Fun things to do in Somerset

  • Evening reception at the Baths
    Evening reception at the Baths
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  • Gough's Cave with Cheddar Man in the background
    Gough's Cave with Cheddar Man in the...
    by alancollins
  • Gough's Cave
    Gough's Cave
    by alancollins

Most Viewed Things to Do in Somerset

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    700-Year Old Farleigh Castle

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 19, 2006

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    Not very long after pulling out of Bradford-on-Avon, we crossed the border into Somerset County and almost immediately came across the ruins of Farleigh Castle sitting undisturbed by human life right beside the A366 highway.

    I pulled off the road into a small spot marked for tour coaches and we got out to have a look. It turns out that these were the remains of a manor house built in the 1300s and sold to Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1369. Sir Thomas was a skilled lawyer and represented the King in these parts when matters of land succession had to be dealt with. Although he became the first Speaker of the House of Commons, he did get into a bit of a bind by fortifying the place without Royal permission, but received a pardon for this in 1377! The walls still standing in these photographs were built by his son in the early 1400s as he enclosed the original works, with the gatehouse and curtain walls still protecting the interior courtyard. As is often the case with hereditary situations, the Hungerford clan grip on this property came to an end in 1686 after over 300-years in the family. Sir Edward Hungerford had become embroiled on the wrong side in the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion when Protestants in this part of England tried to unseat King James II, the Roman Catholic successor to King Charles II. It was all over in five weeks and it appears that Sir Edward was implicated in the plot. He had to buy his life by giving up the estate and it then fell into ruin and was partially torn down for building materials.

    The Castle Main Gate from our Car Park Looking Through the Gate at More Ruins
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    Amazing Cheddar Gorge

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Nov 24, 2008

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    Once again, thanks to tips from various VT-members, I had heard about Cheddar Gorge before coming to England on this trip. It had both good and bad reviews and I was almost put off visiting it by a tourist pamphlet we picked up at our hotel in Bradford-on-Avon. It outlined various tourist attractions, caves, souvenir shops, etc. at the western end of the Gorge and reminded me of a few tacky tourist traps I have visited in my time. But, what the heck I thought, it was directly in our path so we may as well give the Gorge the benefit of the doubt!

    As it turns out, Cheddar Gorge, the largest in the United Kingdom, was quite impressive to our eyes, and a lot of others too - having been voted in a 2005 poll as the second greatest natural wonder in Britain. This gorge in the Mendip Hills (see my 'General' tip for its location) is unusual in that it was not formed by a permanent river. At the end of the last Ice Age, the limestone rocks of these hills were frozen solid, causing the melt waters from the retreating glaciers to carve out this 113-m (370-ft) deep path to the Ocean. With the passing of the Ice Age, the rocks thawed out and resumed the normal characteristic of limestone, which is to absorb any water or rainfall into fissures and deep cracks, forming underground rivers and caves instead of surface rivers. The resulting Cheddar Cave, at the bottom end of the now dry Gorge is where the oldest human skeleton in Britain was discovered, with the age estimated at ~9,000 years. This is also where the small area of tourist attractions is located - it was not so bad after all as we drove past !

    Looking Back at Our Route into the Gorge Descending Further Into the Contrasts
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    The Castle Church

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Sep 24, 2006

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    When the castle was expanded in the early 1400s by the addition of an outer wall and more towers, it enclosed the parish church shown here. The Hungerford's then began using the church as their own chapel and in compensation, it is believed that they built the existing nearby parish church as a replacement for the local villagers.

    I know how the Hungerford clan must have felt when they eventually had to relinquish their castle, because we were run off the property too!! Shortly after we began wandering around, a couple of local farmers drove through on their tractor and said they would advise us to move the car out of the way because they were "driving an 'erd of cattle" through the gate in a few minutes time! I would hate to have to explain those damages to Hertz! The second photo shows a view from the interior of the castle looking back out through the Gate House. Notice those small fences alongside the car path, to keep the cattle off the grass as they stampede through! I should add that, during the winter season, we happened upon the place (on a Monday morning) when it was officially 'closed' to visitors.

    The Hungerford's Private Chapel Gate House Interior View
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    Exmoor National Park

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Feb 3, 2006

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    Exmoor, along with Dartmoor, is one of two National Parks located in the southwest part of England. Named after its biggest river, the Exe, this 693 sq. km. park of upland open moors was made official in 1954. Because of its higher elevation, peaking at 519 m (1700 ft), this area can be prone to more severe weather, especially because the land in this part of England has the Bristol Channel on the north side and the English Channel on the south side.

