Somerset - The author’s take

Going slow in Somerset

In the land of cider and cheese, one thing’s for sure: you’ll not go thirsty or hungry in this part of the world.

Slow Somerset – has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But what does that mean? Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement, once suggested that Slow was ‘about learning to give time to each and every thing’ – and for me, that certainly includes travel. In fact, in many parts of Somerset it’s impossible to do anything other than take it Slow – whether that’s because you’re stuck behind a tractor trundling along one of the narrow, meandering country lanes, or because you’re caught in lengthy conversation over a pint of cider with a couple of locals down the village pub. Patience is a necessity, as well as a virtue, here.

Ham Hill near Yeovil by Joe Dunckley, ShutterstockSomerset takes its name from the old English word Sumorsaete, meaning ‘land of the summer people’ ©  Joe Dunckley, Shutterstock

Somerset has so much to offer the Slow traveller: coastal paths and bracing moorland walks, ancient ruins and castellated hamstone churches, wild wetland reserves with brilliant birdwatching, local farmers’ markets, and, as you’d expect, endless possibilities for cider tasting. Somerset frequently confounds expectations – it certainly confounded mine during the course of writing this book, and I’ve lived here on and off for most of my life.

A county of immense rural beauty, pretty villages and stunning landscapes, Somerset takes its name from the old English word Sumorsaete, meaning ‘land of the summer people’ or ‘people dwelling in a summer pasture’, supposedly because this is the time when the natives would celebrate the coming of warmer days with festivals and gatherings having hunkered down all winter. It is also, of course, the land of cider and cheese, so one thing’s for sure: you’ll not go thirsty or hungry in this part of the world.

England’s seventh largest – and for many its most quintessentially English – county, Somerset extends from the hills of Exmoor in the west to Bruton Forest in the east, from the Mendip Hills in the north to the Blackdowns in the south. From the high coastal cliffs of Kilve and bracing scrubland of Exmoor, to the intimate wooded coombes of the Quantocks and the bleak mystery of the Levels, Somerset packs in more scenic variety than any other county I know. So when people ask me what my favourite place is, I can honestly say that I don’t know. It changes frequently.

The author’s story

I tried to leave no stone, or indeed corner, unturned: I’ve hiked hidden valleys, cycled abandoned railway lines, observed common cranes and camped in the rain. 

Burham on sea, Somerset by Helen Hotson, ShutterstockWith so much to detain visitors inland, Somerset’s coastline often gets bypassed © Helen Hotson, Shutterstock 

I have lived in Somerset, on and off, for most of my life, originally moving here at the age of seven and attending school in the wonderful Quantock Hills. As a family we rarely ventured beyond the county’s borders, which was certainly no bad thing, my earliest memories being of outings to Weston-super-Mare and fossicking on Kilve Beach. Walks weren’t particularly high on the agenda, at least not until scouting expeditions to more exotic (or so they seemed) outposts, such as Black Down on the Mendips and Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor.

An extended period of time living away from Somerset – in Serbia, London and Cambridge among other places – did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for the county. In fact, these absences only served to remind me of just some of the things I’d missed: lush meadows and apple-rich orchards, rolling green hills, and the marshy wetlands with their stunning birdlife. Still, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say, and it wasn’t before time – in 2009 – that I returned permanently to Somerset, eventually settling in Chilcompton, which is very much my home base now.

When the opportunity arose to write a book on my home county, naturally I jumped at the chance. Hence, with family frequently in tow, I tried to leave no stone, or indeed corner, unturned: I’ve hiked hidden valleys, cycled abandoned railway lines, observed common cranes on the Levels, camped in the rain on Exmoor – and, of course, sampled lots of cider. We’ve loved every minute of it – I hope you do too.

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