Somerset is a largely rural county in England’s West Country. The more populous Northern extremities were taken away at the local government reorganisation in 1974 to form part of the new county of Avon. This included Bath, but for this purpose Bath is treated as still being part of Somerset.
The county has several distinct features – the Bath area towards Bristol, the coast, the hilly region in the centre, the Somerset levels and Exmoor to the West.
Bath is one of the most historic cities in the country. It was founded at the site of England’s only hot springs, and was important to the Romans. Today, the Roman baths can be viewed, and there is a huge amount of elegant Georgian architecture.
Along the coast is one of England’s major seaside towns, Weston-super-Mare, and several others, notably Minehead, Clevedon and Burnham-on-Sea.
The lovely Mendip Hills contain the spectacular Cheddar Gorge as well as the famous caves at Wookey Hole. Also in this area is Wells, England’s smallest cathedral city, whose cathedral has a brilliant West Front.
Other hills are the Brendons, the Blackdowns and the Quantocks.
The Somerset Levels were formerly an inland sea with islands, very similar to the Fens in the Lincolnshire – Norfolk – Cambridgeshire region. Here is the mystical old town of Glastonbury, whose history and legends involve King Arthur, Merlin and even Jesus Christ.
In the same area is the Isle of Athelney, to which Alfred’s Kingdom of England had dwindled before he made his remarkable comeback.
Exmoor, in the West of the county, merges with Devon, and is known as Lorna Doone Country after the famous novel.
The county town of Somerset is Taunton, which has a major public school and one of England’s largest cattle markets.
Other towns include Yeovil, Chard, Crewkerne, Frome and Wincanton.
Somerset is famous for cider, and Shepton Mallet is where Babycham comes from. The county also gives its name to one of the world’s most famous cheeses, Cheddar.
Sedgemoor, part of the Somerset Levels, was where the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion ended in a bloody battle, after which the notorious Judge Jeffreys held his Bloody Assizes at Taunton.