    There were some amazing views as we entered this area, with the opening photo of my Somerset page showing the view from high above as we looked down on a cultivated portion of the Park. This photo is a zoom shot of the same scene, showing a closer view of the farm buildings and the long shadows being cast on the fields as the winter sun started to dip low on the horizon.

    The high ground catches a lot of rain, resulting in quite a few rivers carving deep channels to the sea. The highway twisted up and down extreme grades (sometimes reaching 25% or a 1 in 4 slope) as we made our way along the northern edge of Exmoor National Park. Small seaside towns like Lynmouth are located in these deep valleys where the rivers meet the Bristol Channel. While driving along we also came across a flock of about 12 ring-necked pheasants spread out along one side of the highway (see second photo). When we stopped for a picture, they walked quickly into the hedges rather than fly away, but we did manage to get one shot off!

    Due to time constraints, falling early winter darkness and the sun low on the horizon in our eyes, we did not have the time to fully do justice to Exmoor (including photos of the amazing views)! This place deserves more time!

    Ridgeline Telephoto of a Farm in Exmoor One of Several Pheasants on Exmoor Roadside
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    Enjoy the North Coast

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 20, 2006

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    Finishing up with Cheddar Gorge, we drove for about one and a half hours through the mostly forgettable industrialized area around Burnham-on-Sea and Bridgewater before turning directly west along the north coast - headed for Exmoor National Park. A short way along this road, we diverted off the A39 highway to the small coastal village of Watchet so we could both enjoy the views and find ourselves a pub lunch.

    The tide was out as we wandered briefly along the harbour edge, admiring the pretty flotilla of small boats moored there. Leaving Watchet after our meal, we continued along the coast with occasional views out over the Bristol Channel as we began climbing up into the high ground of Exmoor (see the third photo).

    Watchet Harbour at Low Tide Another View of Watchet's Fleet View of the Bristol Channel - I could see Wales!
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    Relaxing Countryside

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 19, 2006

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    It was great to be out driving along again after our quick stop-off at Farleigh Castle. This seemed to be a particularly picturesque part of eastern Somerset as we meandered along a high ridge on the A366 highway west of Norton St. Philip. In most cases, high hedges, trees or houses block the best views when driving along but, in this spot, we had some clear views out over the valley below.

    A Pleasing View Looking Down into the Valley
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    We Make Some Friends

    by Bwana_Brown Updated Jan 19, 2006

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    Having stopped in the Gorge to take a few photographs, I noticed a young couple slightly uphill from me trying to take photographs of each other. When I offered to help them out by taking a shot of the two of them they very happily agreed to my proposal. Just as we finished up, they spotted their two friends coming up the hill toward us and shouted to them to hurry up so they could all get into a photo. Once I had done that for them, they insisted that Sue and I be included in a few shots as well ! These young people from South Korea were having a great time laughing and enjoying the sights as they walked up through Cheddar Gorge from the car-park at the bottom of the hill. My few weeks in South Korea many years ago came in handy as I was able to use one of the two emergency phrases I learned there - phonetically saying 'come sam me duh' (Thank you) to them. Unfortunately, I was not able to use the other phrase of 'hannah beck shew' (One beer)!!!

    With our South Korean Friends In Cheddar Gorge
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    Wells

    by munki Updated Sep 2, 2005

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    There is more to see in Wells that its famous gothic cathedral. This small and peaceful city has a lot of character and it is one of my favourites in England.
    The Bishop’s Palace is separated from the Central Market Place and the rest of the city by the elegant Bishop’s Eye archway and a flooded moat. Swans and their offspring can be seen here and the gardens make the perfect place for a picnic.
    Back to the Central Market Place another arch leads you to the Cathedral old graveyard that has been converted to a large grass area. From here you can admire the impressive and symmetric gothic cathedral façade. It is huge in size and if you time your visit, the music of the cathedral bells makes this view one of the finest in Somerset.
    The nave inside is unique in shape thanks to the massive arched columns which were added to help supporting the ceilings of the cathedral.
    Behind the cathedral and not to be missed is the famous Vicars’ Close. This pebbled street was built during the 14th Century. All houses are almost identical with their small front gardens and charming tall chimneys.

