Somerset is a county sometimes overlooked but it repays a visit in spades. Its name deriving from ‘land of the summer people’, Somerset, with its heritage, myths and legends appeals in any weather.
For lovers of landscape, it is ‘a must’. With no fewer than four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one National Park, a Jurassic Coast and hundreds of reserves, it has almost every kind of habitat – from meadow and moor to woods and wetland.
Here's 5 highlights which will make your visit one to remember.
1. Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar is world famous and rightly so. Whether it is for the eponymous cheese still made there and aged in the caves or for the discovery of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, the village is steeped in history.
The Country’s largest underground river system and its highest inland limestone cliffs make for some breath-taking scenes, which have inspired the likes of Tolkien and Coleridge.
England’s largest gorge is home to feral goats and Soay sheep as well as the Cheddar Pink and other rare plants. The caves boast some unbelievable rock formations, the village offers award-winning tea rooms and independent shops and the gorge hosts a wildlife reserve and a range of outdoor activities.
2. Avalon Marshes
There is no other landscape in Britain like the one known as Avalon Marshes. Set in the Somerset Levels and Moors, which is one of the Country’s finest remaining lowland wetlands, it combines rare habitats with reminders of our prehistory.
With the Mendip and Polden Hills as backdrop and Glastonbury Tor rising mystically from its midst atop the Isle of Avalon, the area has long been the source of myths and legends.
What is more recent, since the old peat workings were reclaimed as reed-beds, is that the four nature reserves have taken on national importance for attracting such scarcities as Bittern, Marsh Harriers, Great White Egrets and spectacular Starling Murmurations.
3. Brean Down
The natural pier that is Brean Down gives astonishing 360-degree views over the Bristol Channel to Wales, along the seven-mile stretch of sand towards Exmoor, across the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury and up beyond Weston-Super-Mare to Clevedon.
A steep climb to the top uncovers secrets such as the site of a Roman Temple and Palmerston Fort while down on the beach are breakwaters and sand dunes.
The 97m high promontory is an extension of the Mendip Hills and the start of a 58-mile Somerset section of the England Coast Path all the way to Minehead taking in fossil-rich rocks, saltmarsh, beaches and ancient harbours.
4. Coleridge Cottage
The time spent by Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the picturesque village of Nether Stowey has left a legacy of some of the most memorable lines of verse in the English language.
Wandering in the Quantock Hills - the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and along the Somerset coast, Coleridge and his friends William and Dorothy Wordsworth were inspired to write work that was crucial in the development of the literary Romantic Movement.
Who can wonder when retracing the poet’s steps on the Coleridge Way, which starts form the beautifully restored cottage where he lived for three years from 1797 and finishes at Lynmouth on Exmoor.
A medieval village complete with a castle, packhorse bridge, beach and steam railway is surely a surfeit of riches. In fact, there is more with 200 Listed buildings in one compact village including a yarn market, priory, dovecote and mill.
The castle stands proudly on a wooded hill above all these with spectacular views of Exmoor and the sea as well as its own exotic gardens.
Iron Age forts show the area has been occupied for thousands of years and its importance as a centre for wool and cloth explains why it boasts so many fine buildings. The West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage railway in England, stops at Dunster on its run alongside the coast.