Stepping out in Taunton
PUBLISHED: 13:35 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013
Neville Stanikk takes a tour around our county town and discovers the arty independent shops of Bath Place, the green gardens of Vivary Park and award-winning Hestercombe
I stand open to instant correction from any Somerset native, but every time I go there, I get the feeling, the impression, that Taunton is far more of a county town than some others. Its not a city and thus there isnt a single focus on a cathedral, and that fact allows you to notice that youre walking amongst all the different elements of a county town County Hall, the County Museum, the County Cricket Ground. The towns identity was vividly illustrated in November 2010, when thousands of residents turned out in lashing rain to welcome the return of 40 Commando as they marched through the high street after their return from Afghanistan.
Taunton hasnt always been the county town of Somerset though. It used to be Somerton and before that, Ilchester, but Taunton gained its current status in 1366 and then seems to have played host to various wars, battles and uprisings over the centuries, culminating in the defence of Taunton Castle by Robert Blake for the parliamentarians. Its that defence that gives Taunton its motto, defendamus (We Will Defend) but also the event that resulted in the destruction of most of Tauntons old buildings. The current Caf Nero in Fore Street, known for a long time as the Tudor Tavern, is conspicuous by its survival.
My favourite spot for coffee is Miles Tea Rooms on the High Street, where I take my mum and my friends if they come to visit.
Lydia Southern, Sales Assistant, The Art Room
Get off to a good start
Tauntons pre-eminence begins with arriving there it has a mainline railway station or, from the M5, its five minutes into town and youre able to park right in the centre and start shopping within seconds. The town has many coffee shops, if thats how you like to start a visit, but if youre there at lunchtime do try a hot dog from the Hot Sausage Company barrow, a regular feature on Fore Street.
Unless you know its there, you will miss Bath Place and its row of interesting, arty and, above all, independent, shops. Walking down the High Street, towards the town centre, its through a tunnel on the left.
Also through a tunnel, well an arch (Castle Bow), is Castle Green, surrounded by notable buildings such as the Winchester Arms, the Castle Hotel with its wisteria covered frontage and, of course, Taunton Castle, or rather whats left of Taunton Castle after the keep was demolished after the Civil War. The buildings that remain form the Somerset Museum and the Somerset Military Museum and, after extensive refurbishment, are due to re-open in 2011.
Taunton has lots of facilities but its not overlarge, its near to the Quantocks, and you can get to most places easily.
Dorothy Earp, Sales Assistant, Hestercombe Gardens
Its worth continuing Tauntons Heritage Trail (free guide available at Tourist Information in the library in Paul Street) and seeing the Regency Crescent, County Hall and Shire Hall (currently the County Courts) with its marvellous Victorian gothic detailing. Other highlights on that walk include the Old Municipal Buildings, Tauntons various churches and, if youre heading off via the M5, take a slight detour and look at St Margarets Leper Hospital (1510) in Leycroft Road, and the rather splendid red brick council houses that surround it.
A walk across the Tone Bridge, Tauntons best-known landmark, and along the River Tone will probably take you through Goodlands Gardens, but the green jewel in Tauntons crown is Vivary Park with its beautifully tended flower beds. As a photographer, its always my first location to photograph in Taunton as it always has something wonderful to offer, especially early in the morning. Justifiably, Vivary Park is also the venue, every August, of the Taunton Flower Show, the premiere event of its kind in the South West.
I love the way Taunton sits between two of the most picturesque areas of the South West, the Blackdown Hills and the Quantocks a perfect spot to walk my Jack Russell, Teddy.
Jonathan Southgate, Sales Manager, Yule Brown Estate Agents
A ten-minute drive out of the town centre is Hestercombe Gardens, which won Gold in the 2010 South West Tourism Awards. Lovingly restored and opened in 1997, Hestercombe contains both formal and informal gardens from Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian times, the latter designed by Gertrude Jekyle and Edwin Lutyens. Hestercombe is a work in progress and is worth seeing again and again as it develops. It also offers wonderful views across Taunton.