- Ivy-clad chocolate box inn
- Twisting lanes of Bath's Longleat estate
- Relaxed retro country club
- Home from Frome
- Quartet of Georgian townhouses
- Heart of historic Bath
- Pub with poise
- Whitewashed Wedmore
- Classic coaching inn
- Somerset stableyard
- Verdant vales, fruitful orchards
- Country life
- Make hay while the sun shines…
A delicious combination of chocolate-box villages, undulating hills and elegant cities (Bath and Wells), Somerset is the sort of place where honey-laden bees buzz lazily through orchards, perhaps pausing on a fallen apple.
This is the real West Country, where the local accent burrs in the same way it did back in Thomas Hardy’s day, and you’re just as likely to be held up on the road by a herd of cows as you are a tractor. Its gateway city, Bath, has been popular since Celtic times, and people still come from all over the world to relax in its mineral-rich waters and take tea in its elegant Georgian crescents. Further afield, the Cheddar Gorge and the Mendips provide see-for-miles viewpoints and rewarding walks. Rushing seems to be frowned upon here. It’s as though the whole county is working to a different, slower clock – come and stay in Somerset for a few days of hard-earned downtime, and you can, too.
As befits a land of druids, leylines and Arthurian myths, there’s a mystical, alternative and, at times, downright beardy-weirdiness to Somerset. Little wonder, then, that one of its most beloved creations is the Glastonbury Festival, which brings top bands, a hippie love vibe and enough muddy revellers to create a Sunderland-sized tented city to Worthy Farm in Pilton every summer.
- Try Bath Spa Taxis (01225 313131) in Bath, Mike’s Taxis (07773 900274) if you’re in the Mendips, or Valley Cars (01749 343888) in the Shepton Mallet area.
- Tipping culture
- About 10–15 per cent is usual in restaurants – make sure that service isn't already included in the bill, though.
- Siesta and fiesta
- In cities Bath and Wells, shops stay open later and finding a snack at a time that suits you will be much easier. Deeper in the countryside, hours are 9–5 Monday to Saturday, and restaurants and pubs serve food from 12–3pm and again from 6pm onwards.
- Packing tips
- Put a tartan blanket in the boot of your car, so you can lie beneath apple trees, watching clouds skit through summery Somerset skies.
- Recommended reads
- Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey portrays pre-Victorian Bath; John Cowper Powys’ epic A Glastonbury Romance details rural life in the early 20th century; Henry Fielding, born in Glastonbury in 1707, set parts of his novel Tom Jones in Somerset.
- Potent Somerset cider and scrumpy, products of the hundreds of orchards that dot the landscape, are rightly famed throughout the country; try a pint of Thatchers, a Cheddar Valley cider that has been made in the area for more than a century (www.thatchers
cider.co.uk). Blessed also are Somerset’s cheesemakers. Named after a gorge in the Mendip Hills, cheddar is the region’s most famous export. Ignore that plasticky rubbish from your local supermarket – try Bob Bramley’s traditional tangy cheddar, made at Lower Westcombe Farm near Shepton Mallet (01749 838031), or the delicious, creamy variety made by the Keen family at Moorhayes Farm near Wincanton (www.keenscheddar.co.uk).
- Pound sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- UK country code: +44. Bath: (0)1225. Shepton Mallet, Wells: (0)1749.
- Do go/don't go
- Spring is glorious, with impossibly green fields and spreading flowers; summer can be wonderful but you'll have competition for the best picnic spots and hotel rooms; autumn is our favourite time, when sunsets are red and mornings are crisp.
Don't go home without...
...a tanker-size flagon of scrumpy to bring out at your next party – or leave to gather dust at the back of your drinks cupboard until your children discover the evils of apple-based alcohol in their early teens. Hecks Farmhouse in Street sells its single-varietal brews straight from the oak barrel (www.hecksfarmhousecider.co.uk).