparently 100’s of bats live here so flashes are not permitted.

A new addition to the cave tour are the areas which are used to store cheese from the Cheddar Gorge till it matures. Unfortunately there is nowhere to buy it fresh here.

We were guided around the old paper mill next to the caves where the paper is still handmade and air dried, a demonstration was given, & some lovely but horrendously expensive old fashioned parchment for sale in the gift shop.

There followed an end of pier type gallery with one armed bandits, gypsy fortune teller machines and the laughing sailors & policemen, remembered from my childhood with a Hall of Mirrors to walk through before finally reaching the outside world again. How bizarre is that?

We drove on to Wells for lunch where we found The City Arms pub that is serving lovely food and a pint or two of Old Tosser or Moles ale.

After lunch Andrew and I went to the cheese shop recommended by the waitress and bought some extra mature cheese to take home for Grahame & 3 types of local cheese for everyone to try back at the Priory. We wandered through the streets looking at lots of little shops. We found Jennifer & Bernie sitting outside the Cathedral, the others were inside, we decided to find a coffee while we waited.

On arrival back at the Priory there was a lovely sunset, Nick and I watched it through the trees. Andrew lit the fire and we settled down for the evening with some wine.

Thursday 6th February

Gavin, Nick, Rick & Dave are off to the Helicopter Museum which Andrew and I spent an afternoon at in June 2001 so we decided to go to Burnham on Sea instead. Jennifer & Bernie were off out for a long ramble.

En route to Burnham on Sea we found Bennett’s Cider Farm, we were given a sample, lovely stuff, there were several awards for best cider on the walls so we bought some for Jennifer.

Burnham was quiet, we walked along the sea front then found a cafe for lunch. We wandered around the shops and I bought a very fetching pair of burgundy leather boots. We drove back to the Priory to find Jennifer sitting in front of a nice fire. Later Andrew, Dave and I settled with our wine & books in front of the fire, the others all played Risk.

Friday 7th February

It’s time to pack up and go home, we did the usual tidying up. I feel sad to be leaving Woodspring Priory, it is beautiful place to spend a holiday.

We left in convoy to Cheddar Gorge, so we stopped to buy more cheese. We then followed the road up the Gorge, I’d forgotten how spectacular it was. We decided to travel home via Bath and the Cotswolds, the prettiest route.

We stopped for lunch at a wonderful little village pub called The Radnor Arms in Corston for some Old Slug Porter and a fantastic steak each. Then on to Cirencester where we stopped again for a wander around the town and a coffee. Bought delicious lemon meringue pie, scones and clotted cream.

At home the kittens give us a warm welcome, they have survived their first week home alone, {with visits from food monkeys of course}.

The Pictures