Days Out in Historic Somerset

Whatever your interest and wherever you live you are never far from an enjoyable day out with history.

The history of Somerset lies not only in books and documents but also in the man-made landscape, historic buildings, museums and heritage sites of this remarkable county. You may live in Somerset but how well do you know your county? As spring and hopefully better weather arrive in the county what better way to spend a day than out in the county exploring its heritage. In summer and autumn why not explore Somerset's historic coastline or its great houses and parks.

Winter weather is not often a barrier to getting out and about and some places look even more interesting in rough weather. Seaports like Watchet (VCH Somerset 5) have suffered severe storms, which destroyed harbours and shipping. Under snow the prehistoric and later archeological sites of Exmoor and the Quantocks (VCH Somerset 5 and 6) stand out more clearly than in lush summer grass.

Many beautiful churches and abbeys have a long history and are well worth a visit. One of the finest is Cleeve Abbey whose history will be found in VCH Somerset 2. For more about the area try VCH Somerset 5, which incudes a history of Old Cleeve.

Fashionistas will love the shoe museum at Street and the costume museum in Bath, gardeners will enjoy the beautiful gardens at Barrington Court and Tintinhull, and steam enthusiasts will enjoy the west and east Somerset railways and the pumping museum at Westonzoyland.

This Victorian draining engine can be seen in steam on several Sundays in the year. Find out more about the history of drainage in VCH Somerset 8.

With over 20 miles to explore and daily services for most of the year the West Somerset Railway can provide enough interest for several days out. Most places along the line are described in VCH Somerset 5 and others are being researched for future publication.

There is more industrial history to be explored at Bridgwater including the old docks, the brick and tile museum and the Blake Museum with adjoining town mill. Bridgwater's industrial and trading history can be found in VCH Somerset 6. Don't miss the market in the old Corn Market and St Mary's church in the centre and out at Huntworth the peaceful Bridgwater and Taunton canal.

Near Bridgwater are several villages and churches worth visiting including North Petherton, which has the finest church in the area, Goathurst and its 18th century Temple of Harmony and remarkable church monuments, Nether Stowey rich in associations with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose cottage you can visit, Stogursey with its Norman church, mill and ruined castle, and Stolford home of mud fishing, a fossil forest and Hinkley Point nuclear power station. You can find out the fascinating history of these and may other places around Bridgwater in VCH Somerset volumes 5, 6 and 7. Check the place index on this site for volume and page numbers.

In the heart of the county lie Langport, Somerton, Wells, Glastonbury and Street all worth visiting and mostly set amidst the Somerset Levels an area rich in natural history and archaeology which can be explored in several museums and visitor centres. Meare is the site of the prehistoric lake villages and between the village and Shapwick many prehistoric trackways have been found. You will find Langport and Somerton in VCH Somerset 3, Shapwick in volume 8 and Glastonbury and Street and Meare in volume 9.

In the south of the county lies the less well known villages and towns of Crewkerne, Ilchester, Martock and Stoke sub Hamdon whose ruined priory can be visited. Dominating the area is Ham Hill full of archaeological and historical interest. Its monuments and old quarries can be visited on a number of walks all of which reveal dramatic views across the county. The area's history will be found in VCH Somerset volumes 3 and 4.

Between Yeovilton and Podimore the Fleet Air Arm Museum is an obvious attraction but did you know that the area is rich in Roman-British remains? See VCH volume 3 for Yeovilton and 9 for Podimore. Not far away is the motor museum at Sparkford. It originated in a milk factory beside the now demolished Sparkford station. You can find out more in volume 11.

Castle Cary is a lovely small town well worth a visit, with a small museum. Its unique horsehair factory is housed in part of a Victorian twine and rope works. You can read all about it and the rest of the town's extraordinary history in volume 10.

Further north and east are remarkable towns like Shepton Mallet with its Roman settlement, Frome with its early modern textile industries, Milborne Port, a former centre of the gloving trade, Bruton with a high street full of medieval and later buildings now a centre for education but also home to the delightful Sexey's Hospital, and Wincanton once home to Nathaniel Ireson potter and architect and full of beautiful 18th and early 19th century houses and shops. The towns of Bruton, Milborne Port and Wincanton and the area around which stretches from Alfred's Tower to the abandoned manor site at Marston Magna are well worth a visit and contain some good walks. Among many interesting villages and churches in the area are Brewham, Compton Pauncefoot, Maperton and Wyke Champflower. Some of their histories will be found in volume 7 and volume 11, can you help us create more?.

These are just a few of the many historic places worth more than a passing glance. Why not browse the volumes and websites of the Victoria County History for more ideas?

For information on opening hours of museums and other heritage sites open to the public and for directions try the Somerset Heritage Route map!

Why not visit our Explore site to find out more about Exmoor?