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When you are looking for souvenirs of the West Country, Somerset is an ideal place to shop - experience some lovely old streets such as Cheap Street in Frome or Bath Place in the County town of Taunton and give yourself some time to explore the many different types of stores and small shops.
If it's Somerset made crafts you are looking for, you can even buy direct from the crafts people. There are some fascinating craft centres such as the Black Swan Guild at Frome where you can see pottery, wood-work and jewellery being made; or the Willow and Wetlands Visitor Centre on the Levels - famous for the high quality willow baskets and furniture. In Taunton you can see glass being hand-blown in the traditional way. Somerset is well known for excellent pottery goods - visit the potteries in the county and come away with souvenirs you will always remember.
You will find good value for money in any of Somerset's shopping centres, but for some real bargains, visit Clarks Village Factory Shopping Centre at Street, near Glastonbury - with top brand names at discounted prices. Combine this with a trip into Street (for bargain shoes or sheepskin goods) and historic Glastonbury and you can have a full shopping day out!
The county of Somerset has it all! Exmoor National Park in west Somerset is famous for its open moorland, wooded valleys and dramatic views; the wild, rugged coastline (the South West Coastpath starts in Minehead) is ideal for walkers who enjoy sea air and sweeping coastal scenes. The beautiful Quantock Hills are designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty and the hills are popular for walkers of all abilities.
The ancient Blackdown Hills near Taunton (Somerset's County Town) can reward the visitor with sweeping views of Taunton Vale and beyond. On the Levels and Moors of Somerset, walkers can see the wildlife of the Wetlands, which are drained by an ingenious system of small dykes or 'rhynes'.
The Liberty and Leland Trails are long distance way-marked heritage walks, which pass through south Somerset and take in historic houses, gardens and picturesque towns and villages. The Parrett Trail was very recently launched and follows the river Parrett from source to mouth, where it meets the Bristol Channel.
The East and West Mendip Ways are long distance paths which go through the limestone Mendip Hills in the north of the county - famous for their history, wine and, of course, Cheddar Cheese.
In many of Somerset's towns, historic walks are organised and can give the visitor a glimpse of the past. Countryside rangers and local walking associations also arrange organised walks which inform and delight walkers of all ages and abilities.
The county of Somerset is ideal for cyclists of all abilities. For the gentle cycling holiday, the Levels and Moors in central and south Somerset provide a beautiful, rustic landscape; criss-crossed with small dykes or 'rhynes' and dotted with picturesque villages and towns. For those who like more of a challenge, there are varied ranges of hills such as the limestone Mendips near Wells and Glastonbury. Towards Taunton (the county town of Somerset), the historic Blackdown Hills can reward the cyclist with sweeping views over the vale of Taunton Deane.
To the west of the county are the rolling Quantock Hills, where there are some superb routes for mountain bikes and popular too for the 'get away from it all' touring cyclist. A little further west is the dramatic open moorland of Exmoor National Park which gives a sense of real freedom and the wild, rugged coastline provides some breath-taking scenery to enjoy.
The County covers an area of 4,000 km with a population of 477,500. Approximately 33% of residents live in the four main towns of Taunton, Yeovil, Bridgwater and Frome, with the County town of Taunton having a population of 60,000. Somerset has excellent road and rail links, and is within easy reach of the main UK international airports of Heathrow and Gatwick.
The nearby deepwater port facilities of Bristol Portbury together with the South Coast ports of Southampton, Poole, Portsmouth and Plymouth provide regular overseas trade routes for Somerset firms.
Cider Apples - Apples and their most popular product, cider, have probably been part of the Somerset scene since Saxon times, as witnessed by the village names of Orchard Portman, south of Taunton and mentioned in 854 AD, and Orchardleigh, near Frome. Cider presses were mentioned in a grant to Bishop Jocelin in 1230 and the bishop's estate accounts of 1242-3 included income from both apples and cider. A good crop was ensured by the age-old January custom of wassailing (from the Old English wes hal - 'be of good health'), which is still practised in certain villages. Cider-soaked pieces of toast were placed in the apple tree branches and cider itself poured over the roots to encourage the good spirits, while shotguns were fired through the branches and bonfires lit to frighten off the evil spirits. A substantial tax on cider introduced in 1763 was repealed three years later after vociferous protests and demonstrations throughout Somerset. Small-scale production of cider, its rougher varieties known as 'Scrumpy', continues on many local farms, with cider museums at Sheppy's of Bradford-on-Tone and Perry's of Dowlish Wake.
