Sorry I have been absent lately, various projects and distractions. Don’t fret, I will start again after the Easter break with a monthly Somerset blog.
As we alluded to last week, we went to Cheddar at the weekend to celebrate my birthday and found five wonderfully Somersetty treats to share with you.
Cheddar is set in the Mendip area of the county. It is home to attractions like Gough’s Cave and Jacob’s Ladder, but we went a bit more low key for our day out.
The Gorge Walk.
Online or printed maps are available from the National Trust for The Gorge Walk. The National Trust own the land in the Gorge, but access to the walk is free. There are a number of other walks that cross The Gorge Walk, so you might find you stumble across parts of it. From The National Trust’s little shop in Cheddar you can pick up a printed map (donations welcome).
The Gorge Walk is not for the faint hearted! Although it is only three miles, there is some pretty steep climbing and descents that will mean you earn your cream tea when you finish. Your efforts will also be rewarded with some stunning views across the Mendips, towards the Somerset coastline, and into the Gorge. We would not recommend this walk after lots of rain as it could get very slippy.
There is plenty of cider being made in and around Cheddar. For a selection of them check out The Cider Barn just down the A371. We picked up a bottle of Legbender Dry, from Rich’s Cider, based in nearby Highbridge. They have a shop in Cheddar where you can buy all things cider. For more information on Rich’s Cider, follow this Link,
Cheddar is, of course, synonymous with cheese. And where else could be more perfect for a cheese picnic than Cheddar? Half way through the walk described above, the scenery opens up and gives you the plenty of lush grass with stunning views to munch on your cheese sandwiches. We recommend stopping in the Original Cheddar Cheese Company farm shop on the high street. Not only does it sell some fabulous cheese but it has all the accessories you can imagine (including little cheese cool bags, to keep everything in tact on your walk).
There are plenty of cafes and gift shops nestled along the side of the main road. All of them are independent, without a Starbucks or Costa in sight. We enjoyed cream teas and toasted tea cakes from Simply Gorgeous, who were very generous with the cream and even warmed our scones.
Top of the Gorge Festival
One of the things that caught our eyes was Top of the Gorge Festival, 14 to 16 June 2019, organised by the National Trust. It is billed as a carnival of outdoor adventure. There will be a pop up camp site, and activities including trail running, mountain biking, climbing, caving, walking, archery, food foraging, campfire cooking and star gazing. We think this is a great celebration of Somerset and its beautiful countryside.
We loved it in Cheddar so much that we will be heading there again soon. Top visiting tip: get there early for good parking!
This weekend is my birthday and to celebrate I am going for a walk with my family in the Mendips. We plan to take some pictures and report back on our findings on all things Cheddar next week.
For now, we thought we would share five reasons that we love Somerset (never too late for a Valentines card to your county!) It is pretty bleak every time you turn on the news at the moment, so here is a blog respite with some things to be grateful for.
We are spoilt for choice with our recognised Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty including the Quantocks, Mendip and Blackdown Hills. Not to mention the National and Country parks such as Exmoor, Ham Hill and Ninesprings. Somerset boasts its fair share of lowlands as well thanks to the Somerset Levels & Moors, which contains 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. We are also blessed with historic cities, towns and villages dotted around the county meaning there is always something and somewhere new to explore.
Somerset’s heritage is quite astonishing, and we never stop learning about what makes our county tick, through the unique activities or places that remind us why where we live is so important. Carnival was invented in Bridgwater! The Museum of Somerset (Taunton) and the Rural Life Museum (Glastonbury) expertly capture our county’s social, environmental and political past. Halsway Manor hosts a rich tapestry of Cecil Sharp’s collection. The West Somerset Railway and Yeovil Railway Centre evoke the power of steam from times gone by. Our orchards contain totally unique apples that can only be found in that orchard. Once a year, we stand in the middle of our local orchards, in the dark, singing at bits of toast hanging from trees. The list is endless.
We have some pretty impressive brain power here, despite the reputation for being dumb yokles. Some of the smartest technology comes from companies based in Somerset. Our Aerospace industry is a core part of the South West sector which has around 800 companies and supports 98,000 jobs.
