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  • 8/14/2019 Somerset Feature. the Travel & Leisure Magazine


    49The Travel & Leisure Magazine

    From King Arthur to Guy the Gorilla, Alex Johnson gets on

    his hobby horse for a canter around the delights of Somerset.

    A poetic

    on your doorstep

    Keith Gough

    Andrew EasonKeith Gough

    Chuck Andolino

    My childhood memo-

    ries of Somerset

    largely involve Ian

    Botham and Viv

    Richards belting the

    ball around the out-

    field (or indeed over it). Then in my thir-

    ties I became interested in making my own

    cider and Somerset offered me plenty of

    sampling opportunities. But now I have a

    young family Ive finally got to know the

    county for a wider range of attractions,

    from its gorgeous coastline to its fantasticcarnivals. And if you were in any doubt

    that the traditional English seaside holiday

    is in danger, then this is the place to come

    to keep you optimistic.

    If you are considering heading to the

    beach, probably the best known spot is

    Weston-super-Mare with its long, long

    stretches of sandy beaches as well as Grove

    Park, home to Jills Garden, a celebration

    of the life of television presenter Jill Dando

    who grew up here; Minehead offers similar

    attractions plus an attractive new prome-nade and is one of several convenient gate-

    ways into Exmoor (see below); and

    Burnham-on-Sea which is also home toI Main picture: Glastonbury Tor I Above left: Wells Cathedral I Top right: Carnival time I Above right: Cheddar Gorge
  • 8/14/2019 Somerset Feature. the Travel & Leisure Magazine


    The50 Travel & Leisure Magazine

    the popular Haven Holiday Park

    ( which offers

    special activity programmes for children as

    well as plenty of live entertainment in the

    evenings. And at Clevedon you can hop on

    board a pleasure steamer from the Grade I

    listed pier for a little cruise.

    The coastline certainly has plenty to

    offer. Kilve Beach is a Site of Special

    Scientific Interest and one of the spots

    where you can see the impressive lines of

    rocks bumping against each other, full offossils (and there are some great rock pools

    here too). The coast is obviously also a great

    place for birdwatching opportunities if you

    are a twitcher, especially Bridgwater Bay.

    Greener OptionsFor something a little greener, head upwards

    and inland. There are plenty of lovely walks

    in Somerset which has over 9,000 rights of

    way adding up to 3,750 miles of rambling

    possibilities, a mixture of signposted and

    part sign-posted walks, including:

    G South West Coast Path - this runs forhundreds of miles from Minehead right

    on the edge of Exmoor National Park to

    Poole Harbour in Dorset. The web site at is a

    fantastic resource with lots of informa-

    tion about the scenery, wildlife and histo-

    ry of the area

    G The Parrett Trail (www.riverparrett-, slightly longer than the

    Coleridge Way but which can similarly be

    walked in sections, runs from Dorset into

    the south of Somerset: artists have created

    small feature clues along the track refer-ring to the landscape, its animals and its

    history which is great for children to spot

    G The Liberty Trail links Ham Hill to Lyme

    Regis and celebrates the story of the half

    dozen dissenters who joined the

    Monmouth Rebellion in 1685

    G Taunton to Bridgwater Canal towpath

    which you can dip in and out of, especial-

    ly good for picnics

    G The Macmillan Way, a series of shorter

    walks (two to six miles long) in and

    around the Quantock villages.

    G The Coleridge Way (, a lovely 36-mile route

    through the countryside where the

    romantic poet Coleridge lived and

    worked taking in heathland, moorland,

    heavily wooded valleys and pleasant vil-

    lages including the infamous Porlock

    Porlock is permanently linked now to

    Coleridge as being the village from where

    the man came to disturb Coleridges brain-

    storming during the writing of Kubla Khan

    ('In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleas-

    ure-dome decree). Its actually one of themany lovely villages which is worth a wan-

    der in Somerset and a previous winner of the

    countys Best Large Village competition.

    There are plenty of nice short walks starting

    from Porlock weir as well as a fabulous

    restaurant, Andrews on the Weir

    ( whichoverlooks Porlock Bay.

    Not all of Coleridges work was interrupted.

    He wrote the famous Rime of the Ancient

    Mariner after a trip to nearby Watchet which

    has lovely old narrow streets and is one of the

    stops on the West Somerset Railway

    (, a

    country branch line of the old Great Western

    Railway along which run various historic steam

    locomotives. There are 10 stops in villages and

    towns in the area and a range of themed trips as

    well as the timetabled departures.It tends to be the wide open spaces that

    grab the attention in Somerset, such as

    Exmoor. Its true that this is a lovely quiet

    Although not widely known now,

    Somerset is the place where pretty

    much all of the countrys willow comes

    from, used in everything from pick your

    own baskets to coffins and even an

    enormous open air structure: artist

    Serena de la Hey


    constructed a 13m Willow Mansculpture in 2000, rebuilt after an arson

    attack and which still stands in a field

    near the M5 motorway near Bridgwater.

