Photogenic Landscapes and Historic Sites in Somerset

Cliffs near Minehead Glastonbury Abbey Wells Cathedral Stanton Drew
The historical boundaries of Somerset, which today incorporate the unitary authority of North Somerset as well as the traditional county, encompass a good range of landscapes, from the wild uplands of Exmoor National Park to the marshes and fields of the Somerset Levels, and the low coastal plains to the high country of the Quantocks and the Mendips. The levels are generally dead flat but are interrupted by a few small, prominent hills, including Glastonbury Tor and Burrow Mump. Exmoor contains the largest undeveloped areas, though smaller unspoilt regions can be found in the other ranges of hills, the most famous single location being Cheddar Gorge in the Mendips. Most of the countryside is agricultural, however; apart from the isolated high ground, the most scenic landscapes are found along the coast, which runs from Portishead in the north, at the mouth of the River Avon, to the tall cliffs west of Porlock, bordering Devon.

The northern reaches of the coast have some short stretches of rocky formations, southwest of Portishead and around Clevedon, while a little further along are two scenic promontories (Brean Down and Sand Point, both managed by the National Trust), either side of the popular resort town of Weston-super-Mare. South of here, the coast is largely sandy, or muddy, bordered by low, grassy land; past Brean, around the mouth of the River Parrett and west towards Hinkley Point, but further west the shoreline becomes steadily rockier and more scenic, lined now by dark, bluish-grey cliffs formed of inclined strata. Notable areas include the coast near Lilstock, Kilve, Quantoxhead and Watchet, though it is west of Minehead that the scenery becomes most dramatic, as the cliffs here rise very steeply up to 1,000 feet, above long stretches of rarely-visited beaches and eroded formations. Minehead to Hurlstone Point is one such (five mile) section, while the next is west of Porlock, extending into Devon.

Somerset contains historic sites from various periods including Neolithic, Saxon, Roman, Norman and later, though no category of site is particularly numerous. Of the over 20 castles that were built in the county, only four are complete or substantially intact; the rest have disappeared. The main prehistoric site is the Stanton Drew Stone Circles, the third largest relic of this type in the country, while the best of the early religious buildings are probably Wells Cathedral, Wells Bishop's Palace, Bath Abbey and the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.


Dunster Castle - medieval castle, later converted to a country house, retaining only a small number of original features. Surrounded by extensive gardens, and managed by the National Trust

Farleigh Hungerford Castle - quadrangular castle with outer court, mostly just foundations but including some substantial taller sections, plus a chapel containing tombs and wall paintings, and a coffin-filled crypt

Nunney Castle - relatively small but well-built and picturesque 14th century castle, surrounded by a moat

Taunton Castle - 12th century fortification on the banks of the River Tone, reconstructed on several occasions but retaining some original features; home to the Museum of Somerset


, and other major churches

Bath Abbey - a former monastery, now a parish church, renowned for its perpendicular Gothic architecture; the oldest sections are from the 12th century

Wells Cathedral - one of England's most beautiful cathedrals, built in a Gothic style


Brean Down - narrow limestone peninsula along the north Somerset coast, site of an old fort

Cheddar Gorge - famous limestone ravine at the south edge of the Mendip Hills, viewable via a 3 mile loop path

Lilstock to St Audrie's Bay - blue lias cliffs and wave-cut terraces, either side of Kilve

Minehead to Hurlstone Point - cliffs and pebble beaches along a little-visited, four mile section of the north Somerset coast

Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach - remote coastline with rarely-seen beaches below steep, wooded cliffs

Portishead Coast - low cliffs and pebble beaches along the coastline south of Portishead

Sand Point and Middle Hope - promontory and headland overlooking the Bristol Channel

Prehistoric Sites

Stanton Drew Stone Circles - four groups of ancient stones, in the countryside south of Bristol

Ruined Abbeys

, and other old religious buildings

Bishop's Palace, Wells - extensive, moated residence of the bishops of Bath and Wells, begun in the 13th century; partly ruined but mostly intact, and still inhabited

Burrow Mump - isolated, conical hill topped by the ruins of an 18th century church

Cleeve Abbey - Cistercian monastery with many original buildings (though not the church), in a quiet, rural setting

Glastonbury Abbey - imposing and evocative ruins of a famous monastery, established in the 7th century

Muchelney Abbey - refectory and hall, and the foundations of a large monastic church

Map of Featured Somerset Locations