Somerset has one of the finest collections of village halls for rural touring of theatre and music you can find. Our big theatres, including: The Brewhouse (Taunton), The Octagon (Yeovil), Theatre Royal Bath present a rich diversity of live performance, meeting everyone’s interests. Somerset hosts the biggest live performance festival in Europe, on a farm (Glastonbury Festival) and smaller ones such as Fanny Hatstand, or PigPen are popping up. Every year, local venues big & small, become galleries for some of Somerset’s most inspiring visual artists. And Somerset is home to some of the region’s most dynamic storytellers, whose knowledge of local myth & folk stories is second to none.
If you have ever visited one of Somerset’s farmers markets you will get a taste of the produce that is made on our doorstep, and it doesn’t disappoint. There are over 100 producers who attend the markets, where you can find items from specialist breads to meat, fish, dairy, vegetables and fruit. That aside, Somerset is known for its cheese and cider, and it doesn’t get much better than that. So get some cheddar and a pint of scrumpy and raise a toast to Somerset, why we love our county!
It’s the time of the year when teachers breathe a massive February sigh of relief, and parents look for Things To Do With the Kids. It’s a popular time to leave the UK, maybe to get a bit of late winter sun, or take in some skiing. But if you’re staying around Somerset (or maybe visiting our county from elsewhere), there’s plenty to do nearby. We’ve found five places to keep you, and the kids, entertained.
16-23 February; the egg theatre, Bath
One of the jewels of Somerset’s theatre scene, the egg is the place to go to see some of the best productions created for children & young people. Over half term, there are three shows on offer including ‘Star Flower’ for ages 5yrs +, The Ladybird Detective Agency for ages 6m-4yrs and an exciting looking Hansel & Gretel for ages 5yrs+. Click here for more info.
16-24 February; Museum of Somerset, Taunton
As usual, the brilliant Museum of Somerset has got loads on over half term. ‘The World Before Yesterday’ is an interesting looking photography exhibition of the work of Stanley Kenyon; an exhibition on the legacy of Somerset and the First World War tells some amazing stories from 100 years ago; a trail following in the footsteps of Somerset’s own John Haning Speke (he discovered the source of the Nile) and Castle Day – activities inspired by the building itself. And there is so much more. You could probably spend a week here! Have a look right here for more information.
19-21 February; Fleet Air Arm Museum
Fancy a bit of helicopter engineering fun? Learn how a helicopter’s blades work by making your own helicopter spinners and testing them from the Concorde gallery. No booking necessary, although you’ll need to buy a ticket to the Museum. Have a look here for more information.
22 February; The High Sheriff celebrates Somerset: and you’re invited!
Yes, Somerset has a Sheriff. And he has a sword. He doesn’t have a badge, or chase around after Robin Hood. But he is marking the end of his year in office by reviving the traditional High Sheriff Concert. This time, it’s at Wells Cathedral, and there is a FREE family event in the morning, before a ticketed gala event in the evening which features, among others, Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons reading TS Eliot’s poem ‘East Coker’. Look for @celebratingsomerset on Facebook & Twitter, or visit here for tickets.
23 February; Glastonbury Occult Conference
Perhaps not for little ones, Glastonbury Town Hall plays host to a weekend celebration of ritual, ancient mystery, magic, and a divine giraffe (among other things). Have a look at the website for more information, including ticket prices.
Whatever you decide to do, have a great half term.
As February is the last month of winter it brings with it the appearance of snowdrops. Until some research today I had not realised just how popular snowdrops are, but I can see why. Whether you find them at the side of the road or in a secret woodland, these little flowers are always a treat to see.
Somerset has certainly picked up the mantel of celebrating the end of the cold and welcoming these first flowers of the year. There are many festivals and events across the County to celebrate this single little flower, so I could not resist dedicating this blog to five that I found.
Shepton Mallet. Snowdrop Festival.
On 16th and 17th February Shepton Mallet will be hosting its snowdrop festival. It is organised by the not-for-profit Shepton Mallet Horticultural Society with the aim of planting thousands of bulbs and restoring the Allen family memorial in the town cemetery. It is billed as being a festival for the whole community with poetry and photography competitions, talks parades and much more.