    The main willow fields are in the area

    known as the Somerset Levels, great

    places for spotting wildlife and which

    are drained by a clever system of small

    canals known as rhynes.

    You can find out more about willow

    and even join a willow sculpture

    workshop at the Willows and Wetlands

    Visitor Centre, home of willowspecialists P. H. Coate & Son


    or if youre really keen stay at the B&B

    converted withy barn The Willow



    uk) at Stoke St Gregory.



    Thankful villagesDuring the carnage of World War I,

    there were amazingly a few villages in

    England and Wales who lost no menfolk

    during the fighting all those who went

    to war also returned.

    There were seven in Somerset:Aisholt;

    Chantry; Chelwood; Rodney Stoke;Stocklinch;Tellisford; and Woolley.



    I West Somerset Railway
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  • 8/14/2019 Somerset Feature. the Travel & Leisure Magazine


    place to roam around from its heather-cov-

    ered moorlands to the seaside cliffs and as a

    National Park its carefully monitored and

    protected which is good news for the thriving

    flora and fauna, such as the Exmoor pony,

    which make their home there. But there aresmaller jewels in the crown too such as

    Hestercombe Gardens (www.hester, a 50-acre Grade I listed garden

    which includes a Georgian landscape garden

    and formal gardens designed by Sir Edwin

    Lutyens and planted by Gertrude Jeykll. Rare

    Lesser Horseshoe bats nest here too and you

    can see them via a remote camera link.

    Of course there are plenty of manmade

    attractions too such as the fabulous ruined

    castle at Nunney and the smallest city in

    England, Wells, with its spectacular cathe-

    dral built between the 12th and 14th cen-

    turies on the site of a seventh century

    church. The fabulous west front is full of

    hundreds of statues and carvings and inside

    is one of the oldest working mechanical

    clocks, dating back to the 14th century.

    It tends to be the

    wide open spaces

    that grab the atten-

    tion in Somerset...Somerset is also the home to many tradi-

    tions and customs, such as the bizarre

    Hobby Horse which parades thoughMineheads streets every May (www.mine and

    the various autumnal Somerset Carnivals

    which involve huge illuminated processions

    organised by individual Carnival Clubs as

    well as plenty of fireworks. 2008 dates are

    still to be confirmed but last years began

    around 7pm and finished a couple of hours

    later at most locations, starting from the last

    week in September and ending in the middle

    of November.

    Glorious GlastonburyFinally, there are the numerous legends sur-

    rounding certain places in Somerset.

    Glastonbury Tor is rumoured to conceal a

    hidden entrance to the underworld while the

    last remains of King Arthur are said to have

    been discovered here by monks (the great

    man is supposed to have lived at Cadbury

    Castle, the location of the legendary

    Camelot, and whatever the truth of the mat-

    ter, its certainly an impressive prehistoric

    camp). The story also runs that Joseph of

    Arimathea planted a holy thorn tree here.All of which is great, but when you add

    the cider and the cricket on top, its really

    somewhere special.

    The Travel & Leisure Magazine52

    CheeseyOf course you can buy cheddar cheese

    everywhere from Andalucia to

    Zanzibar nowadays, but Somerset is

    the home of the real deal and to be

    precise the three farms of

    Montgomerys at North Cadbury,

    Keens in Wincanton, and Westcombe

    Dairy close to Shepton Mallet.These

    are the last three farms in the county

    preparing the traditional recipe on-


    The name comes from the village of

    Cheddar and dates back at least to the

    16th century. Cheddar cheese became

    very popular in the late 18th century

    and farmers formed cheddar clubs toincrease production to meet demand.

    A traditional cheddar varies in weight

    up to 25kg. Naturally its a popular

    accompaniment to local ciders.

    You can buy these traditional

    cheeses from The Cheese Shed

    ( or

    direct from Keens, still a family

    business (

    - where you can find out more about



    YOUR Somerset Facts


    Somerset is easy to reach by car or coach and there are also regular

    daily train services to mainline stations at Taunton,Yeovil Junction

    and Castle Cary. More details from National Rail Enquiries (08457

    484950). If you prefer to fly, there are airports at Bristol and Exeter.

    If youre thinking of taking your dog to the beach, check on local

    restrictions. For example, at Weston-super-Mare between Royal

    Sands and the Grand Pier theres a dog free zone from May to the

    end of September, whereas dogs are allowed free roam all year long

    at Berrow and Brean beaches.

    Food and drink play a large part of the Somerset experience and the

    Levels Best project aims to provide a guarantee of high quality

    ( anything with a Levels Best label means

    it has been produced by people who practice conservation land

    management, are supporters of animal welfare, rear native breeds

    of livestock and whenever possible plant and use traditional vari-

    eties of plants and seeds within the 260 square miles of the

    Somerset Levels and Moors area.

    Two very useful sites are run by the

    regional tourist board which has a good listings guide to all types of

    accommodation in the county, and ,

    a not for profit co-operative initiative run by local residents.

    I Somerset countryside