The East of Somerset has a City so beautiful it has UNESCO World Heritage status.
Naturally hot springs, that were known about even before the Romans tapped into them, make Bath the ultimate place for a spa break.
While the City’s prosperity sprang from its waters, other parts of this area had grown rich on wool in the Middle Ages when British wool ruled the world! It is thanks to sheep that we have such fine old towns as Frome and Shepton Mallet.
Visitors from all over the world flock to the Roman Baths. One of Northern Europe’s finest historic sites, it is remarkably preserved and wonderfully presented following a multi-million pound redevelopment in 2011. It is still possible to experience bathing in the hot, mineral rich waters by booking into the Thermae Bath Spa.
As well as bubbling up in springs, water in Bath also flows under Pulteney Bridge, one of only four in the world with shops across it on both sides. Boat is clearly one way to explore the City but you could take a bus or walking tour, stopping off at any number of museums and galleries.
Bath has had many well-known residents, perhaps the most famous being Jane Austen who has a centre in a Georgian town house dedicated to her.
With a reputation spanning the centuries for fashion, it is no surprise that Bath has long attracted retailers – both house-hold names and independents. Many have prime sites in the centre but it is worth exploring the side streets, Artisan Quarter and the new Southgate Centre.
If it is labels you’re after, the award-winning Kilver Court Designer Village in a former textile mill at Shepton Mallet is a real gem and the town is also home to the Mulberry Factory Shop.
Nearby Frome, picked out by The Times as one of the ‘Best Places to Live in Britain’ is jam packed with shops, many of which you won’t find anywhere else. It attracts thousands of visitors to its monthly mini festival of local produce.
Steeped in history as this area is, there are plenty of places where you can learn more about it. The Fashion Museum Bath, founded by a designer, has a world-class collection of dresses through the ages. Holburne Museum was the City’s first public art gallery and has paintings by Gainsborough, Stubbs and others. You might be surprised to know we also have the only museum of American decorative and folk art outside the United States.
Travelling further back in time you can visit Farleigh Hungerford near Frome dating from the 14th century but now in ruins with an impressive collection of lead coffins. Of similar age, Nunney Castle built by John de la Mare is also a ruin yet retains some magic as it has a moat. While you are out that way you can visit Mells, a little village that is big on history, tracing its origins to Mesolithic times.
Mere straplings, being neolithic, the stone circles at Stanton Drew are the third largest in England but not a lot of people know that! Off the beaten track, these incredible prehistoric arrangements rival the better known Avebury and Stonehenge. There are several Iron Age hill forts such as the one at Maes Knoll, near Bristol.
Two Roman villas have been discovered in Keynsham, one of them said to be the grandest in Britain, and more dwellings from that time have been brought to light on the Keynsham Hams.
While natural mounds rise up from the Levels of central Somerset, it is the man-made variety that will surprise you here – spoil heaps from the mines of the Somerset Coalfield. Believe it or not, there were almost 80 collieries in 1901 around the town of Radstock. Spoil from the Writhington mine is a site of Special Scientific Interest as it contained more than 1400 insect fossils. An old pit winding wheel dominates the centre of the town outside the award-winning Museum which is where to go to learn all about this fascinating period of the area’s past. Midsomer Norton is another town that grew on the strength of its coalmines, the last of which only closing in the 1960s.
One of the greatest figures in the Industrial Revolution, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, on a salary of £2000 a year, linking London to the West via Bristol and Bath. It was known as the ‘Holiday Line’ as it brought so many people to resorts such as Minehead. He has left a legacy of buildings, bridges and stations along the route.
If you want to know what connects elephants with coal in Somerset the answer is the artist David Shepherd, best known for his paintings of elephants who bought two steam engines in 1967 with nowhere to put them. They found a home at Cranmore where there is now a short stretch of heritage railway.