Exmoor, Wheddon Cross. Snowdrop Valley 2019.
This one tends to top everyone’s snowdrop bucket list, including BBC’s Country File. Open until 3rd March the aptly named Snowdrop Valley is opening up access to its carpet of snowdrops. Due to high demand and limited parking there is a park and ride running from 9th to 24th February.
Wells, Bishop’s Palace. Snowdrop Celebration Weekend.
The Bishop’s Palace has a weekend dedicated to celebrating everything about the snowdrop. On 23rd and 24th February drop by between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to enjoy the flowers and various craft stalls (note, there is an entrance fee).
Chard, Forde Abbey. Snowdrop Weekends.
Every Saturday between now and 24 February the Head Gardener is leading the tour of the gardens and its snowdrops. There is a warm cup of tea and slice of cake on offer as well. Tickets are £10 and the walk starts to 10:30 a.m. For more details follow this link.
East Lambrook Manor Gardens. Festival of Snowdrops.
Finally, check out East Lambrook Manor Gardens on the 7th and 9th February at 2:00 p.m. where there are free talks and tours of the snowdrops around the gardens.
In light of the snow this morning, we here at SomeSomerset thought we would look at ways to make the most of the flurry. Here are two of our favourite ways to enjoy the pitching snow (apart from walking in it; for that, you can refer to our two previous blogs).
Option 1) Slide down a hill.
Whether on sledge, a piece of plastic that was lying around, or (if you are posh) on some skis, we all love to slide down a snow covered hill. Just in case more snow drifts into Somerset, here are our top spots for winter fun:
Taunton: Cotlake Hill.
Near Trull, this is a lovely spot any time of the year and there are plenty of walks that take in the hill. However, it is also a good place to head with your sledge.
Glastonbury: Glastonbury Tor.
This one may be obvious, but that steep landmark hill is at its best when sliding down the side of it over the snow.
Frome: Whatcome Fields.
These fields were bought by and for the local community and make for excellent sledging fun.
Yeovil: Wyndham Hill, Ninesprings.
Part of Yeovil Country Park, Ninesprings is a brilliant bit of country side in the town. Wyndham Hill is easy to find thanks to the landmark tree at the top of the hill.
Churchill: Mendip Snow Sport Centre.
Somerset does not disappoint. Even when it does not snow you can get your ski slope thrills. Check out the Mendip Snow Sport Centre, Link.
Option 2) Find a Cosy Fire Place.
From open fire pits to the crackle and roar of a cosy inglenook fire place; when it is cold outside you can’t beat a real fire. Here are our picks of five pubs with fireplaces to come in from the cold and warm your cockles:
West Coker: Inn the Square Link
Full disclosure, this is our local. However, even if it was not in walking distance for us we would still frequently venture over, we love it here. A large wood burning stove warming the place and ready to welcome you. The food is always comforting and high quality.
Chard: The Candlelight Inn Link
We had mulled wine here, following by some lunch just before Christmas. It was cosy, we sat by the log burner and had a lovely afternoon.
Compton Martin: Ring o’ Bells Link
The pub boasts an impressive open fire with comfortable chairs and it has the well warn feel of a proper pub. I would happily grab a cider and chase away the cold here.
Wiveliscombe: The White Hart Inn Link
This is a firm favourite when we are in the area. My Dad’s old local and somewhere with reliably good food and drink along with a real fire to warm your toes.
Shepton Mallet: Mendip Inn Link
This one comes highly recommended from my Mum. There are roaring fires and the food (particularly the roasts) are delicious. I get the impression it is more food orientated than an afternoon whiling time away at the bar.
We would love to hear any of your top tips for cosy pubs and adrenaline inducing hills for the snowy weather.
A quick reminder of the last five:
- Leland Trail: 28 Miles from King Alfred’s Tower to Ham Hill
- The Monarch’s Way: 625 Miles from Worcester to Brighton via Bristol and Yeovil
- The Coleridge Way: 51 miles from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth
- South West Coast Path: 630 miles from Minehead to Poole
- Mendip Way: 50 miles from Weston-super-Mare to Frome.
