10 places you need to visit in South Somerset
PUBLISHED: 11:43 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:43 13 March 2018
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne seeks out a varied selection of things to do and see in the south of the county
1. Forde Abbey, Chard
This fascinating house, once home of Cistercian monks and now owned by the Kennard family, has a history spanning more than 900 years. Its glorious gardens have the highest-powered fountain in the country and their design is a pleasing blend of formal and informal. The Abbey has a tearoom and gift shop and hosts a great variety of events throughout the year, including garden workshops, classical concerts and a tulip festival of more than 30,000 blooms at the end of April.
2. Ferne Animal Sanctuary, near Chard
This heart-warming place was founded at the start of World War Two in order to provide temporary refuge for the animals of those sent abroad to fight. Many of the owners never came home, and the sanctuary developed into a place of safety for a huge variety of animals. Set in more than 50 acres, it is a wonderful destination to visit, with a nature trail, ponds, play area, café and, of course, myriad animals who are all getting a well-deserved second chance. If you’re thinking of taking on a new pet, this should be your first port of call: cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, goats.... so many, all needing love. Even if you don’t currently have space for a new family member, just go for a visit – it all helps to support their work.
This lovely village is surrounded by high and view-rich walking country – and the inn welcomes muddy boots and dogs. If walking isn’t for you, the food will be.
4. Shakspeare Glass, Langport Gallery
I own some of these creations and they are utterly beautiful; there’s something magical about the play of light through different pieces of glass – and having tried my hand at glass-blowing I now realise the huge skill involved. The Langport Gallery is set in an old railway warehouse housing the workshop, factory shop, gallery and café. Enjoy browsing the work of many different artists: ceramicists, potters and metalworkers, as well as glass artists. Despite the delicate nature of the environment, dogs are welcome and the gallery is situated right on the Somerset Levels, so great for a stroll.
Part of Yeovil Junction Station, which is on the London Waterloo line, this railway centre offers a glimpse of nostalgic bygones, celebrating how things used to be. Many events are scheduled throughout the year, including Steam Train Days and Diesel Train Days. For those who want to be really hands-on, Driver Experience Courses can be booked, during which you will join the loco crew at the beginning of one of the regular Train Days to help prepare the loco and then enjoy a spell on the footplate (including driving the engine under instruction) before the site opens to the public. Way to go!
6. Antiques Bazaar, Crewkerne
This is like strolling through a vibrant and eclectic museum where you can buy the exhibits. Housing many different traders under the one roof of an old textile mill, it’s somewhere to find that special vintage something that you’ve been seeking for ages – or that other special something you didn’t know you needed but which is so unusual you just have to have it. Tiny knick-knacks to large pieces of furniture are on offer. There’s also a café and mini garden centre on site. Hours of browsing fun!
The venerable abbey in the village of Muchelney was once the wealthy home of Benedictine monks. But then Henry Vlll came along and dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, at which point most of the principal buildings here were destroyed. But the ruins of their foundations create a fascinating landscape and the surviving Abbot’s House is splendid and oozing with history. There’s even a thatched toilet that the monks used, the only one of its kind in the country. An ‘interactive story bag’ is on offer to keep families occupied and everyone will enjoy exploring the open space, seeing where the ancient buildings once stood. The site is now cared for by English Heritage.
8. John Leach Pottery, Muchelney
Following the creativity of his father and grandfather, John and his ‘crew’ produce pottery from local clays in the heart of the Somerset Levels. These beautiful pots are in daily use all over the world. Adjacent to the Pottery Shop is the John Leach Gallery, home to a programme of exhibitions throughout the year and supporting West Country artists and craftspeople. You will also find John’s pond, a County Wildlife Site which has been featured several times on television.
9. South West Deer Rescue, Wayford, near Crewkerne
Set in more than 100 acres of South Somerset countryside, a visit to this centre is an opportunity to get close to these magnificent creatures and find out more about them. Red Deer are our largest wild land mammals and you will meet these as well as other species of deer. It is an outdoor day that needs to be pre-booked. Be well-shoed and prepared for weather
10. Montacute House, Montacute
This huge Elizabethan mansion, set in glorious grounds, is owned and cared for by the National Trust. Find out how people lived in times gone by – both the aristocrats and those who made their lifestyle possible. Enjoy homemade food in the café and browse the Trust’s lovely range of gifts in the shop.