Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.
Somerset is rural England at its best. Home of cider, cheddar cheese and stunning scenery, it is a scenic countryside escape and can be reached in around two hours by rail or road from London. Ideal for families, romantic weekends or for those who love the outdoors, it is well placed for visiting some of the major attractions in the west such as Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast. Visitors can explore its delightful coastline, moorlands and fascinating history linked to King Arthur.
Places to See
One of Somerset’s hidden secrets is the town of Glastonbury and its links to King Arthur and the Holy Grail. Considered by some to be strongly associated with magic and mystery, a visit here can easily be combined with a trip to the famous Glastonbury music festival site in the village of Pilton.
Those who want to explore further can visit the cathedral town of Wells, the fascinating caves and witches of Wookey Hole and stunning scenery at Cheddar Gorge. A short drive away, the delightful town of Somerton boasts attractive buildings and squares.
Often called the jewel in South Somerset’s crown, the market town of Castle Cary is awash with pretty golden stone buildings, an ancient prison and a historic Market House. The county also has a number of country houses and gardens that can be visited, including Montacute House, Lytes Cary Manor and Hestercombe Gardens. The roads are very quiet, and the area has many attractive villages and welcoming inns. The coastline to the north is worth exploring, with wide beaches often sheltered by the Bristol Channel and walking trails and moorland ponies at the Exmoor moorlands. Other attractions include the historic Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton and Hayes Motor Museum nearby.
There are plenty of small pubs and bed-and-breakfast establishments to try. Here you will probably find traditional log fires, cottage gardens and magnificent views. Many of these places are often tucked away in tiny villages or just off the beaten track. For a truly luxurious experience, make for Babington House near Frome. Part of the Soho House group, this country house has its own spa, private cinema, swimming pools and excellent restaurant. Another establishment worth considering is Charlton House at Shepton Mallet. A spa hotel, it is located just a short drive from the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore.
Food and drink
Somerset is famous for its cider, and the multitude of varieties range from very dry to sweet. There are many traditional inns where you can drink local brews together with some of the excellent cheeses produced in the area. The most famous of these is the cheddar produced with Somerset milk.
There are lots of restaurants where you can try regional dishes such as pork and cider or apple cake produced from the many different varieties of apples found around the county.
While in the area, you should also try the Somerset brandy produced by Julian Temperley at Burrow Hill.
Other specialties include eels caught on the Somerset Levels. Brown and Forrest at Hambridge is a good place to try it, or visit one of Somerset’s public houses at lunch time.
Visitors to Castle Cary might like to try the excellent Bay Tree pub on the outskirts of the town, where you can get a hearty meal that is real value for your money. For a light lunch or a scrumptious cream tea, the spectacular Cole Manor is just outside Castle Cary. Tucked away in a hollow, this delightful traditional Somerset manor house oozes charm.
Although there are one or two larger towns in Somerset, most of the entertainment can be found in the public houses and village halls. A good idea is to investigate local notice boards for further details. The Octagon Theatre in Yeovil has a program of events throughout the year, and there are several nightclubs in the town as well as in Taunton. However, it should be stressed that most entertainment is low key. Somerset is a rural community and this is reflected in the nightlife.
There is an excellent train service from London provided by First Great Western and also South West Trains. The area is also served by Berry’s Express Coach Service from Hammersmith Bus Station in West London. Bristol Regional Airport is close by, and there are plenty of flights from Europe with connections from the USA through Amsterdam and Paris. There are also local bus services and a long-distance coach service from various points throughout England. A visit to the area could easily be combined with a trip farther west to Devon, Cornwall and even the Isles of Scilly.
Featured Image: Somerset Countryside (Godfrey Hall)
Fly.com Expert Tips
How To Get There: As noted by the author, Bristol Airport (BRS) is close by, about 30 miles from Castle Cary and 25 miles from Glastonbury. Bristol is served by 13 airlines, including Aer Lingus, KLM, SAS and more. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
If you’re flying from the U.S., you’re better off flying to either London Heathrow (LHR) or London Gatwick (LGW), as you’ll have more flight options, and it’s cheaper, as you’ll be looking at a $200-$300 difference between London and Bristol.
To get to Somerset from London, you can take a train from Paddington Station to Castle Cary on either the National Rail or the Trainline. Roundtrip tickets range from £40 to £60, depending on the time of day, and takes two to three hours each way.
Best Time To Visit: The author’s favorite time to visit is in Spring when the hedgerows are full of cowslips and daffodils, or Autumn during the apple harvest.
For music fans, Glastonbury Festival is a five day music festival held every late-June in Pilton, and is one of the world’s largest music festivals. Past festivals included performances by The Rolling Stones, Mumford & Sons, Muse, U2, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé.
More information about Somerset is available through the Somerset tourism website.
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