Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
It may not be the last word in sophistication but Weston-super-Mare has a kitsch charm about it which is very endearing and keeps visitors coming back here year after year. It was a premiere seaside resort for Victorians and Edwardians and retains many of the same features which drew the crowds back then. Donkey rides on the beach, Punch and Judy puppet shows and sand-castle competitions remain firm favourites although the town also has plenty of more modern British seaside classics - noisy amusement arcades, the giant Weston wheel and the Seaquariam - a small but well-stocked aquarium. For a bit of local history head to the town's museum, newly re-open in August 2017 after a two-year closure for refurbishment. Based in an old gasworks (don't let that put you off) it is a great place to find out about the area from prehistoric times to the present day. Next door is Clara's Cottage - reconstructed as it would have been in 1900.
Those that may have poked fun at the place as old fashioned and backward looking were forced to change their views in 2015 when Banksy the world famous elusive graffiti artist took over the old Tropicana Lido and chose Weston as the location for Dismaland, his anti-establishment “bemusement” park. In doing so he placed Weston-super-Mare firmly on the "in" map with hundreds of thousands of visitors arriving and queueing to visit, bringing Weston-super-Mare to a totally new audience. A temporary exhibtion that featured work from a host of subervisive artits, Dismaland may have gone but its left a legacy in Weston-super-Mare and a sense that there is much more to the place than first meets the eye.
The huge tidal range of the Bristol Channel which serves as the sea here means that at low tide it is impossible to swim unless you wade across a mile of mudflats but when the tide is in the beach is a long stretch of golden sand. The Pier has a brand-new pavilion which draws visitors from far and wide and a major refurbishment of the wide Grand Promenade, which runs along the back of the beach for two miles and is great for a stroll, taking in the salt air and maybe enjoying a serving of fish and chips or cockles and whelks from one of the many food stands on the beach.
For the Mendip Way walker Weston provides easy access by train from Bristol, a good range of accommodation, restaurants and facilities and a degree of hilarity and entertainment before heading off into the wilds!
The Mendip Way itself starts in the quieter area of Uphill to the south of Weston. Uphill is a little more than a sleepy village but for those who miss out on a night at nearby Weston-super-Mare then there are one or two accommodation options at Uphill for those who prefer to stay here before starting the Mendip Way.
Uphill, as its same suggests, is one of the two hills which flank either end of the town and the quiet grassy slopes here are a world away from the arcades and bustle of Weston itself.
Uphill was used as a port since Roman times and for centuries acted as a small landing stage for importing coal and iron from Wales, now it is a privately-owned boatyard and marina with a small cafe for those in need of refreshments.
High on the cliff above stands the lonley church of St Nicholas, and next to it, atop the limestone grassland and wildflowers of Uphill nature reserve is Windmill Tower, built in 1729. Later the windmill was used as a beacon and then an observatory.
If you spend the night here you can climb the tower for superb panoramic views across to Brean Down and the Somerset levels and in Spring the sloping meadows are carpeted with an outstanding display of cowslips, primroses and green winged orchids.
Uphill can be reached by a short bus or taxi ride from Weston-super-Mare
For those who want an overnight with a real sense of history then divert off the ridge after the Crook Peak section to Axbridge.
The centrepiece of this placid medieval village is the striking King John's Hunting Lodge, its fine timber frame dominating the corner of the main square at the centre of this village. It dates to around 1460 when it was built for a wealthy local wool merchant. The origin of the name 'King John' is unclear as it was built long after that king's death. The building now houses the local history museum. Look out for the King John's Head figurehead on the corner of the building outside, a reminder of when this place was The Kings Head Inn. (The original head is in the museum and the one outside a replica).
Now a sleepy village, Axbridge was once wealthy and important enough to have its own mint. Several other medieval buildings surround the square, some with Georgian facades and the village is an attractive array of wooden and painted coloured buildings. Just up the High Street from the Hunting Lodge, Axbridge Drug Stores is a beautiful Tudor timber and yellow painted building while opposite is the old butchers with a blue bull painted on the tiles surrounding a carved wooden door which John Betjeman once said, 'Where in all England is there another Butcher's Shop with a magnificent entrance like that?'