The River Parrett Trail: 48 Miles from Chedintgon to Bridgwater Bay.
This route follows the river from its source in Chedington Dorset up through the Somerset Levels to where it meets the sea at Bridgwater Bay. It is broken into six smaller sections for day walks and includes some stunning views and passes through lovely villages. Here is a map from Somerset County Council.
Liberty Trail: 28 Miles from Ham Hill to Lyme Regis.
This is the route of six rebels as they met up from villages in Somerset and Dorset. The rebels then made their way up to Monmouth to join the Protestant in the Rebellion of 1685. The route is aptly split into six sections ranging from three to six miles in length. There’s a leaflet filled with interesting stories about the rebels, available from Discover South Somerset.
Deane Way: 45 or 42 Miles from Taunton heading East or West.
- West Deane Way 45 Miles from Taunton through the Quantocks
- East Deane Way 42 Miles from Taunton through Sedgemoor.
These are two circular walks going east or west from Taunton, depending on which one you choose. West takes in the Brendon Hills. East goes through Corfe and over to the Blackdown Hills, reminding you that we are spoilt for options and countryside in Somerset. These routes are available from books in Tourist Information Centres.
Macmillan Way West: 102 Miles from Castle Cary to Barnstaple.
Part of the larger 290 mile Macmillan Way, this section breaks off at Castle Cary and heads through the Somerset Levels over to the Quantocks. This beautiful countryside walk has been put together to help raise awareness and money for Macmillian’s cancer relief fund. Find out more here.
The Strawberry Line: 10 Miles from Yatton to Cheddar.
This is a traffic free trail following the old railway line (which also means it is pretty flat so its bike, wheelchair and buggy friendly). Much of the route is recognised as a local nature reserve and connects a number of rural villages. The team behind the trail are hoping to expand it to a 30 mile route, eventually connecting to a larger 85 mile project known as the Somerset Circle itself consisting of: The River Avon Trail; The Bristol & Bath Railway Path; Two Tunnels Greenway; The Colliers Way; Norton Radstock Greenway; Five Arches Way; The Strawberry Line and The Festival Way.
We are loving January thanks in no small way to the three wassails we visited in the last week. There is still time to get out and wassail if you haven’t already. Check out last week’s blog for more details.
One of our 2019 resolutions was to get out and see more of Somerset. To help us in this aim we have been researching walking trails. We found so many that this week is part one of a two part blog. The trails pass through or reside in Somerset and many can be broken up into day walks. So put those walking boots on, pull up your socks and here we go!
Leland Trail: 28 Miles from King Alfred’s Tower in Penselwood to Ham Hill near Yeovil.
John Leland travelled through South Somerset as King Henry VIII’s librarian. His job was to record all of the treasured possessions of the churches and priories. This walk is based on his accounts. It takes you through Castle Cary, North Cadbury, Queen Camel and over to Montacute. South Somerset District Council have produced guide breaking the walk into seven stages, if 28 miles seems a bit much. Find the guide here. This trail links to three others on our list (Monarchs Way, Liberty Trail and the River Parrett Trail).
The Monarch’s Way: 625 Miles from Worcester to Brighton via Bristol and Yeovil.
The escape route of King Charles II in 1651 can’t have been all bad as he managed to spend some time in Somerset. He covered the 625 miles in six weeks, the highlight of which would have been walking along the River Parrett to Hardington Mandville and East Coker before heading down into Dorset. For details here is a link.
The Coleridge Way: 51 miles from Nether Stowey and Lynmouth.
Cross the Quantocks and Exmoor in the footsteps of the famous Romance poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We have walked parts of this route before and the scenery is worth any blisters. Find out more here.
South West Coast Path: 630 miles from Minehead to Poole.
The longest national trail takes in 12.5 miles of the Somerset coastline from Minehead to Porlock in Exmoor. It is an ambition of mine to complete the 630 miles, but the Somerset part makes a lovely day walk. Find details here.
Mendip Way: 50 miles from Weston-super-Mare to Frome.
As the name suggests this walk crosses the stunning Mendip Hills. The walk takes in The Bristol Channel at Weston-super-Mare, heads through Cheddar Gorge and into Wells before ending in Frome. Here is your link.
