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Add a legendary place of pilgrimage, a reputation for cheese and cider, and the world’s best known music festival, and you're left with what is surely one of the most English of English counties.
Rock and soul
Somerset begins on the other side of the Avon Gorge: cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge for Leigh Woods and the 850-acre Ashton Court Estate (home to many a festival, including Bristol’s world-famous Balloon Fiesta).
Head south to Cheddar Gorge, a deep limestone cleft running through the Mendip Hills. With rocky climbs (the highest inland cliffs in Britain), a network of astonishing underground caverns and breathtaking views, the Gorge is a heady mix of adventure, geology and ancient history. This is where ‘Cheddar Man’ was found, a complete skeleton dating back to the Mesolithic Age, roughly 9,000 years old.
In deepest Somerset, enjoy the wonders of Glastonbury – not the festival (which is technically held in nearby Pilton) - but the small town with its myths, mystical landscapes and, more recently, off-the-shelf psychic healing. For centuries, the place has attracted spiritual pilgrims drawn to the legendary Vale of Avalon and the brooding St Michael's Tower atop Glastonbury Tor.
Move on to Wells, England’s smallest city, noted for its exquisite Gothic Cathedral and gorgeous Somerset backdrop. Described as ‘one of the most poetic of English cathedrals’, the beauty of Wells Cathedral is amplified by its charming town setting - the nearby Bishop’s Place and 15th century Vicar’s Close are all remarkably well preserved.
Find more Gothic splendour in the turrets and gables of the spectacular mansion on the Tyntesfield Estate. An exemplary expression of the Victorian Gothic Revival style, this grand country house was home to the Gibbs family, voracious collectors of all things from books and silverware to walking sticks. Cataloguing this vast collection began when the house was bought by the National Trust – over 50,000 objects have since been listed, but many rooms are yet to be unpacked.