Farther up the High Street there is a hidden gem – the smallest cinema in England, The Roxy. Once a coaching inn, this non-profit Art Deco mini-cinema seats a maximum of 38 people and has a mini little foyer, with Art Nouveau styling surrounding a mini Art Deco box office and a mini 1950s style cocktail bar. It is run by volunteers and has a regular programme of films, some of them with three course meals as well!
Axbridge has a good range of accommodation and facilities for the overnight walker and is the best choice for those who want to explore a bit after completing their walking day.
Listed in the Domesday Book as Sipeham meaning ‘sheep home’ Shipham is a small Mendip village. Along with neighbouring Rowberrow, Shipham was once the centre of the zinc mining industry on Mendip; hence the naming of one of Shipham’s two hostelries as The Miners Arms (now sadly closed).
The discovery of zinc turned the village into a major mining centre and the remains of old mine workings and waste can still be seen south of the village. Social reformers William Wilberforce and Hannah Moore set up a Sunday school here to try and help the poverty-stricken people of the area. The people of Shipham were notorious for being rough and it is said that no constable would arrest them for fear of being thrown down a mine shaft!
Thankfully it’s a bit tamer today and the Penscott Inn right in the centre of the village provides the perfect overnight stop with good food, cider and atmosphere for the weary walker.
At the northern end of the village there is a nineteenth century tollhouse and next door to the Penscot is the parish church of St Leonards which is well worth a look over. Lenny's coffee shop was opened by members of the nearby St Leonards Church after the butchers shop here closed and all proceeds from the shop go to charity. If you arrive early enough you can refuel here with snacks, light lunches and homemade cake!
Towering above the village of Cheddar are the jagged 500ft cliffs of the magnificent Cheddar Gorge, and whilst tea and trinket shops abound around the caves themselves away from this the older village ¼ mile away provides a calmer and intriguing overnight stop for those who want to spend the night here.
Cheddar is a long, linear straggling settlement which jostles for space with the River Yeo which emerges from Gough’s Cave to flow through the centre of the village. It was in this cave that Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903 – the 9000-year-old remains of a man from the Mesolithic.
Now in the Natural History Museum in London, this is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton. Both Gough’s Cave (discovered by Richard Gough in 1890) and Cox’s cave (discovered by Gough’s uncle George Cox in 1837) farther down the road are open to the public and are well worth visiting.
Those that stop here get the best of both worlds – if you want to explore the caves or climb the 274 steps of Jacob’s Ladder to the top of the gorge where a lookout tower offers fantastic views, then you can do this at the end of the day or early in the morning before the throng of visitors arrive.
If you have the time then you can discover the history of Cheddar by following the Historic Cheddar Walk - a 2 mile route around the village which takes in the hidden historical features of the town which many of the day trippers just don’t get time to see.
The walk visits the Kings Arms - Cheddar’s oldest surviving inn, Cheddar’s medieval market cross and the beautiful 14th century St Andrew’s church. Inside here look for the brass of a knight on the tomb of Sir Thomas de Chedder, a wealthy Bristol merchant, and below him on the floor, the brass of his widow, Lady Isabel de Chedder, dressed in wimple and widow’s weeds.
You will be spoilt for choice when deciding where to sample local fare with plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from and in the Gorge area it feels like every other premises is an eatery of some sort.
Ice cream lovers will want to head to Ice Dreams ice cream parlour towards the bottom of the town which offers over 80 different flavours to choose from and over 70 different flavours of milk shakes, all locally produced on Somerset farms.
Be careful with the local cider though – the specialist cider shop in the village is not called Leg Bender for nothing!
Cheddar, of course, is also synonymous with Cheddar cheese which has been crafted here in Cheddar for some 850 years. From the Pipe Roll, a sort of Medieval treasury record, for 1170 we know that King Henry II bought 4.6 tonnes of Cheddar cheese at a cost of a farthing per pound weight. It is said he declared Cheddar cheese to be the best in Britain. Although Cheddar cheese is now made all over the world, you can still see it being produced here today - where it all began.
For info on exploring the caves and attractions themselves go to the Cheddar Gorge and Caves Website but beyond these, Cheddar provides good options for cycling, climbing and caving for those taking a rest day.
For the adventurous get beyond the tourist show caves on a real expedition and you can try a spot of caving or rock climbing with Cheddar Extreme Rock Sport. Don't worry if you are new to these sports, these trips are designed for everyone including absolute beginners.
