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10 of the best places to visit in South Somerset | Somerset holidays



Lytes Cary, Somerton

The delightful manor house, dating back to the 1300s, was owned for generations by the Lyte family. The garden was cultivated by Elizabeth I’s botanist, Henry Lyte, but the house fell into disrepair and the garden was ploughed up. In 1909, after a century and a half of neglect, a new family took over. They restored the interior (removing a cider press and farming equipment dumped inside) and created the charming Arts & Crafts garden you can still enjoy today. Tranquil walks through the 350-acre grounds take you along the River Cary. You can stay on the estate in a part of the main manor house, or in a cosy cottage by the entrance gates.

Ham Hill Country Park

‘A masterpiece of Elizabethan architecture’: Montacute House. Photograph: Thomas Faull/Alamy

Heading west from Lytes Cary on the A303, you come to Ham Hill. Once an Iron Age hillfort, it’s now a wildlife haven with fantastic views and is much loved by walkers and joggers. Start at Stoke-sub-Hamdon and walk to the top for a drink or food at the popular Prince of Wales pub, then towards the sloping woodland that takes you down to the village of Montacute. While you’re there visit Montacute House, a masterpiece of Elizabethan architecture (pictured above) and design. Built like so much else nearby with golden hamstone quarried on the hill behind you, the house is owned by the National Trust. There are two lovely lodges to rent on the estate, one by the entrance gate and one in the parkland.


Hinton St George

‘Golden hamstone, thatched cottages and flowers that spill from walls’: Hinton St George. Photograph: AA World Travel Library/Alamy

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful village than Hinton St George: golden hamstone, thatched cottages and flowers that spill from walls and leap from every crack in the pavement. At the centre of the village is the Lord Poulett Arms (pronounced “Paulett”). This gastropub dates back to 1680 and serves a mix of locally sourced ales and food. There are six bedrooms, four of them en suite. The Poulett family have an impressive chapel with numerous tombs in the church St George’s, which includes 13th-century carving by masons of Wells Cathedral, well worth a visit.

Barrington Court, Ilminster

‘Don’t miss the Barrington Boar’: restaurant and pub in Ilminster

North of Hinton St George is Barrington Court. Barrington was once the site of a Roman villa. The present buildings were bought and restored a century ago by the Lyles, heirs to the sugar company. With ambitious plans for the gardens, they sought help from the legendary Gertrude Jekyll: today you can still enjoy her Rose and Iris Garden and the largest, the Lily Garden. Don’t miss the Barrington Boar, an award-winning restaurant and pub devoted to local produce with four lovely bedrooms, or eat in the charmingly converted Pip’s Railway Carriage at the nearby Trading Post Farm Shop.

South Petherton

‘One of south Somerset’s most exciting restaurants’: Holm in South Petherton. Photograph: Ed Schofield

Built on the Roman Fosse Way, South Petherton is another village of gleaming hamstone. A bank built in the 1830s now holds one of south Somerset’s most exciting restaurants, Holm. Co-founder and chef-director Nicholas Balfe is devoted to local, seasonal produce. Trout is smoked in-house over local applewood, while herbs, fruit and vegetables are harvested in the garden. His kitchen is open-plan and to watch the chefs at work you can book the dining counter. Late last year, Holm opened seven en suite bedrooms, filled with art and furniture by (you guessed) local makers. Be sure to visit East Lambrook Manor Gardens, the English Heritage Grade I-listed masterpiece by 20th-century plantswoman and gardening writer Margery Fish. It features winding paths through abundant borders and an impressive plant nursery particularly well stocked with heritage geraniums.



‘Bring boots’: Muchelney, on the watery Somerset Levels. Photograph: Christopher Nicholson/Alamy

Venturing into the watery Somerset Levels, you may want to bring boots – especially if you visit the village pond, rich in wildlife with wonderful dragonflies in the summer, dug by the potter John Leach. The grandson of artist-potter Bernard Leach, John presided until his recent death over Leach Pottery, which shows what can be done with the plentiful local clay. Signed, collectible pots are available in the shop, which also hosts exhibitions. Muchelney once had a thriving medieval abbey. You can still see some of it, including a thatched loo for the monks – the only one in Britain. In nearby Langport is the family-run Brown & Forrest smokery, offering hot and cold smoked salmon, trout, chicken, duck, pork, pâtés and cheeses.

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River Parrett Trail

Rising to the challenge: there are many fine walks and views in South Somerset, including this one on Burrow Hill. Photograph: Rodolfo Parulan Jr/Getty Images

There are many beautiful paths for walking and cycling into the low-lying Somerset Levels along the banks of the willow-lined River Parrett. Look out for herons, otters, water voles, dragonflies and kingfishers. One route starts at Stoke-sub-Hamdon and crosses the fields to Bower Hinton. Lunch in the lovely market town of Martock, then amble towards Kingsbury Episcopi with its 14th-century Hamstone church and wonderful Burrow Hill Cider Farm. Stop off at the picturesque Thorney Mill, then onwards to Muchelney and Langport.

Forde Abbey, Chard

‘With sweeping gardens’: Forde Abbey. Photograph: Graham Prentice/Alamy

Built on the floodplain of the River Exe, Forde Abbey was founded and landscaped by Cistercian monks around 900 years ago and straddles the South Somerset/Dorset border. It has been a home since 1649 and in the 18th century new landscaping reshaped the sweeping gardens. The present owners have created award-winning gardens with topiary, an arboretum, a bog garden, amazing spring bulbs and wildflowers.


The Newt in Somerset, Castle Cary

Underneath the arches: the farm shop at The Newt. Photograph: PR

One part luxury hotel, nine parts visionary garden. The 17th-century manor, once home to garden designer Penelope Hobhouse, was bought in 2013 by South African businessman Koos Bekker and his wife Karen Roos, who set about creating a hotel and legacy estate with 2,000 acres of formal gardens, parkland, cider orchards and woodland. Take part in seasonal events and tours, or workshops on floristry, butchery, dry-stone walling, beekeeping – and more. Invest in membership to see the garden and you can go several times a year. For those arriving on the train, the Creamery and café, set in a beautifully restored milk factory next to Castle Cary Station, opened last week.


‘Spectacular all year’: Piet Oudolf’s field garden at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Bruton. Photograph: Christopher Nicholson/Alamy

Bruton, on the River Brue, flourished in the Middle Ages thanks to its abbey. Today, it is South Somerset’s most famous town thanks to its numerous boutiques, farm-to-fork restaurants and especially Hauser & Wirth, which opened its world-class art gallery at Durslade Farm 10 years ago. To celebrate the anniversary, artist in residence Oddur Roth has recreated the bar in the threshing barn as a fully functioning site-specific artwork composed of salvaged materials from local recreation yards. The 1.5-acre garden, by Dutch landscaper Piet Oudolf, is spectacular all year and entry is free. Visit the farm shop for meat, cheese and treats from the farm.

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