About Somerset

The diverse county of Somerset can be found nestling in the South West of England. During your holiday in Somerset, you will find a great array of beaches, local produce and fantastic visitor attractions.

Where

Somerset lies in the heart of the South West, bordering Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the East, Dorset to the South East and Devon to the South West. Best known for its rolling hills and green pastures, as well as coastal seaside resorts, it is a popular holiday destination with a variety of iconic landmarks and monuments to discover.

Population

There are approximately 530,000 people living in Somerset and the population growth in the county is higher than average. More than 25% of the county’s residents live in Bridgwater, Taunton and Yeovil.

Brief history

Somerset’s history dates as far back as the Palaeolithic period with many archaeological sites throughout the county. The caves of the Mendip Hills and Cheddar Gorge have all revealed fascinating insights into the history of the county, including the Cheddar Man, which is a complete human skeleton dating back as far as 7150 BC.

Since then, Somerset has been inhabited by numerous settlements during the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age times. Romans invaded in AD 47 and remained part of the empire until the end of their ruling in AD 409. The country was next invaded by the Anglo-Saxons, although Somerset and the rest of the South West managed to avoid the takeover until the early eighth century.

The Norman Conquest followed and saw the erection of Dunster Castle, amongst other fortifications. Somerset is also home to HMP Shepton Mallet, England’s oldest prison that is still in use, which opened in 1610. During the English Civil War, those in Somerset mostly favoured the parliamentarians with Taunton Castle changing hands several times during the war.

Somerset was largely unaffected by the Industrial Revolution and farming continued to flourish during this time. However, coal mining did become an important industry during the 18th and 19th century although all pits were closed by 1973.

Geography and ecology

The county encompasses a number of spectacular sites including Outstanding Areas of Natural Beauty such as the Blackdown Hills, Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. The Quantock Hills were England’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

You will also find the Somerset Levels located in-between the Quantock and Mendip Hills in the centre of the county, which are an area of wetland made up of peat moors and marine clay levels. To the west of the county lies Exmoor National Park which also spreads into Devon. Somerset is home to Dunkery Beacon which is the highest point of Exmoor offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Not forgetting the 64km of coastline, which encompasses a handful of coastal towns, such as Burnham-on-Sea, Watchet and Weston-Super-Mare.

Cities, towns, and villages

Somerset is home to two cities, Bath and Wells, and also borders with the City of Bristol. Somerset’s county town is Taunton and has an unusually small amount of towns for a county of its size. However, it makes up for this with the plentiful charming villages and hamlets, in both the countryside and beside the coast.

Notable towns include Yeovil, Bridgwater, Weston-Super-Mare and Chard, which is the highest and most southerly town in Somerset. Many of the settlements in Somerset came to be due to their close proximity to a river, such as the River Axe and the River Cary, which runs through Axbridge and Castle Cary.

Weather & climate

Just like the majority of the South West, Somerset has a temperate climate and is milder than the rest of the country. In the winter months you can expect spells of rain, with snow sometimes making an appearance. As is the case with rest of the UK, the summer months of July and August are the county’s warmest with mean temperatures recorded at 21°c. For up to date information for the weather in Somerset, check the Met Office website.

Transport links

Somerset is easily accessible, linked by a motorway, multiple train lines and nearby Bristol Airport. The M5 provides good access to the county for those travelling by car, with the A303, A37, A38 and A39 offering links also. Trains run from destinations such as Reading, Basingstoke and Weymouth, to Taunton, Yeovil and Bristol. You will find both national and international flights fly from and to Bristol Airport, which is also easily accessible.

Economy industry

Agriculture continues to be a major form of income for Somerset, with sheep farming for wool and cattle farming for dairy products still prominent throughout the county. Cultivation of willow is also a more unusual product that brings in money for the county due to a demand in materials for basket weaving. Tourism is also an essential industry to Somerset, with seaside resorts such as Minehead and Weston-Super-Mare drawing holidaymakers to the area.

Culture

Somerset has many associations with music, literature and art. Whether that comes in the form of Glastonbury Festival and the well-loved Wurzels, landscapes inspiring famous authors and poets or cave art dating as far back as 7000 BC, the county has plenty to boast.

Attracting more than 170,000 attendees each year, Glastonbury is the UK’s most famous festival, and has seen some of the world’s largest performers grace its main stage. Somerset also has a range of other festivals that are very popular, including Bath Literature Festival, Frome Festival and the Trowbridge Village Pump Festival.

Somerset is home to a staggering 11,500 listed buildings and 532 scheduled monuments, and a further 36 English Heritage Sites and 19 National Trust sites. You will also find a variety of museums, including the Jane Austen Centre, the Roman Baths and the American Museum in Britain.

Cuisine

The county is most famous for its cheeses and ciders, even catering for lovers of both with its Somerset Cheese, Cider and Moozic Festival. As a major producer of cider, the county is home to a variety of household names such as Blackthorn and Thatcher’s.

You may be familiar with some towns in Somerset due to the dairy products that are produced in them. Cheddar is a prime example of this, with Ilchester Cheese, Cathedral City Cheese and Yeo Valley all companies that are located in the county.

Sport

Somerset can boast two Football League clubs with both Yeovil Town and Bristol City playing in Sky Bet League One, the third tier of the English football system. Bristol Rovers were recently relegated to the Skrill Premier with other major non-league teams in the county being Weston-Super-Mare and Bath City.

Rugby is also a popular sport in Somerset with Bath Rugby competing in the Aviva Premiership. Bristol Rugby Football Club plays in the second tier of the English rugby leagues narrowly missing out on promotion in recent years.

Big crowds are drawn to Taunton each summer for Twenty20 cricket with Somerset County Cricket Club developing a reputation for being successful at this form of the game. They have also become known as the nearly men finishing as runners up in all major domestic trophies in 2010.

People from Somerset

  • John Cleese (actor)
  • Billy Bailey (comedian)
  • Vanessa White from the Saturdays (pop singer)
  • Jenson Button (F1 driver)
  • Jaqueline Wilson (author)
  • Arthur C Clarke (author)
  • Michael Eavis (Glastonbury founder)

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