Cheddar caves offer a chance of a one and a half hour caving trip where you can explore sections of Gough's Cave beyond where the tourists can go and experience a taste of real caving! Climb and crawl into Mushroom and Sand Chambers, descend a 40-foot ladder and climb a rift. Traverse Bottomless Pit and slither through The Letterbox to return to Sand Chamber and then the way out. 'It's hard, it's dirty, it's fun!'
For adventures above ground you can try rock climbing in the world-famous Cheddar Gorge. Learn the techniques for climbing a rock face and how to belay a climbing partner. Choose from seven different climbing routes up the face of the cliff. How many can you conquer in one session?
As well as cheese, Cheddar and the surrounding area are famous for strawberries – hence the name of the cycle path along the course of the old railway which runs from Cheddar to Yatton.
is a delightful linear off-road trail suitable for cyclists of all abilities. (Click here to read more)
The 10-mile route takes you through a variety of Somerset landscapes including wetlands teeming with wildlife, cider orchards and the beautiful and ancient settlement of Axbridge where you can visit the Elizabeth house of a wool merchant, King John's Hunting Lodge. Cycles can be hired from Cheddar Cycle Store, located in the lower end of the village.
The hamlet of Priddy is a legendary place on Mendip. Sitting on top the plateau at an elevation of nearly 1000ft (300m) above sea level, Priddy has been a place of settlement since Neolithic times.
Priddy Circles are four Neolithic enclosures thought to have been built around the same time as Stonehenge. While these are on private land and not accessible to the public, it is possible if staying overnight to stroll around Priddy Nine Barrows, a row of Bronze age tumuli just north of the village.
In Roman times Priddy was an important lead mining area leaving behind a landscape of uneven hummocky grassy mounds known to the locals as ‘gruffy ground’.
On Priddy Green in the centre of the village, the wooden hurdle stack is a reminder of the annual sheep fair which has been held here ever since 1348 when it moved up onto the higher ground of Priddy to escape the plague afflicting the city of Wells. Priddy folk festival, billed as ‘the friendliest festival in England’ has become a major event in the annual calendar and takes place here at the beginning of July. At other times you can get lucky and find the village cricket team playing on the green.
If you are in Priddy then don’t be surprised if you see people walking through the village in overalls and carrying headlamps – the entrance to one of Britain’s best-loved caves, Swildon’s Hole, is in a field just outside the village and cavers of all ages make the trip to Priddy to spend a few happy hours crawling in wet and muddy conditions underground.
For refreshment head to the Queen Vic pub which serves excellent food and at the other end of the village (next to the campsite) is Priddy Good Farm Shop and Cafe, serving a hearty cooked breakfast from 9.00am to 12.00 mid-day every day of the week.
If you are up for an evening stroll then you can head two miles along the road (take care - the cars travel fast along this long straight road) to the famous Hunters Lodge Inn. This pub exists in a time warp so don't expect fancy menus (there is a basic menu on the blackboard), no music (except on the locals folk music night) and definately no fruit machines! The landlord is a diamond but doesn't waste his words so don't expect chitchat either. Oh, and he doesn't hold with all day opening so don't arrive in the middle of the afternoon and expect it to be open. But if you like perfectly conditioned beer served straight from the barrel and a proper traditional pub where the only entertainment is chatting to your companions, then this place is worth the effort. There is no-where else like it. Just one thing – never, EVER, use your mobile phone in this pub. As every local knows, you turn it off and leave it firmly in your pocket. You might even see one nailed to the wall as a warning...
Nestling under the southern flank of the Mendip Hills, Wookey Hole is centred around a huge cave complex carved out by the River Axe which has its source here. Its right on the Mendip Way and had a range of accommodation for walkers unable to make the extra miles today to Wells.
The cave and its associated legend of the Witch of Wookey have inspired visitors here for centuries. In 1756, Dr Henry Harrington who was physician to the Duke of York, wrote a poem about the witch. It opens:
In aunciente days, tradition showes, A base and wicked else arose, The Witch of Woke high:
Oft have I heard the fearfully tale, From Sue and Roger of the vale, On some long winter's night.
