"My Somerset Guide" Top 5 Page for this destination Somerset by englishchris

Somerset Travel Guide: 1,504 reviews and 3,625 photos

The County as a whole

I have been living and working in Somerset for about six years now. I am still not sure quite what to make of it as it's a very different kind of place to where I grew up. Like everywhere, it has it's pros and cons, and in many ways it is a long way from the multi-cultural, vibrant rat race of the south east of England. Out of the main towns, it can seem like a step back in time - in architecture, shop displays, and pace of life - not to mention peoples attitudes at times (which can tend to be quite insular). Culturally there is a LOT going on here, with numerous festivals, events activities, and groups - but it is all relatively low key, and not immediately apparent. Check things out at tourist info offices, and just speak to likely looking people!
Somerset is a very rural county and consists mainly of little towns and villages, dotted throughout its various regions. The landscape varies quite a bit, and includes the limestone hills of the Mendips, the flat and watery spaces of the Levels, and the intimate grandeur of Exmoor National Park. Taunton is the county's capital town, and it is a generally relaxed, and pleasant place.
Below I have listed some of the places I have come to know and love, and the impressions they have had on me. It is my hope that it inspires anyone who might be travelling this way, to visit some of these little gems that make up the "Somerset Experience" One thing though - the bus and train service in Somerset is generally crap, and you will need your own transport to really explore this county.
I can't cram all of the info in the introduction, so please explore the linked pages (must sees, and off the beaten track) for much more info and photos. This is going to be a but of a project, so keep visiting the pages, as it builds.

Places to visit

National Park of Exmoor:
Situated in the west of the county, the park also runs over the border into Devon. It is a mixture of secluded river valleys, high rolling moorland, and spectacular coastline where it falls over into the bristol channel. Home to semi wild ponies and deer, Exmoor is one of the last great bastions of the hunting community (although they dont hunt the ponies!). Much of the place has a very distinct atmosphere - a mixture of wildness and welcome. Great for walking, photography and village pubs.

South Somerset:
A very mellow, and pleasant area. Most of the buildings are made from the local Ham Stone, which has a lovely golden colour. There is nothing in south somerset as such, so it tends to get overlooked, but to my mind it is every bit as nice as the Cotswolds, but without the hords of visitors. Don't bother with the bigger towns of Yeovil and Chard, but do check out Montacute, the Chinnocks, Tintinhull, Crewkerne and Ilminster.
My personal recommendation for a laid back day out is to get to Montacute, park in the National Trust car park, check out the house and garden, have lunch at the inn at the top of the village, walk it off around the footpaths that run behind the church, and then come back and spend an hour in the Nostalgia Museum.

The Mendips:
A ridge of limestone hills in the north/central part of the county. They include Cheddar Gorge which is as spectacular as England gets! (ie. NOT as spectacular as the Scottish Highlands, or the Grand Canyon!!), but it has its charm. There's plenty of good walking here, and the air has a certain sparkly freshness. It also offers some of the best caving in the British Isles. If you want you can visit the heavily touristed but spectacular cavrens at Wookey Hole and Cheddar. At the eastern end of the hill range, are some nice villages including Mells. At the more western end you have the town of Wells (actually England's smallest city), and the new-age mecca of Glastonbury.

The Levels:
Most of the levels have been wild land for nearly all of history.
Although the land is now "managed" and farmed, it still does not really have the feeling that human life has made its presence felt there yet! Recognisable by its flat land, lots of drainage ditches, and crack willow trees. Full of birdlife in winter, and wild flowers in summer.
This patch of land in central somerset has seen some major events in English history. It has one of the world's oldest "roads" (at the Peat Moors Centre near Glastonbury). It was where Christianity first established a foothold on this Isle. King Alfred the Great had his secret camp (and burned the cakes) near Burrowbridge, and the last battle fought on English soil (the Monmouth Rebellion) took place at Weston Zoyland.


Many visiters from abroad tell me that their favourite thing about England is the pubs!
One of my favourite authors (Geoff Dyer) notes that England is unique in that life here does not take place on the streets, but inside, in the pubs. Now I'm not the world's greatest drinker, so I don't spend much of my time in pubs, but I do reckon that Somerset is blessed with some fantastic pubs, full of atmosphere and charm, and often serving good food at great prices.
Here are a few of my favourites:
"The Muddled Man" at West Chinnock" which is in South Somerset.
"The George" at Middlezoy in central Somerset.
"The Crown" at North Perrot near the Dorset border.

These are NOT modern theme pubs, but you will find a great welcome, great food and beer, and a totally authentic atmosphere.

I will keep adding more when I get round to it.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Real - Not Touristy. Pretty Villages. Varied Landscape.
  • Cons:Limited Public Transport. Insular Attitudes.
  • In a nutshell:Authentic England
  • Intro Updated Nov 13, 2004
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Reviews (4)

Comments (3)

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Jan 20, 2006 at 4:21 AM

    Great information and beautiful photos in that soft summer light!

  • planxty's Profile Photo
    Sep 11, 2005 at 7:57 AM

    Somerset, what a lovely place. And there's always the cider! fergy

  • evaanna's Profile Photo
    Feb 14, 2005 at 1:26 PM

    Wells Cathedral is just great! The moat with the swans ringing the bell for food, the colourful clock and the rather unusual structure inside are not easy to forget.


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