Spend a day in Somerton
PUBLISHED: 09:00 25 May 2014
If you are looking for a quintessential English town then look no further. With bags of charm and style, this pretty market town is a joy to visit in summer
Words by Clare Bourke
Photography by Chris Gladstone
Nestled in the valley of the River Cary is the ancient market town of Somerton.
With an illustrious Saxon royal history and being named the capital of Wessex in the 13th century, it is no wonder so many visitors flock here every summer.
The old part of the town, which was the first Conservation Area designated in Somerset in the 1960s, makes for a delightful meandering with the old Market Place, Town Hall and Courthouse, as well as almshouses, war memorial, churches and Buttercross, or Market Cross.
On the outskirts of the town but well worth a look is a 50ft high, five-arch viaduct, built in the early 1900s, taking the railway across the valley from Castle Cary to Taunton, although the town’s station itself closed in 1962.
A great deal of research into the town’s history has been done and rather than a museum housed in a building, the town has a virtual version with Somerton Web Museum at somertonmuseum.org.uk which documents a huge amount of information, much of it courtesy of the people who live there.
Add to this a thriving, bustling community supporting a range of independent businesses, and it is clear to see what the draw of this town is.
Take a break
Join the club
Somerton residents are avid clubbers with a huge range of different clubs and organisations meeting each week or each month. Clubs and societies include: Bridge Club, Embroidery Club, Youth Clubs, University of the Third Age, Literary and Poetry Society, Whist Drive, History Society, Somerton Sings, to name just a few. For dates of meetings and other events, see the community website somerton.co.uk
During the summer, the town has a café society feel with tables and chairs outside tearooms and shops so you can eat al fresco while watching the world go by.
A whole day could be spent just delighting in the food offerings in the town: enjoy breakfast at The Courtyard Café; coffee at Savannah or Full of Beans; lunch at The White Hart or Market Bar and Bistro; afternoon tea at The Buttercross Tearooms; and then pick up some cheese from Cobbs Wholefoods and a slice of frittata or lasagne from Somervilles to take home for dinner.
Suitably refreshed whatever time of day you visit, head for some of the many independent shops in the town.
Find a trinket or two at The Gifted Company; a plant from The Barrow Boy; a handbag or shoes from Behind Clouds; or maybe a special outfit from Bespoke.
Something old, something new
With its Tardis-like interior, Market Cross Antiques is a veritable treasure trove of wonderful finds. From clocks and barometers to coins, jewellery, books, pictures, toys, furniture and a whole wealth of curiosities, this is the kind of place you could get lost in for hours.
The shop brings together nearly 30 antiques dealers under one roof with each dealer working in the shop for two days every month. Part owner Gill Norman says a lot of people visit the town because of its antiques offerings but also simply because it is so charming.
“The town gets a lot of visitors in the summer because it’s very English.
“I like that Somerton is not really commercialised - it’s a sleepy town but with a very good community spirit.”
Just across the road and set over two floors, The Courthouse Gallery in the Market Square plays host to a vast array of work by members of the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen.
Rooms are fit to burst with work in a huge variety of mediums by just some of the 160 talented members of the guild. Pick up an individual piece of jewellery, an ornate scarf, a carved wooden bowl or a vibrant painting or piece of glasswork.
Every July, Somerton celebrates with a Summer Arts Festival that takes over the town for nine days. Running this year from 11-19 July, the festival brings together an eclectic mix of music, as well as other events and exhibitions.
The festival has been going for more than 25 years and has become a major feature of the Somerset summer calendar. This year there have been a few changes as festival Chairman Alex Stannett explains. “This year we are including a lot of art events rather than as much music.
“When it started there was a lot more art so we are going back to that by adding in a few more talks, more events during the day and something for people who want to come out in the evening but not necessarily listen to music.”
The festival has something for all the family with market and craft fairs, Morris dancing, talks, drama, comedy and exhibitions, including an art and photography exhibition for local people to showcase their talent. This year’s musical highlights include Red Priest and the Conmittents, as well as some up and coming young bands.
Other features include a flower festival in the Methodist Church, fun day, variety show, sewing exhibition, Somerton Festival Band concert and comedy and music from Richard Digance.
The festival is run by a small committee of volunteers and Alex adds: “The committee has worked really hard this year. It’s not just one person, it’s a big team of people. Thanks to all of them for their hard work putting it together.”
Find more information and dates at somerton.co.uk