The legend is that long ago a witch tormented the good folk of Wookey Hole. An embittered soul, she was especially resentful of romance and cursed a pair of young lovers. The young man, instead of marrying his love, went to Glastonbury and became a monk. For many years the witch continued to cause mischief to the locals by spoiling their butter, disturbing the livestock and generally being a pain in the neck. Eventually the villagers sent to Glastonbury Abbey for help and the young monk, now more experienced in such matters, returned and after an epic battle with the witch, finally succeeded in using holy water to turn her into stone just inside the entrance to Wookey Hole cave where she can still be seen today.
The cave itself is a series of limestone caverns carved out by the River Axe which flows through the cave system. For seventy-five years cave divers have been exploring deeper and deeper into the cave system and have discovered 25 chambers so far. No-one has managed to travel into chamber 26 and what lies beyond remains unknown.
In 2015 a tunnel was built and now visitors can walk safely as far as chamber 20 and visit parts of the cave which were once only open to the most intrepid of underwater explorers. Wookey Hole Caves are now one of the biggest show cave systems in Europe.
Above ground, a visitor’s complex includes a functioning paper mill, in existence since 1610, where you can have a go at making paper yourself using Victorian machinery.
The Wookey Hole Experience is a less enticing theme-park effort complete with plastic dinosaurs and a 4D cinema. The Victorian penny arcade and mirror maze are fun but it is really geared up for children.
The Wookey Hole Inn provides an oasis of calm …and local cider and is just along the road from the visitor complex.
North of Wookey Hole and on the Mendip Way is Ebbor Gorge, a steep sided limestone ravine which is now a nature reserve managed by Natural England. Sometimes described as 'mini Cheddar' the path winds its way down through the steep sided gorge where ferns and fungi flourish in the often-humid conditions of the narrow valley where the trees tower above you as you walk in the steps of Neolithic ancestors whose flints and tools have been found here. In this quiet and almost eerie place it feels like you are walking back in time.
Even without its cathedral, Wells would be a delightful little town. With it, it becomes one of Britain’s smallest but most beautiful cities. The cathedral is the focal point of Wells, a glorious masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Dating from the twelfth century, the magnificent west front facing onto the lawns and which boasts some 1300 figures of saints and kings, takes one’s breath away. No visit to Wells is complete without a visit to the cathedral, the interior of which is just as spectacular as the outer façade. In the north transept is the famous astronomical Wells clock also known as the ‘jousting clock’: every fifteen minutes jousting knights appear and go around the clock in tournament and on the hour a figure in red known as Jack Blandiver hits a bell with a hammer and kicks two more with his feet.
Nearby to the cathedral is the wonderful Vicars Close – a row of clergyman’s cottages which are so quaint and attractive it’s difficult to believe they are real and not part of a Merchant Ivory film set! The Close claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited medieval street in Europe.
On the other side of the Cathedral and right on the Mendip Way route is the Bishops Palace, which has been the residence of the bishop of Bath and Wells since 1206. It is surrounded by a moat which together with a drawbridge and crenelated walls, were added to the palace in the fourteenth century after the incumbent, Bishop Ralph, made himself none too popular with the local townsfolk over local taxes imposed by the church. On the moat are a herd of swans which are trained to ring the bell next to the drawbridge at feeding time. Across St. Andrew's Street from the Cathedral is the Wells and Mendip Museum, an absorbing place which displays the past and present life of the City of Wells and the Mendip area. The museum’s displays include a Jurassic ichthyosaurus fossil two metres long and you can also visit ‘Netherworld’ where on display is the very first piece of diving equipment designed for the exploration of flooded underground passages known as the Bicycle Respirator!
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, a vibrant market occupies the market place alongside the cathedral. Look here also for an unusual medieval fresh water conduit and from here two medieval gateways known as Penniless Porch and the Bishop's Eye link the market place to the Cathedral.
There are an abundant number of independent shops and good quality restaurants to suit all tastes making Wells the best overnight stop on the Mendip Way. A place where you can take a stroll along the winding cobbled streets leading away from the market square and enjoy the cosmopolitan air of this little city.
Glastonbury - a place where mythology, legends and religious lore overlay and entwine, reaching far back in time. Said to be the burial place of King Arthur, there are legends which tell of St Patrick, St Columba, Joseph of Arimathea and even Jesus Christ himself visiting this place.
The Town is now a mecca for every potential witch, wizard and warlock in the South-West. Where else can you find places with names like the Cat and Cauldron, the Speaking Tree Bookshop and the Wonky Broomstick? New Age shops dominate the High Street where you can purchase spells and crystals and perhaps some chocolate from the Chocolate Love Temple, washed down with some herbal tea. Check out the house of Tea and Chi for a great cup of tea and a Thai curry!