    Wells

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    Bath

    by munki Updated Sep 2, 2005

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    The elegant city of Bath is located sixteen kilometres south east of Bristol. The best way to explore this compact city is on foot.
    Bath is famous for its pale gold Georgian houses and stylish streets.
    Bath Abbey is situated at the heart of the city next to the Roman Baths.
    Pulteney Bridge offers great view of the Avon River. This delightful bridge links the city centre with Great Pulteney Street. There are lots of shop at both sides of the bridge.
    The circus is a charming roundabout which joins Bennet, Brock and Gay streets. The three crescents with three-storey houses create a very nice optical effect. All houses are almost identical in the three crescents.
    The largest crescent in Bath is the Royal Crescent. It is formed by a total of thirty houses. The huge size of the crescent and the parked cars at both sides of the street do not help to photograph this delightful and famous sight of Bath.
    South of the Royal Crescent is the Royal Victoria Park that makes an easy stroll back to the city centre.

    Bath

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    Glastonbury

    by munki Updated Sep 3, 2005

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    Glastonbury town is famous for its annual rock festival and for the summer solstice on 21st of June. The music festival started on the 70s and lasts for three days in late June.
    Glastonbury Abbey is a Celtic monastery and the main sights in town (a sight that I missed), however I strongly recommend bus 196 and getting a lift to Glastonbury Tor. From the bus stop, it is a five or ten minutes up the hill walk to St. Michael’s Tower which stands at the top of the hill. The views from here a magic, you can contemplate the beautiful tranquil Somerset countryside scenery. It is also the perfect place for a picnic.
    Somerset Rural Life Museum deserves a visit to get an insight of the past rural communities of the area.

    Glastonbury

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    Cheddar Gorge

    by munki Updated Sep 3, 2005

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    The travel guides states that Cheddar Gorge is an amazing limestone gorge created in the last Ice Age and a sight not to be missed if you are in Somerset.
    I was not impressed at all by the gorge and you probably will not be either (unless you are Dutch and have never seen a mountain before). The tiny road is packed with people, coaches and cars. There also lots of tourist orientated shops lined along the road which make finding a spot to park your car mission impossible and then when you find a place in one of the numerous crowded car parks( I went on a Sunday afternoon in August) you are asked to pay a pricey parking fee by one of the young parking attendants.
    Cheddar Gorge is a clear example of how a beautiful and peaceful natural spot can become a real tourist trap.
    If I haven’t put you off and you are still reading, it has to said that this narrow gorge is famous for its caves which have the right temperature and humidity for storing and maturing the Cheddar cheese. You can visit the Cheddar Caves and/or climb the 274 steps of Jacob’s Ladder.

    Cheddar Gorge

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    Wells

    by englishchris Written Sep 21, 2004

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    Englands smallest city, Wells is a pretty place. The main attraction is the ancient city square and cathedral (which looks stunning considering it is the best part of a thousand years old). Try and get to see the cathedral clock strike the hour, and the swans at the Bishops Palace ring the bell to get their food.

    Wells is at its absolute best on a warm summers evening, with a stroll around the old quarter, and a meal or drink in a pub. Some of the best of England.

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    Bath

    by grayfo Updated Aug 12, 2014

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    Nestled in the valley of the River Avon and surrounded by seven wooded hills, Bath is largely built from the golden, locally quarried limestone. The town is a unique city; its hot springs, Roman Baths, splendid Abbey and Georgian stone crescents have attracted visitors for centuries. Set in rolling Somerset countryside, just over 100 miles west of London, it is a beautiful and unforgettable place to visit. Must see sights include: Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, the Roman Baths, The Jane Austen Centre and the Royal Crescent to name but a few.

    February 2010

    See My Travel Page for more information.

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    Cheddar Gorge

    by himalia11 Written Mar 14, 2010

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    The Cheddar Gorge is a nice gorge with limestone cliffs. It's found near the village Cheddar (famous for its cheese) in the Mendip Hills. It's the largest gorge in the UK, being almost 5 km long and over 100m deep in places.
    The street B3135 goes through the gorge (with no foot walk) and we drove this winding street down to Cheddar. There are many car parks along the street, all pay & display (free Nov-Dec), that must be very busy in summer! When we were there, there only was an attendant at the lowest car park, however no matter if there's one or not you have to pay, either to an attendant or at the cashier. There are several caves and a museum that you can visit, there's a lookout tower and clifftop gorge walks and more - a pretty touristic place! As the weather was so nice that day we skipped a visit to the caves, and instead spent some more time walking in the Exmoor National Park later...

    The caves & museum are open 10:30 - 17:00 (10:00 - 17:30 in July & August).
    Admission: 17,- £ adults, 11,- £ children.

    Cheddar gorge Cheddar gorge
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    Cheddar Gorge

    by Arianasarah866 Written Jan 8, 2006

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    Obviously the gorge is mainly a place to walk and the scenery is lovely. However there are caves you can visit here, but having done Wookey Hole Caves I decided not to spend the extra money. There is a range of quaint little shops and some nice tea rooms where you can relax.

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