Somerset Guide

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Welcome to the Somerset Guide

The fastest growing guide to Somerset on the internet. History, photos, accommodation, maps and Somerset life

Somerset, with its rich and varied history and range of landscapes, has long been popular with tourists searching out that bit of rural England that has not been entirely swamped by the modern world. The number of cottages to rent in Somerset is testimony to this. Sliced in two by the M5 and with some towns barely a hundred miles from London, Somerset is thought by many to offer the best of both worlds; easily accessible and fully modern but retaining much of its former rural charm.

Somerset's pre-history goes back as far as 11 000 BC, when families lived in Gough’s Cave and hunted for food in Cheddar Gorge, and the wooden causeways built over the Somerset Levels represent the oldest dated human road works in the British Isles. Over the centuries that followed, however, the area became a dangerous one, vulnerable to attack, and great Iron Age hill forts were built to defend it, such as Cadbury Castle, which dates from around 700 BC.

These were not enough to fend off the Romans, however, who established, among other settlements, the famous city of Bath, whose ‘miraculous’ hot springs continue to bubble to the surface today, attracting millions of tourists every year.

The county was given an identity in 658 by the Anglo-Saxons but it was not until1066 and the Norman Conquest that Somerset finally became the name for the whole shire.

Bordered on the north-west by the Bristol Channel, Somerset enjoys a pretty coastline, with towns such as Weston-super-Mare becoming increasingly popular and well-developed while Exmoor, given National Park status in 1954, remains protected from development and thus timelessly beautiful, as do parts of the Quantock and Mendip hills. There are 80 nature reserves in Somerset dedicated to preserving the rural landscape for this and future generations and the West Somerset Coast Path, a 25 kilometre stretch linking the River Parrett Trail and the South-West Coast path, offers a great way to explore some of the county's outstanding natural beauty. To the east, just beyond Bath, are The Cotswolds with countless picture postcard quintessentially English villages.

Historically an agricultural centre, Somerset continues to produce world-class meats and cheeses as well as wool, willow for basketry and, of course, the strong cider for which it is famous. This down-to-earth agricultural tradition can still be seen today in the numerous farmers markets that take place in towns across the county, while the ever-growing popularity and fame of Glastonbury Festival, which looks set to continue to be the largest outdoor music festival in Europe, attracting upwards of 170 000 people each year, ensures that Somerset remains internationally famous.

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