On the High Street do look out for Glastonbury Tribunal – a beautiful 15th century town house of honey-coloured stone which is now home to the Tourist Information Centre and the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum (the Lake village was an Iron Age village on the Somerset levels and the museum displays artefacts of the one-time inhabitants of this ancient settlement).
Leaving the witches and wizards behind and at the more peaceful lower end of the town is the magnificent Glastonbury Abbey, one of England's greatest and oldest Christian buildings. Founded back in the seventh century, three English kings are buried here (Edmund, Edgar and Edmund Ironside) and by the tenth century it was the richest Benedictine monastery in the country. When the end came during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII the destruction of the abbey was pretty savage, even by Henry's standards, with the Abbot dragged to the top of Glastonbury Tor with two of his monks and hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor.
Now the remains of the abbey and its beautifully kept grounds are a peaceful haven to wander - the remains of the Lady Chapel are more substantial than the rest and in the grounds, you can see the remains of the Abbot's Kitchen. Near the entrance to the Abbey grows the Glastonbury Thorn, said to be from the original thorn tree on Wearyall Hill where legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea and his disciples, stopped to rest and drove his staff into the ground, only to find in the morning that it had taken root. Joseph of Arimathea, a merchant, was said to have been a wealthy supporter of Jesus and one story has it he visited England several times and on one occasion brought a young Jesus with him to Glastonbury. The story is just one of the many ancient tales which swirl around this mysterious place.
In 1190 monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the bones of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, buried in front of the high altar. According to local lore Camelot was at the nearby Saxon fort of Cadbury Castle. A Welsh monk, Caradoc of Llancarfan, writing earlier in the 12th century had recorded that Glastonbury had been besieged by Arthur with a huge army because his wife Guinevere had been carried off there by the wicked King Melwas after searching for her for a whole year - so perhaps there is some truth behind the legend!
To the south of the town, the Chalice Well is a tranquil garden and a place to quietly contemplate, and is said to be the hiding place for the fabled Holy Grail, buried here by Joseph of Arimathea at the foot of Glastonbury Tor in a place where a spring of blood flowed (its red water caused by a rich iron content was no doubt the foundation for this tale). Nearby, and in contrast to the bright garden is the Well House, a Victorian vaulted building, dark and cool inside, which houses the White Spring, a natural well which drops into a series of pools. While the spring of the Chalice Well runs red, this runs white, due to the calcium in the water here. (You can swim in the pools but please note, people often bathe naked here as an act of cleansing, so this is only for the more open minded!)
The White Well is at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, a dramatic conical hill which stands tall and proud as a sentry amidst the flat expanses of the Somerset marshes. Like the Abbey, the Tor has been a place of pilgrimage since prehistoric times. Somerset means 'Land of the Summer People' as in times of flood the waters would have swept in here from the sea and the high ground of the Tor must have been a sanctuary for the people here.
St Michael's Tower on the top of the hill is the remaining ruin of a church which once stood here; the previous church having been destroyed by an earthquake (yes really!) in 1275. It’s a twenty-minute climb to the top and if you are keen enough for a very early morning walk it's a fabulous place to catch the sunrise.
After all that, it could be time to get your feet back on the ground with a visit to the Somerset Rural Life Museum based in a beautifully intact ancient tithe barn (tithe barns were storage units belonging to the abbeys), it houses a fascinating array of artefacts related to the local industries here. The museum reopened in 2017 after a three-year refurbishment programme with a cafe on the premises as well. Cider making, willow growing, peat digging and mud horse fishing (you'll have to visit to find out what that is!) are demonstrated here and there is also a new cafe on the premises as well.
Shepton Mallet is built on wool. Not literally of course – but this sleepy little market town grew prosperous in the Middle Ages as a centre for woollen cloth, with some thirty mills lining the banks of the River Sheppey which flows through the town. It is still famous as an agricultural centre today, and is home to the Royal Bath and West Show, the biggest livestock event in the South West.
After the advent of the railways Shepton Mallet also became a centre for brewing – for good or ill, the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery was the first place in the country to brew lager! Locals remember Shepton Mallet for another beverage however, the sparkling perry known as Babycham invented by local brewer Francis Showering.
