The taste of Somerset is undoubtedly that of two things: cider and cheese. Despite competing claims from the likes of Herefordshire and Devon, Somerset is cider king, no question. Indeed cider has been produced in Somerset since the 11th century, making it one of the country’s original cider-making counties; as well as being a jolly tasty alcoholic beverage, it was said to possess numerous health-inducing properties – maybe it still does.
Playing a close second fiddle to cider is cheese, but not just any old cheese: this is the land of Cheddar. Sold in varying stages of maturity, cheddar is actually a generic name, hence it can be – and is – produced anywhere in the world, though it did originate in Somerset’s eponymous gorge in the 12th century. It’s still produced here, and still stored in its famous caves. Widely acknowledged to be two of Somerset’s finest cheddar makers – and definitely worth a special visit – are Montgomery’s in North Cadbury and the Westcombe Dairy in Evercreech.
To cider and cheese you can add any number of other uniquely Somerset products: Mendip lamb, Porlock Bay oysters, Yeo Valley yoghurt, orchard fruits – including whortleberries from Exmoor – and, rather deliciously, smoked eels; for the last, you need go no further than the brilliant Brown and Forrest Smokery near Langport, which smokes just about anything that can be smoked.
An enjoyable way to experience Somerset’s bountiful array of foodstuffs is to visit one of the monthly farmers’ markets, where you can browse, sample and of course buy fantastically fresh, seasonal produce. Failing that, you’ll no doubt stumble across one of the county’s many farm shops, which, if they don’t sell produce from their own farmland estate (and many do), will, at the very least, be well stocked with locally sourced treats; many have an on-site café, too. Talking of which, there are some wonderful community cafés, few more enjoyable than the Strawberry Line Café in Yatton, which employs adults with learning difficulties. Otherwise you can find tea shops in abundance, though especially in Exmoor.
More generally, eating out in Somerset is now a real joy, which almost certainly wasn’t the case even just a few years ago. In this regard you’ll find some truly wonderful country inns; a few places worth making a special effort to get to are the Lord Poullet Arms in Hinton St George, the White Hart in Somerton, and The Sheppey in Lower Godney on the Somerset Levels. But if it’s straightforward Somerset ale you’re after – from larger local breweries such as Bath Ales and Butcombe Brewing to artisanal outfits like the Quantock Brewery and the Wild Beer Co – then you might care to try one or two of my favourite pubs, such as the Queen Vic in Priddy or the Railway Inn in Sandford – though for sheer quirkiness you can’t beat the Hunter’s Lodge Inn near Wells.
For our author’s selection of recommended places to eat see Slow Travel Somerset.
Somerset has a wonderfully varied stock of accommodation, from warming, welcoming guesthouses and country inns, to remote campsites tucked away in the wilds of Exmoor. Apart from Bath, and a few spots along the coast, decent hotels are few and far between, though these tend to be overpriced anyway. Far more appealing are the plentiful and very homely B&Bs and guesthouses scattered throughout the county.
To these you can add rural pubs and inns, which provide an attractive alternative overnight stay, with, in most cases, the happy prospect of a scrumptious meal to sustain you. If you’re looking for a longer stay in a particular area, then you might wish to consider selfcatering – try the following websites: visitsomerset.co.uk/places-tostay/self-catering, thebestofexmoor.co.uk/stay-in-west-somerset and holidaycottages.co.uk/cottages/somerset.