The sleepy Somerset landscape is one of hedgerows and russet-coloured fields scattered with ancient sites and steeped in folklore. The cathedral city of Wells sits at its centre, making a good base for exploring the limestone caves of Cheddar, the hippie haven of Glastonbury and the misty Quantock and Mendip Hills.
What to see
The Bishop’s Palace in Wells is said to be the oldest inhabited building in England. The palace includes Gothic staterooms, a Great Hall and moated garden. The wells that gave the city its name bubble up in the grounds and feed the fountain in the square.
St Andrew’s Cathedral is the centrepiece of the Wells Cathedral Close, a cluster of ecclesiastical buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. Highlights include Vicars’ Close, the oldest medieval street in Europe, and Penniless Porch, a corner gate leading to Market Square.
The limestone ridges of the Mendip Hills are peppered with tiny hamlets and isolated pubs that once served thirsty lead miners. To get a flavour of village life, make a tour of Chewton Mendip, Priddy, Compton Martin and West Harptree.
Glastonbury Tor, topped by the ruins of St Michael’s Church, looms above the town. According to some it’s the home of a faery king, while others believe it to be the Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur sleeps until his country calls again.
The 12-mile sandstone ridge of the Quantock Hills links the Vale of Taunton Deane with the coast. The area is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The AONB Service runs a programme of guided walks at Fyne Court.
Where to eat and drink
Rainbow’s End is a charming wholefood café offering generous portions of veggie chilli, quiches and soups. Meals are served in the cheerful dining room or on the small patio. The homemade cakes are a highlight. Call them on 01458 833896.
The Hood Arms in Kilve is one of the Quantocks’ best food pubs. Forget pints of prawns and scampi – here the specials board features Exmoor trout, venison casserole and saltmarsh lamb. Hunting trophies and beamed rooms make this a hit with walkers.
Glastonbury’s Who’d A Thought It Inn brims with character, from the vintage signs and bike on the ceiling to the reclaimed phone box. Locals love its superior ales and comforting dishes such as West Channel Coast squid.
Goodfellows is a favourite Wells haunt. It is a café-bakery downstairs, serving homemade pastries, and a seafood bistro upstairs. The food in both is topnotch.
Wells conceals a culinary star in The Old Spot. The menu reflects seasonal produce such as smoked eel and rabbit stew. The handsome dining room overlooks the west front of the cathedral.
Where to sleep
The White House has only two rooms, but they’re pleasantly decorated with wrought-iron beds and fairtrade linen in muted colours. Beauty treatments and massages are available to book.
At the foot of the Quantock Hills in Crowcombe, the redbrick Carew Arms has welcomed guests for five centuries. The pub features a classic inglenook fireplace, a flagstone bar and a grassy beer garden, while upstairs rooms have modern décor and country views.
Situated in a six-acre garden overlooking Wells and the Vale of Avalon, Stoberry House is an upmarket b&b. There are just four rooms, each generously furnished with large beds, silk furnishings and heavy curtains. The splendid garden dotted with sculpture is a bonus.
Number Twelve offers two rooms in an Arts and Crafts house on the outskirts of Wells. The best Sleeproom is No 1, which has a glass-bricked bathroom, freestanding bath and a small balcony with cathedral views. Tea and cake is served on arrival, and there’s kedgeree and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Chalice Hill House is the old manor house of Glastonbury, and the Georgian building has been renovated with flair by its artistic owner Fay Hutchcroft. A sweeping staircase leads to three characterful rooms, the best of which is the Phoenix, with modern art, colourful fabrics and garden views.
This article is reproduced from Lonely Planet Magazine, on sale now across the UK priced £3.70.