Some may be surprised to discover that Somerset, with its rolling hills, wild moorland, serene Somerset Levels and elegant cities, would actually be an excellent card to have in a game of Top Trumps when it comes to its fame factor.
Under the guise of a peaceful rural county, modest Somerset and its talented inhabitants have achieved some exceptional accolades. Below you’ll find tales of rags to riches, ancient triumphs and one-of-a-kind landmarks, all of which are woven into the rich tapestry which makes the county shine amongst its south west neighbours.
There are numerous famous people from Somerset. So many in fact, that we could dedicate a whole article to their varied roles and achievements. Instead, here are a few of the county’s most notable sons and daughters.
The former Bake Off judge and queen of baking herself was born in Bath in 1935. Growing up in the city, it was here she first showed signs of cookery prowess, studying catering and institutional management at Bath College of Domestic Science.
Born in Frome in 1980, Jenson Button hurtled into Formula One fame, having begun karting at the young age of eight.
Comedy legend Bill Bailey, whose range of talents also include music, singing, acting, writing and TV presenting, was born in Bath in 1965 to parents in the medical profession. His real name is Mark Robert Bailey and it was actually his music teacher from King Edward’s School who dubbed him 'Bill' as a nod to his ability to play ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey’ on the guitar.
Renowned children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson was born in Bath in 1945. Her children’s books featuring significant themes such as divorce, adoption and mental illness are found on bookshelves across the world and her contribution to literature was rewarded with a damehood in 2008.
One of the most ferocious dragons in the den, Deborah Meaden was born in Taunton, carving an entrepreneurial career for herself from the age of 19. Her dedication, business nous and straight-talking attitude led to her appearance on Dragon’s Den and subsequent TV appearances, including Strictly Come Dancing.
Other famous people from Somerset
Actress Maisie Williams, explorer Ranulph Fiennes, YouTuber Charlie McDonnell, actor/comedian/screenwriter John Cleese and author Terry Pratchett all originate from the humble county of Somerset.
Arguably the most anticipated event in the UK festival calendar, ‘Glasto’ as it is affectionately known is the largest greenfield festival in the world (according to the Daily Telegraph, June 2017), taking place at Worthy Farm near Pilton. More than 175,000 people attend the festival to revel to the sound of some of the biggest names in the music industry, as well as performing arts.
The Somerset village of Cheddar is the home of the famous cheese of the same name, which is not only the most popular type of cheese in the UK but also a best-seller in the US and beyond. While the cheese does not have a protected designation of origin, its name continues to make this little village known across the world.
A limestone scar across the Mendip Hills, Cheddar Gorge is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, showcasing an astonishing network of caves which house an underground river and captivating collection of stalactites and stalagmites. Its sheer cliffs are popular among climbers and its unique habitats support a variety of flora and fauna, including peregrine falcons, dormice and the rare large blue butterfly.
Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton
Not only is Cheddar Gorge itself a famous Somerset landmark, but the remains of early inhabitants have also earnt it a place in the record books. Known as ‘the Cheddar Man’, the 10,000-year-old bones were discovered in Gough’s Cave and make up the oldest almost complete homo sapiens skeleton in Britain.
Oldest civilian prison
HM Prison Shepton Mallet was the oldest operational prison in Britain until its closure in 2013. Built in 1610, it has a long and grisly history, peppered with executions, daring escapes and infamous inmates, including the Kray twins who were imprisoned after absconding from National Service.
England’s smallest city
Small-but-perfectly-formed Wells, with its majestic cathedral, moated Bishop’s Palace and narrow historic streets is England’s smallest city, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. A plethora of shops and houses in its eclectic buildings and twice weekly markets bring the city to life, selling local produce and goods on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Beast of Exmoor
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The beast of Exmoor is an elusive creature of legend, whose fame is shared between Devon and Somerset, the border between which is straddled by the wild and rugged moorland that it reportedly calls its home. First sightings were reported in the 1970s and the famous feline has found itself blamed for many attacks on livestock since then.
The Willow Man
Posing majestically alongside the M5 near Bridgwater, the Willow Man was created by artist Serena de la Hey and has become an iconic landmark for drivers passing through the county. An arson attack saw it burn down in 2001 but it was rebuilt in the same year. However, its days may be numbered as a recent crowdfunding campaign to pay for its repair fell short.
Somerset’s orchards make it a veritable haven for lovers of cider, or scrumpy as it is known locally. The sweet golden nectar is found throughout the county, with offerings ranging from cloudy artisan varieties made on site, to the refined ciders of large commercial companies. If you’re a fan of this well-loved export, you’ll want to sample a few glasses during your stay!
Oldest engineered road
The Sweet Track, an ancient causeway on the Somerset Levels is thought to be the oldest engineered road in Northern Europe. Made from timber planks, it has been dated back to 3906 BC and is so named because it was discovered by Ray Sweet in 1970.
Wookey Hole Caves
The limestone passageways and show caves at Wookey Hole have made it a popular visitor attraction, whose history is laced with legends of witches as well as important scientific discoveries. The largest show caves in England, you can follow in the footsteps of early man who roamed the caverns 50,000 years ago, with well-positioned lighting illuminating the stunning rock formations.
Feeling inspired by Somerset’s myriad claims to fame? Visit the county to follow in the footsteps of its famous faces and discover some of the celebrated sites for yourself. Stay In Somerset offer a wide range of excellent accommodation, including hotels, B&Bs and homely holiday cottages. Browse our collection today or get in touch with our friendly team for some bespoke holiday help.