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. Somerset contains over 50 nature reserves, concentrated in the hilly areas.

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.



Castles



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
Farleigh Hungerford Castle
Ruins of a quadrangular castle with outer court, plus a chapel containing tombs and wall paintings, and a crypt holding eight lead coffins

Rating: ★★★★★
Nunney Castle
Nunney Castle
Small but well-built and picturesque 14th century castle, surrounded by a moat and overlooking a stream, in the centre of a quiet country village

Rating: ★★★★★

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


Cathedrals

, and other major churches

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
Fine parish church renowned for its perpendicular Gothic architecture, on the site of an ancient monastery; the oldest sections are from the 12th century

Rating: ★★★★★
Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral
One of England's most beautiful cathedrals; built in a Gothic style, mostly during the 13th century

Rating: ★★★★★

Landscapes



Brean Down
Brean Down
High, narrow limestone peninsula along the north Somerset coast, lined by cliffs; site of a 19th century fort and several more ancient relics

Rating: ★★★★★
Bubwith Acres
Bubwith Acres
Small nature reserve on the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills; mostly grassland, with some trees, bracken and limestone exposures

Rating: ★★★★
Cheddar Complex
Cheddar Complex
Three adjacent, contrasting nature reserves across the upper reaches of Cheddar Gorge; Black Rock, Long Wood and Velvet Bottom

Rating: ★★★★★
Cheddar Gorge
Cheddar Gorge
Famous limestone ravine at the south edge of the Mendip Hills, containing several caves, and viewable via a 3 mile loop path

Rating: ★★★★
Crook Peak
Crook Peak
Rocky summit with excellent views; the most distinctive peak in the Mendip Hills

Rating: ★★★★★
Draycott Sleights
Draycott Sleights
Nature reserve at the southern edge of the Mendip Hills; good views and over 150 wildflower species

Rating: ★★★★★
Hellenge Hill
Hellenge Hill
Calcareous grassland nature reserve on a western outlier of the Mendip Hills; varied wildflowers and long distance views

Rating: ★★★★
Hollow Marsh Meadow
Hollow Marsh Meadow
Remote nature reserve comprising a wood, a section of stream and two fields of neutral grassland, with many wildflowers

Rating: ★★★★
Lilstock to St Audrie's Bay
Lilstock to St Audrie's Bay
Four mile stretch of the coast, including Kilve Pill and Quantock's Head, with layered, blue lias cliffs above extensive, wave-cut terraces

Rating: ★★★★★
Minehead to Hurlstone Point
Minehead to Hurlstone Point
Cliffs and pebble beaches along a spectacular, little-visited, five mile section of the north Somerset coast

Rating: ★★★★★
Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach
Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach
Five miles of the Somerset coast; rarely-seen beaches and eroded sandstone formations below steep cliffs and extensive ancient woodland

Rating: ★★★★★
Portishead Coast
Portishead Coast
Low cliffs, eroded rocks, pebble beaches and a lighthouse, along the Bristol Channel coastline south of Portishead

Rating: ★★★★
Purn Hill
Purn Hill
Nature reserve on a western outlier of the Mendip Hills, with good views south and towards the coast; home to many plant species, three particularly rare

Rating: ★★★★★
Sand Point and Middle Hope
Sand Point and Middle Hope
Narrow promontory and elevated headland overlooking the Bristol Channel, lined by stony beaches and eroded rock formations

Rating: ★★★★★
Tor Hole Fields
Tor Hole Fields
Small, little-visited nature reserve of sloping grassland and a few trees, in the Mendip Hills

Rating: ★★★★
Ubley Warren
Ubley Warren
Small nature reserve within the Mendip Hills, containing overgrown lead mine workings, now home to a variety of wildlife

Rating: ★★★★
Walborough and Uphill Hill
Walborough and Uphill Hill
Adjacent nature reserves beside the west Somerset coast: coastal meadows and marshes, and a wildflower-covered peak

Rating: ★★★★★
Yarley Fields
Yarley Fields
Minor nature reserve on the Somerset Levels; two gently sloping fields of rough grassland, where a variety of plants and animals may be seen

Rating: ★★★★

Prehistoric Sites



Stanton Drew Stone Circles
Stanton Drew Stone Circles
Three prehistoric stone circles, the largest 370 feet in diameter, and a separate group of three stones known as the Cove

Rating: ★★★★★

Ruined Abbeys

, and other old religious buildings

Bishop's Palace
Bishop's Palace
Extensive, moated, castle-like residence of the bishops of Bath and Wells, begun in the 13th century; one ruined section, the great hall, but otherwise intact

Rating: ★★★★
Burrow Mump
Burrow Mump
Isolated, conical hill rising 70 feet above the flat, marshy farmland of the Somerset Levels, topped by a ruined, 18th century church

Rating: ★★★★★
Cleeve Abbey
Cleeve Abbey
Cistercian monastery in a quiet, rural setting with many original, well preserved buildings, mostly from the 13th century, plus the foundations of the abbey church

Rating: ★★★★
Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey
Imposing and evocative ruins of a famous and wealthy monastery, established in the 7th century

Rating: ★★★★★
Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Tor
Famous limestone hill topped by the ruined tower of the 14th century St Michael's Church

Rating: ★★★★★

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



Map of Featured Somerset Locations