The Yarn Market, Dunster - Standing at the north end of the High Street at the northern end of this idyllic village and former town in the west of the county, it was put up in about 1590 to shelter traders and their wares from the elements. Damaged during the Civil War siege, it was restored in 1647 to its present condition. The market here dates back at least to 1222 and filled the main street on market days, as did the periodic fairs (once a year by 1355, two by 1621). Cloth was produced in the borough by the 13th century and a particular kind of kersey or broadcloth became known as 'Dunsters'. This manufacture and the general economy of the place collapsed in the 18th century and was the direct cause of the old attractive heart of the town being preserved rather than being rebuilt and developed since that time. Dunster was granted to the Mohun family after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and they established the magnificent castle at the other end of the High Street, founded a Benedictine priory by 1177 and a borough by 1197. In 1375 the castle, manor and the extensive estate which surrounded them were bought by the Luttrell family of nearby East Quantoxhead (where they still live) and they have exercised a paternal interest over the area ever since, transferring the castle to the National Trust in 1976. Visitors can also tour a working watermill, the former priory church and a doll museum.
Wells Cathedral - The heightening of the central tower and its topping off with a spire in the early 14th century led to the cracking of the fabric and the possible collapse of the structure. Between 1338 and 1348 this potential disaster was averted by the insertion of three massive scissor or strainer arches below the tower crossing: one of which is shown in our photograph, viewed up the nave. The tiny city of Wells takes its name from a group of five natural springs, now in the grounds of the moated Bishop's Palace, beside which King Ine of the West Saxons founded a minster church in about 705. This became the Cathedral Church of St Andrew in 909 when the diocese of Sherborne was divided. The see was transferred to Bath during the 12th and early 13th centuries and thereafter the bishops were known by the double title of Bath and Wells. The present cathedral building was started in the 1170s and consecrated in 1239, the magnificent west front with its gallery of sculpture being added 1230-50. Thereafter a stunning octagonal first-floor Chapter House was added, completed 1306, the central tower 1313-22, the Lady Chapel and, finally, the two western towers, finished in the 1430s. The north transept contains the second oldest English clock of about 1390, boasting the earliest clock dial in the world: displaying the hours, minutes, days of the lunar month and the phases of the moon.
Robbers' Bridge, Exmoor - One of the many picturesque features of the Royal Forest of Exmoor which encompassed the western end of the county. The forest was never wooded, as its name might imply, but was reserved (although seldom used) by the kings of England, possibly from Saxon times, as a royal hunting ground. It was a barren waste administered through the forest or Swainmote courts that met in the open air either at Lanacre Bridge or in Hawkchurch churchyard, to which the 52 free suitors, freeholders of Withypool and Hawkridge, were summoned. Exmoor was disafforested in 1815 and a wealthy Worcestershire ironmaster, John Knight, devoted his fortune to improving roads, enclosing his new estate with a 29-mile wall and constructing farms and a new village, Simonsbath, at the heart of the moor. His son, Sir Frederic Knight (died 1897), continued his father's work: to be followed by the earls Fortescue. Exmoor National Park was established in 1954 and comprises a much larger area than the former forest, including part of the adjacent county of Devon. The moor is still the controversial hunting ground of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, established in 1855 but with links back to a pack formed by the Acland family, lessees of Exmoor from 1767.
Glastonbury Tor - Rising to 158 ft above the Somerset Wetlands, the Tor is the most celebrated landmark in the county: topped by the isolated tower of St Michael's chapel. Excavations in the 1960s on the summit and shoulder of the hill revealed evidence of timber buildings, animal bones and metal-working dating from the 6th century. Later, cells were cut into the natural rock and a rectangular building of mid to late Saxon date put up. The first chapel of St Michael was destroyed by 'an earthquake', possibly a landslip, in 1275 and the present tower dates from the 14th century. It seems possible that these excavations might have revealed evidence of the origins of Christian Glastonbury in the form of a hermit or monastic settlement which could have outgrown the summit of the Tor and migrated to the site of the later abbey down. Legend tells how Melwas, king of the Summer Land, spirited away Guinevere, Arthur's queen, to his fortress on the Tor and only released his royal captive after a personal plea from St Gildas. Some interpret the scarping of the hill slopes as a massive earthen maze rather than the more convincing lynchet terracing for medieval cultivation.