Guide To Holidaying In Somerset
A guide by Julia Buckley
Somerset is a county of contrast. From textbook sandy beaches to rolling hills, it has universal appeal - and that's just on the surface.
But what a surface it is. The gateway to the south-west, Somerset has five ranges of hills - and each is slightly different, from the famous Blackdowns, [=linkhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantock_Hills]Quantocks[/link], and Mendips to the lesser-known Brendons and Poldens.
The Quantocks, in North Somerset, were the first place in England to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - and with their mixture of heaths, woodland and coast, it's not hard to see why.
And while walkers in search of a challenge will be in heaven in the hills, those preferring a more sedate form of exercise should head to the Levels and the Moors - Somerset's flat areas, which are perfect for cycling.
As for its towns, Somerset is crammed with names famous over the globe. Wells, with its beautiful honey-coloured cathedral, is England's smallest city; and no trip to Somerset could be complete without a visit to Jane Austen's favoured Bath, one of Britain's finest Georgian towns. With over 5000 listed buildings, and even the high street stores built out of the cream Bath stone, you could spend a week there. Make sure to walk by the famous Crescent and catch a tour of the Roman Baths, which look as appealing now as they did two thousand years ago. A hard day's sightseeing is best finished off with a treat at Sally Lunn's Refreshment House and Museum - the oldest house in the town.
If the airbrushed beauty of Bath leaves you cold, head south for Glastonbury and some more natural magnificence. A mythical place, Glastonbury Tor is traditionally believed to be the final resting place of King Arthur, and 12th-century monks even reported finding his tomb there. Pre Da Vinci Code legend also had it that Joseph of Arimathea had brought the Holy Grail back to the Tor.
Often shrouded in mist, the tower-peaked Tor makes for an unforgettable visit; from the top, you can see the drained marshland of the mid-Somerset Levels, which often flood in the winter - Glastonbury was once an island.
Back at ground level, make sure you visit the Abbey, destroyed during the Reformation. Festival-lovers should drive through nearby Pilton; although the signpost to Worthy Farm is about as close as you'll get to the Glastonbury experience.
If you're looking for a fix of coast, Burnham-on-Sea, home to a collection of lighthouses and the shortest pier in Britain, should do you proud; or if you're looking for a bigger resort, try the family-friendly Weston-Super-Mare, where you can trampoline or have a donkey ride on the beach, or take a train along the promenade. The Uphill Beach at Weston is particularly popular with windsurfers and kite-flyers.
But perhaps the most fascinating parts of Somerset lie underground. You can visit the network of caves around the incredible Cheddar Gorge, where Britain's oldest set of human remains was recently discovered; and the caves at Wookey Hole, complete with paper mill, make for another fascinating trip. Scratch just under the surface of Somerset, and you'll reap the rewards.
Somerset hotspot: Wells
Picture perfect Wells is everything you'd expect from England's tiniest city. A small-scale cathedral perched on an emerald lawn forms the centre of the town, and the Chapter House steps are just exquisite. You've never seen anything like it.
Did You Know?
Genteel Bath is the home of the only museum of Americana outside the United States. Claverton Manor's American Museum charts the history of American life from colonial times to the nineteenth century.
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