The family have brewed in the town since 1658 and although the Babycham brand has been sold, the Showerings are still part of the local brewing scene and cider is still brewed here at the brewery in Kilver Street.
For the walker it’s a well-placed and laid back market town with a reasonable range of facilities, pubs, restaurants and shops and all without the obvious tourist trappings of places like Cheddar and Wells. This is a proud locals town and as such a different type of Somerset experience for the overnight visitor.
The hexagonal market cross in the town centre was rebuilt in 1841 and in the market place here you can see The Shambles, a medieval market stall where butchers once displayed their wares.
Markets are still a regular event in the town’s marketplace. The church of St Peter and St Pauls in the centre of the town is worth seeking out; its beautiful interior has a magnificent 16th century intricate wooden wagon roof, made up of 350 different oak panels.
On the edge of Shepton Mallet alongside the Mendip Way are Kilver Court Gardens, underneath the impressive Charlton viaduct. Small but beautifully formed, the three and a half acre gardens were originally designed as a recreation space for workers at the adjoining lace-making factory. The mill's grounds also had a pub, the Ship Inn, vegetable plots for workers to grow their own food and a school house for the children of the workers to attend! The school house is now a factory outlet shop but the gardens are a little gem of a place and worth seeking out.
And – as a footnote – the town should really be famous for another event – the world-famous music festival which takes place just three miles down the road at Worthy Farm, Pilton. Instead of Shepton Mallet Festival the event is known, of course, as ‘Glastonbury Festival’ – even though Glastonbury is four miles farther way from Pilton than Shepton Mallet!
Pronounced ‘Froom’, this attractive and vibrant little town has a real buzz about it and is a great end to your Mendip Way walk.
For the walker, there are a great range of facilities with plenty of eateries and atmospheric inns to choose from straggling down its medieval streets. Frome has a lively arts scene so why not check out the local arts centre Black Swan Arts? For some history of the area pay a visit to Frome museum just over the town bridge from the market place. Pedestrianised Catherine Hill is great for wandering around the vintage shops and the Cheese and Grain Hall has regular markets and often has live music too. The centre of Frome has many historical buildings which are best explored on foot as you wander the narrow-cobbled lanes. Look out for the well -preserved medieval Cheap Street where the leat runs down the middle of the street just as it has done for centuries.
If you have an extra day here then you can visit the delightful little village of Nunney, four miles south-west of Frome (buses run here Monday to Saturdays) which also is the home of Somerset’s best-preserved castle. Built in the 1370s by the local baron Sir John de la Mare, one of the knights of King Edward III, the castle took a pounding in the English civil war when it was besieged by the forces of Oliver Cromwell.
Frome is also the start of the Collier's Way, a 23 mile walk and cycle ride along the course of the old Somerset Coal Canal, later a railway and now a traffic free cycle and walking route to Limpley Stoke and on to Bath.
Farther afield you can take a train from Frome to Bradford-on-Avon, a beautiful ancient town of soft cream Bath stone nestling in the Avon valley. In the centre of the town is the magnificent seventeenth century long bridge over the River Avon with its small dome-shaped building at the end of the bridge which was once the town's lock-up. On the edge of Bradford is the imposing 700-year-old Tithe Barn, used by Shaftesbury Abbey who owned the manor here, to store produce.
As well as the River Avon, the Kennet and Avon Canal runs along the edge of the town. At Lock Inn cafe alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal you can hire cycles and canoes and spend a relaxing day cycling along the towpath or paddling the canal in a Canadian canoe. Or walk the 3 miles to Avoncliffe and admire the very impressive aqueduct which carries the canal over both river and railway and take some refreshment at the Mad Hatter cafe or the Cross Guns Pub, situated on either side of the aqueduct.
From Frome, you can also take a train to the Georgian spa city of Bath where you can visit the world famous Roman Baths and take tea in the magnificent Pump Room, little changed from when Jane Austen visited 200 years ago. Devotees of Austen can also visit the Jane Austen centre nearby. The city is awash with heritage plaques commemorating the famous people who lived here. There are plenty of walking tours - or if you are in need of a rest then why not take a bus tour round the city instead?
And for therapy for weary legs you can pamper yourself with a couple of hours in the New Royal Spa, bathing in warm mineral waters in a spectacular setting in a rooftop pool with fantastic views across the city and the surrounding hills.
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