Travelling doesn’t have to mean paying extortionate amounts in plane tickets and struggling with exchange rates. The UK is bursting with beautiful towns, tranquil countryside and rugged coasts and can be just as exciting to explore as foreign shores. In the “Hometown” series some of the Wessex Scene travel writers show us the places they grew up in and tell us why they’re worth a visit!
Known for its cheese, cider and farming culture, Somerset is about as “country” as it gets. Bound by Bristol and Gloucestershire in the North, Wiltshire and Dorset to the East and Devon to the south, Somerset is at the heart of the West Country. It is a county where “traffic” means either lifestock or a particularly slow tractor is holding up the road, where everyone is referred to as “my love” and the smell of hops from the local breweries is the smell of home. Full of rolling hills, fruit orchards and a rugged coastlines, twisting country lanes, huge cathedrals and ancient monuments Somerset is as rich in farming as it is in historical, religious and mythological culture.
A hill protruding from the Somerset levels, Glastonbury Tor is also known as “Ynys yr Afalon” – the Isle of Avalon. It is believed by many to be the Avalon from the legend of King Arthur and his round table and is documented to be the final resting place of the King and his wife Queen Guinevere. It has also been sited as a possible location for the Holy Grail, the seat of the Lord of the Underworld and also the seat of the King of the Fairies, giving it the alternative name “the land of the fairies”. The wonderfully ancient and alternative town of Glastonbury revolves around the legends of the Tor and is filled with quirky shops such as “The Crystal Man”, “Cat & Cauldron” and “The Wonky Broomstick Shop” just to name a few. It is definitely worth an explore! Pop into the Blue Note café for a cup of coffee and a toastie to keep you energised for the walk up to the Tor.
Aside from great shopping and food, the city is alive with culture and history. A visit to the Jane Austin museum will have you reliving Pride & Prejudice or to the Roman Baths to sample the healing water many have ventured from across the world to try. Alternatively, take a walk next to the River Avon to view the beautiful water features and stop off for a picnic in one of Bath’s beautiful green parks. Exploring the shops in Bath could be a whole day in itself! Unique shops selling such things as antique maps, masks and old costume jewellery accompany the usual highstreet shops. If you are a book fanatic Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights will keep you occupied for hours (they even have a reading room with hot chocolate and cookies!) If you happen to visit during Christmas time, do not miss the Christmas market in Bath which is one of the best in the country.
The best days to visit Wells are Wednesday and Saturday when the market is on. Here you can gorge on samples of Somerset cheese, cider and pies and peruse the stalls of locally made jewellery, pottery and textiles. The huge second hand book stall is also a favourite, with shelves of books for as little as 20p! The market runs all day, but only needs a few hours to visit properly. Wells Cathedral looms over the towns market place and is absolutely magnificent. It is the seat for the Bishop of the Bath and Wells district and has been for thousands of years. The Chapter Room, where meetings of the district were held is a feat of architecture that really takes your breath away when you walk in. There are many tombs around the cathedral, many with sculpted figures and rather entertainingly, most are covered in ancient graffiti.
If you are a lover of the outdoors, Somerset will not disappoint. Exmoor is probably the largest and most well regarded for outdoor pursuits of Somerset’s open spaces (others namely the Mendips and the Quantocks). Trickling streams and powerful rivers criss-cross the landscape, carving it up into hills and fields, forests and moorland. The few permanent inhabitants provide enough pubs for you to factor in a pub lunch to your trip. A word of warning: if you are taking a picnic, eat it out of sight of the Exmoor ponies, or they will steal it.