We have been to one wassail already this year, and we are lining up others. Now, I am sure that our five to 10 regular readers (Hi Mum!) know what a wassail is, but just to ensure we are all up to speed, here is an overview.
Wassail means “to be in good health”; a worthy cheer and greeting anytime of the year, normally used around Christmas and up to twelfth night. It’s an Old English and Old Norse word, but still very much in vogue in the countryside today. Here are your usage options:
- A wassail can refer to a spiced ale/cider/wine drunk during twelfth night;
- To wassail can be used to describe the act of plentiful drinking and merriment;
- To go wassailing can refer to carolling door to door.
However, here we are describing the custom in cider making regions such as Somerset of wassailing the orchards to drive away evil spirits in order to welcome an abundant, healthy crop of apples.
So how do we do this? Is it perhaps through some savage pruning, or spreading of fertiliser? Nope, not even close. We bang saucepans, put cider soaked bread in the tree (only to be done by a nominated wassail king or queen that is hoisted into the branches) and toast the trees by drinking mulled cider while chanting/singing songs.
If you want to join in this larking around in orchards across Somerset in January here are five places that you can do it. There are plenty more to choose from so keep an eye out for any information about one local to you. Don’t forget to pack your torches, whistles, drums and saucepans:
- Yarlington: Friday 11th January 6:30 p.m. the procession begins at the Stags Head Inn. Proceeds will go to St Margaret’s Hospice.
- Taunton: Saturday 12th January 5:00 p.m. at Frieze Hill Community Orchard. The event includes a bonfire, Big Noise Street Band and a Mummers performance.
- West Coker: Sunday 13th January 6:30 p.m. at the East Close Orchard, followed by music and merriment at the village hall, including a Mummers performance. Details here.
- Dunster: Thursday 17th January at 7:30 p.m. at Dunster Buttercross Community Orchard.
- Glastonbury: Saturday 19th January 7:00 p.m. at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, with local band Rapscallion (N.B. this is a ticketed event).
It is the New Year, which means that it is time for setting resolutions, so here at Some Somerset HQ we thought we would share five of our goals for 2019:
Celebrate Somerset: Somerset Day 11 May 2019 Find out more here.
Set on the day that Alfred the Great it is believed to have gathered ‘all the people of Somerset’ to fight and win a battle against the Vikings, Somerset day is a celebration of everything this County has to offer.
However, while we are waiting for May (not wanting to wish away the year quite yet) we are going to celebrate in the form of a good old fashioned Wassail. We will share details of these events next week.
See Somerset: Walk, bike and explore the County. Maps for trails and routes.
There are 9,000 rights of way totalling 3,808 miles in this County and we are planning to get out and explore a few more of them over the year. Places like the lovely Sand Bay (picture above, which was taken on Boxing Day morning this year).
Eat Somerset: Foodie Festivals For Everyone
Whatever your budget or taste, Somerset has something for everyone with lots of great restaurants and cafes. This year we are looking to taste as much as we can by attending some of the festivals including:
- Exmoor Food Fest is on over February and across the region.
- Saturday 27 April 2019 is the Bridgwater Food and Drink Festival. Link for details.
- Sunday 13 October 2019 sees the return of Wells Food Festival. Link for details.
Buy Somerset: Championing local and independent business.
We are planning to track down farmers markets, boutique stores and independent retailers, spending more time on our high streets this year.
Read Somerset: Blogs and books.
We are going to continue to read our faviourate blogs, magazines and books in around Somerset including:
- Tom Jones. The Henry Fielding classic novel based in Somerset is on the list this year. Nick has started working his way through it. Coleridge is said to have argued that it is “one of three of the most perfect plots ever planned”. There have been a few more plots since his time so we will see if it still deserves such high praise.
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The epic poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is worth a read if you haven’t already. It is said to have been written in Watchet. Read more here.
- Somerset Cool: The coolest blog about Somerset around, they always uncover gems from around the County. Check them out!
- Muddy Stilettos: The author of this blog is in the know about where to go in Somerset. Check them out!