10 Places to Visit in Somerset
I've just spent the last three days haring around Somerset with a camera. When you read through the list below please don't expect to manage it in three days—I am the fastest thing on two legs with a camera and I have the sore feet and various pains to prove it!
On the whole I really liked Somerset, especially the middle bit where it gets a bit rural and there are yellow stone villages with old buildings that ooze history. Okay, I avoided one or two of the more infamous bucket and spade seaside resorts and noted that Exmoor isn't quite the wilderness that nearby Dartmoor is. But on the whole Somerset is well worth a look.
I stayed near Bridgwater in a B and B I found on one of my Somerset accommodation websites. Also, this is only my subjective, limited list—I didn't have time to go everywhere and avoided some of the best known tourist attractions.
Bath is a pretty obvious choice, and unlike many places it does live up to the hype. There is little doubt that Bath is the finest example of a Geogrian city to be found in England. And there are so many wonderful buildings—admittedly not quite as many before the War and the subsequent 'Sack of Bath' but it'll definitely keep you entertained for a couple of days.
It is probably the sheer concentration of so many stunning Georgian, yellow stone buildings that impress. Individual standouts include the Royal Crescent and the Circus—imposing residential streets, one a semi-circle and the other forming a complete circle. Pulteney Bridge certainly attracts a few photos (see photo!) with its terrace of shops over the River Avon.
The Abbey is a fine example of perpendicular gothic design with flying buttresses thrown in for good measure—but nothing to get too exited about. And the baths are spread over a variety of locations and housed in fine 18th century buildings—with the exception of the modern Thermae Spa which is a modern building featuring 3 floors of spring based bathing, including a roof top pool.
2. Brean Down
Brean Down is an oasis of nature and history in the middle of bucket and spade land! The National Trust owned finger like promontory stretches about a mile out to sea with views in every direction, including over the Bristol Channel to Wales.
I headed up to the downs on a beautiful June morning and had the place to myself—I guess the steep climb up puts a few people off! Once at the top I was greeted with a spectacular view and a herd of goats who ignored me with some gusto!
Walking towards the tip there is a clear view of Weston-super-Mare to the east and to the south you can make out Glastonbury Tor. There is also some archaeological interest with a Stone Age hill fort and field terraces, plus a Roman site which I couldn't see at all
Probably referred to as 'the Gateway to Exmoor' in the literature, Dunster is that and a charming little village to boot! On the downside this is quite well known and be prepared to be engulfed in a sea of pale slacks and pastel knitwear when you arrive at the Yarn Market. The good news is the streets empty at lunchtime and afternoon tea / tiffin!
Crowds aside Dunster is a great day out. I started by zooming up the nearest big hill, Conygar Hill with the tower on top. I expected great views, unfortunately it's completely covered in trees and I couldn't see a thing!
I had more success with the castle. Now-a-days it's more of a stately home up a big hill than a castle. Great views from the top and nice gardens with plenty of quiet corners. The house was gifted to the National Trust in 1976 by the Luttrell family
The village itself is full of interesting buildings particularly the medieval Yarn market and Church priory area
There's more to Glastonbury than the festival. Although looking at some of the inhabitants you might think they hadn't left after the original back in the 1970s. If you can look beyond the tie-dye stalls, stench of petunia oil and tree-hugging crystal-lickers then this is a town with a rich history.
The town flourished around the abbey which dates back to the 7th century. Glastonbury Abbey is linked in legend to both King Arthur and the Holy Grail. The remains of the abbey are well worth a look but the prosperity it created means the town also has some fine medieval buildings including the Tribune building on the High Street.
Glastonbury is also well known for Glastonbury Tor, a highly photogenic 500ft tall conical mound rising out of the Somerset Levels. A top the tor is the roofless St Michael's Tower and from here there are great views of the Levels and to the coast.
As well as being a pretty village with some fine buildings Porlock appeals to my affection for all things slightly odd! Located in a deep hollow with the surrounding countryside rising 1,300 feet above Porlock has a slightly detached feel. This is only added to by the flat, marshy pasture land that exists between the village and beach.
