This part of Somerset, with its rolling hills and golden stone, has created some of the most sought after locations for a cottage or even a stately home.
It is the place to come if you enjoy historic homes, manicured gardens and impressive Parish Churches.
Not to be left out, the South has its own Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Blackdown Hills, as well as its fair share of the Levels and Moors with their characteristic willows and wildlife. It is dotted with medieval market towns and charming villages and has several notable museums.
Rightly described as the ‘beautiful Blackdowns’, these hills have provided protection as far back as the Iron Age and evidence of hill forts, castles and World War II airfields remains. The highest point is Staple Hill and there are sharp valleys and springs. It is sparsely populated with no towns! The land is mainly used for pasture making it popular with walkers and nature lovers. Among the highlights are Otterhead Lakes and Nature Reserve famed for its wildflowers; Neroche Forest; Ferne Animal Sanctuary and the Wellington Monument built, in the shape of a bayonet, to celebrate the victory at Waterloo.
With such rich soil, it is no surprise there is a thriving local food culture with many new small-scale food and drink businesses springing up here. Somerset has a network of more than 8500 farmers and food producers, the largest in the UK. With regular farmers’ markets, farm shops and cafes there are plenty of opportunities to try ciders, cheeses and other treats made just round the corner. Not to be missed is the Brown and Forrest Smokery where you can sample the finest smoked eel.
Somerset has always attracted creative people whether they have chosen to write about its charms or been inspired to paint, pot and weave. Our native crafts are on show for all to see in the form of thatched roofs, neatly laid hedges and baskets made of locally grown willow. You can watch some of these skills at several of our attractions such as The Willows and Wetlands Visitors Centre.
When it comes to grand displays, this area has two of international importance. The largest naval aviation collection in Europe is based at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, near Yeovil while Haynes International Motor Museum houses the UK’s biggest exhibition of cars from around the world. On a smaller scale but no less fascinating is the Montacute TV Radio Toy Museum.
A relative newcomer to the area is the world-class gallery Hauser and Wirth at Bruton with its landscaped garden, contemporary art and acclaimed eating place. A little longer established are one of the country’s best known glass blowers Will Shakespeare and John Leach, grandson of the potter Bernard Leach.
Some of the finest historic houses and gardens in England can be found in this part of Somerset. Fans of costume drama are sure to recognise a number of our architectural gems as film and TV producers are spoiled for choice here. We have Elizabethan Montacute House which boasts the longest Long Gallery in England, now hung with more than 60 portraits of the period. It featured in the TV series ‘Wolf Hall’ and the extensive grounds were used for jousting and the Royal Tent. Montacute is owned by the National Trust as is the delightful Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house with a garden inspired by Gertrude Jekyll. Then there is Lytes Cary, a medieval manor house which has been lovingly restored and is now also cared for by the National Trust. All have plenty to amuse the whole family.
History lovers will relish Muchelnay Abbey where you can still see parts of the decorated cloister walk and the only complete thatched monk’s lavatory in England! There is something of interest for all ages.
It is not just great or historic houses that are Listed in these parts, gardens can be too and one of the finest is East Lambrook. A cottage garden, it was created by plants woman and author Margery Fish. Another small but beautifully formed garden is that at Tintinhull, with its Pool Garden created as a memorial to a WW2 fighter pilot. England is the most garden-loving country in the world with more gardens open to the public than anywhere else and Somerset certainly doesn’t disappoint on this score.