Places to visit in SomersetPosted: 2011-05-20
A few days ago I posted a list of places to visit in the Cotswolds, a response to a friend who will be visiting the area. I thought it might be fun to continue this theme and throw together a list of places we really enjoyed visiting in different areas of the country.
Hopefully, this will help steer you in the right direction for your own travel planning and perhaps suggest a few unexpected places you hadn't considered before. As always we're biased towards places with a strong heritage interest! Today it's one of my favourite areas; the county of Somerset.
In no particular order, here are some of our favourite places to visit:
Montacute House - built of warm-toned stone, Montacute is one of the most enjoyable historic houses in Britain. The upper floor houses portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.
Glastonbury - I love Glastonbury! There's so much history, mixed with no small bit of myth and legend. At the heart of the town is the wonderful ruined abbey with the supposed grave of King Arthur in the grounds. Just around the corner is the Tribunal, built for pilgrims to the abbey. Walk the other way and you get to the Somerset Museum of Rural Life, housed in the old abbey tithe barn. Keep on walking and you reach Chalice Well, a mysterious garden at the foot of Glastonbury Tor. And what of the Tor, with its medieval tower at the summit? Linger here on a summer evening and I dare you not to be thrilled with the air of something just a bit magical! A short drive from Glastonbury is Meare, where you can see the old fish house built for the Abbot. And if you prefer wildlife to history, there are several nature reserves on the Levels, like RSPB Greylake and Westhay Moors.
Wells - The smallest city in England, Wells is famous for its twin historic attractions, the wonderful cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. A short stroll from the cathedral is the best-preserved medieval street in Europe, while a short drive from Wells brings you to the showcaves at Wookey Hole.
Baltonsborough (external link) - this little village lies south of Glastonbury in the heart of the Somerset Levels. There is little to see save a lovely medieval church in a delightful setting, but its the historic associations that make a visit worthwhile; it was here that St Dunstan was born around the year 988AD. Dunstan grew to become perhaps the most influential ecclesiastical scholar and politician of his age, advisor to kings and Archbishop of Canterbury.
Nunney Castle - tucked away in a copse of trees, almost hidden from view is this moated medieval masterpiece, a picture-perfect medieval towered castle. Now only a shell, but what a shell!
Cleeve Abbey - one of the best-preserved medieval monastic sites in Britain, Cleeve is approached through an almost intact late medieval gatehouse. The refectory hall boasts a superb angel roof, and there are wonderful collections of medieval tiles.
Dunster (external link) - one of the most visited west Somerset villages, and with good reason. The remains of Dunster Castle tower over the attractive main street, which is dominated by a large timber market cross. There is a medieval packhorse bridge, and the remains of a medieval preaching cross a short stroll away. All that and more attractive period cottages than you can count.
Muchelney - This delightful village boasts three historic sites within a stone's throw of each other. Foremost is the ruined medieval abbey, which backs onto the churchyard. Within the church is one of the most historically important painted ceilings in any English parish church. Across the road from the church is the 14th century Priest's House, built by the abbey for the parish priest, and now run by the National Trust.
Forde Abbey - just barely inside the Somerset county boundary, Forde began as a medieval abbey, and was converted to a stately home after the Dissolution. Though the interiors are superb, it is the glorious gardens that keep people coming back year after year.
Bath - you can't talk about Somerset without mentioning Bath. Though it can be overrun with tourists at times, it is still well worth a visit; there is so much history packed into a relatively small area. You can easily walk from one historic site to another. What to see ... well, there's the Roman Baths, the Pump Rooms, the Fashion Museum, Postal Museum, the wonderful attractive buildings on the Royal Crescent (including the house at Number One, which has been recreated in period style). Then there's the original Sally Lunn's shop, and of course, Bath Abbey, the last great Gothic church to be built before the Reformation.
Whew! And that's just the start.