Porlock Ridge and Saltmarsh is 186.3 hectares of saltmarsh backed by a shingle beach. A Site of Special Scientific Interest the saltmarsh is also eerily quiet—when I was staggering around trying to find the way out I didn't see another soul.
The beach itself is a large shingle bank with the occasional groyne of aged wooden stumps. The smooth white stones that form the beach are piled to a height of around 20ft at the top of the bank. They're also a complete nightmare to walk on and have probably twisted a few ankles over the years.
6. The Quantock Hills
The Quantocks are one of those places that I'd always heard of but had no idea what went on there—bit like the Cotswolds or Forest of Dean—I could only tell you where they were because I looked them up on the internet!
The Quantocks are a range of hills in the north west of Somerset measuring about 12 miles by 4 miles and reaching about 1000ft at their highest point. Designated both an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Site of Special Scientific Interest in place. So spectacular scenery, nature and a clutch of charming little picture postcard villages, most notably Crowcombe and Aisholt
Whilst there is little doubt of the Quantocks natural beauty, some of the place names leave a little to be desired. The first spot I stopped was a tranquil little clearing with ponies and the odd sheep wandering around. Upon consulting the nearest signpost I was informed the place was named Dead Woman's Ditch—nice!
7. Shepton Mallet
Shepton Mallet was a town that I had for some reason head of. Knowing nothing about it I wasn't expecting much.
After spending a few minutes trying to compose photos of the church so as not to include the fat bloke with his Staffy terrier with strange headgear I gave up and headed down the hill.
I have to say I was pretty impressed with Sheppy (as I like to call it) given the sunny weather and the red roof tiles it had the look of a Mediterranean hillside village in places.
After heading off in completely the wrong direction I eventually found the town centre. Given it was a weekday it was surprisingly quite except for the odd drunk staggering out of the Bell pub— I don't know if this related to the town's main industry being the production of cider. Still drunks aside the town centre features a very attractive market place and historic market cross.
I arrived at Selworthy at around 6pm on a June evening and had the place to myself. I parked up in the car park by the church which overlooks the surrounding countryside, being near one of the highest points on Exmoor.
The 15th c church itself is quite unusual for England in that it is whitewashed giving it a distinctly Mediterranean look.
The village largely consists of several thatched cottages scattered about a rambling green that spills down the wooded combe. I really wish I'd had time to sit down on one of the benches on the green and taken in the tranquility and picture postcard factor of 10! Unfortunately there were still more places to photograph that day.
Somerton is a real little gem how a rural English village should look - a bit more like a French rural village! With a tree line village square, red tiled rooves and a quiet lazy feel under the clear blue sky I really felt I could have been in northern France.
Once upon a time Somerton was the capital of Somerset. Flourishing through the centuries there is no shortage of fine Medieval - 17th century buildings and the village still retains an air of prosperity
I wasn't originally going to go to Wells as I figured it had probably been photographed to death already. However, given my poor map reading skills (always bad when I don't have a map) I ended up here anyway. Anyway, glad I did!
After Bath Wells has the most impressive collection of sights in Somerset—if not more. Whereas bath has a sprawl of Georgian buildings, Wells is just a highly concentrated dose of Medieval splendor.
Wells fact number one: despite being smaller than many towns, with a population of only 10,000, Wells is in fact a city and has been since 1205!
Probably the first thing you stumble upon in Wells will be the cathedral. Completed in 1250 from yellow Doulting stone the facade of this substantial cathedral is covered with over 300 separate carvings.
Having wandered around the cathedral you may well find yourself in the Market Square thinking 'Hmm, that was a fancy archway I just came through. Ooh, there's another one! Surely there can't be anything quite as impressive through there?!'
Well, you'd be wrong as the second archway leads to the Bishop's palace which has the appearance of a castle set in a lake surrounded by trees. If you cross the moat and enter the palace you will be greeted by a wide open walled space with a croquet lawn in the middle (?!)