Somerset, the county of apples and cheer, stretches along the southern shore of the Severnmouth and the Bristol Channel from the Avon to Exmoor.
In the heart of the county are the Somerset Levels, a remarkable flat land reaching in from the Bristol Channel, divided in two by the low range of the Polden Hills. The land of the Levels is at or around sea level and in former days was regularly flooded, and some have suggested that Somerset’s gets its name from the reappearance of the land in the summer. The Levels are cross-crossed with “rhines”, drainage ditches, and that many of the villages’ names end in -ey, “-island” tells of life before the Somerset Levels were drained. One of the most dramatic features here is Glastonbury Tor, a lone hill rising steeply out of the landscape above the town of Glastonbury (reputed burial place of King Arthur and a magnet for newly invented “ancient” legends). More historically, King Alfred of Wessex hid in the Levels at Athelney, before bursting forth and defeating the Danes to restore England.
Bath, on the River Avon in the north of Somerset, was the fashionable retreat for Georgian gentry and now a destination for anyone, indulging in the city’s Regency charm. It is home to the only natural hot springs in Britain, the pungent water pouring forth at a great rate from hidden wells beneath. On this the Romans built their town and others followed. The result of Regency fashion and local stone is one of the most remarkable cities in the kingdom.
Downstream is Bristol, of the great cities of the realm, split in the middle between Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Somerset is known for its apples. (Legend-seekers place the Avalon of legend here, as “Aval” means “apple” in the old tongue.) Apples are widely grown in Somerset, and consequently the county is known also for its cider. Somerset can claim to be the home of Cheddar cheese too, which was first made in Cheddar, a village at the foot of the spectacular Cheddar Gorge in the Mendip Hills. Wells, home of Bishop of Bath and Wells, lies in the middle of the county. It is a small market town with a large cathedral of unique architecture, and a castle. Taunton, the county town is a modest place, built on the wool trade.
The western end of Somerset is the wild moorland of Exmoor.
County Town: Taunton
Main Towns: Bath, Bristol (south), Burnham-on-Sea, Clevedon, Glastonbury, Minehead, Shepton Mallett, Somerton, Taunton, Wells, Weston-super-Mare, Yeovil.
Main Rivers: Barle, Yeo, Avon, Exe, Tone, Parrett, Brue, Cary, Frome, Isle.
Highlights: Roman Baths, Bath; Cheddar Gorge; The Mendips; The Quantocks; Glastonbury Abbey & Tor; Isle of Athelney.
Highest Point: Dunkery Beacon, 1706 feet.
Area: 1,640 sq miles
County Flower: Cheddar Pink