6 English Heritage locations to visit in Somerset
26th January 2022
Somerset is a beautiful county to visit, replete with lovely countryside vistas, ancient towns, and fascinating cities. The history of somerset has many facets to explore and one of the best ways to uncover the county’s past is through its collection of wonderful English Heritage locations. From historic abbeys and old castles to neolithic stone circles, Somerset has plenty to intrigue. In this guide, we highlight a handful of the English Heritage sites available, while also providing accessibility information that might be of use to those who use stair lifts at home.
Located in the village of Washford, Cleeve Abbey is a medieval monastery and Grade I listed building. Truly one of Somerset’s finest gems, this Cistercian abbey was founded in the late 12th century and today visitors can get a glimpse at what life must have been like for the monks that lived there 800 years ago. Considered as one of England’s finest cloisters, Cleeve Abbey has remained largely unaltered over the centuries, retaining many of its wonderful medieval features – which is a truly rare occurrence.
Surrounded by the countryside, Cleeve Abbey is an ideal spot to mix a bit of history and a relaxing day outside in nature, with walks and fun for children, including interactive ways to learn about the abbey’s past. There are accessible toilets, handrails, and wheelchair hire available for those with limited mobility. You can read more about Cleeve Abbey’s access here.
Nunney Castle, located near the village of the same name, is a medieval castle built in the late 14th century. The fortification was funded via the money Sir John de la Mare received from his involvement as a knight in the Hundred Years War. Nunney Castle is truly a lovely sight, being a perfect example of a moated castle of the era. The moat is still in operation, giving visitors a sense of what a daunting opposition it would have been to attempt a siege of the castle, as the parliamentarians attempted to do during the English Civil War in 1645.
Much of the site is level, though there are a few steps that those with limited mobility might want to be aware of at the entry and onto the moat’s bridge.
Brett, from the travel blog Pinned on Places, has visited Nunney Castle himself and explains what he enjoyed about doing so: “We visited Nunney Castle and did not expect it to be so quaint, derelict and easily reached. We had passed through the town of Nunney once before and had to stop this time to check out the castle and the surrounding area. We stopped by the Moat and Turret Café for a brew before heading to the castle itself.
“What surprised us and made it a lovely attraction was the moat surrounding the castle, with access around the back from the entrance. Stepping into the castle, although small in comparison to many, gave us the scale of its grandeur in its hay day.
“Definitely one to visit if you’re in the Somerset area, free to visit, maintained excellently, and the town is beautiful to wander around!”
Dunster Yarn Market
Image credit: The Places Where We Go
The village of Dunster has plenty of history, with a reminder of the past around every corner. There are several English Heritage sites in the town and one of them is Dunster Yarn Market. A 17th-century monument to the cloth trade.
Art and Julie, from the travel blog The Places Where We Go, have visited Dunster and indeed the historic Yarn Market and have shared their thoughts: “Tucked away in a quaint area of Somerset, Dunster remains one of the most intact medieval villages in England. Once a thriving centre for the woollen cloth trade, this mercantile history is remembered through the town’s Yarn Market.
“Upon entering Dunster’s main road, you can’t miss this prominent structure. It takes all of five minutes to walk into this timber-framed octagonal market hall and get a close-up view. A placard inside provides a brief yet informative summary of its history.
“Since 1609, merchants displayed their cloth for sale at this town market. With cover from rain and the elements, traders found shelter under this roof. Eventually, the wool trade declined in Dunster, but the market area remains. We were glad to learn of the market’s history during our visit. Today, visitors can admire this Grade I listed building. Throughout the year, tourists may be lucky to come upon music performed at the market, with December’s ‘Dunster by Candlelight’ an example of such opportunities.”
In terms of access, as the market structure is on the high street it is what you would expect from such similar locations. There is parking in the village (not managed by English Heritage) and public toilets next to the car park.
Stanton Drew Stone Circles
Situated just outside the village of Stanton Drew are the mysterious and ancient Stanton Drew Stone Circles. This Neolithic monument contains the impressive Great Circle, which is the second largest stone circle in England at 113 metres in diameter. It is also considered to be one of the largest Neolithic monuments in existence. Even given the impressive stats, these prehistoric standing stones are not widely known, making a visit to Stanton Drew all the more appealing as a quiet location to marvel at these ancient structures.
Stanton Drew Stone Circles are well worth investigating in person, especially when combined with an exploration of the surrounding countryside and the nearby Neolithic tomb of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow. In terms of access, the stones are located on a grass field, which can get muddy, so this should be taken into account when making the trip.
Hilary, from the family blog Bristol Mum, has visited the stones with her family, highly recommending them for a trip that is a little bit different: “What is great about Stanton Drew Stone Circles is that you can wander around the field, freely exploring and touching the stones. The stone circles are surrounded by beautiful green countryside, and it is very peaceful there – it felt good to be out in the fresh air away from the city for a while.”
Farleigh Hungerford Castle
Image credit: Rodw
Farleigh Hungerford Castle is a medieval castle constructed between 1377 and 1383. It was built by Sir Thomas Hungerford, who served as steward to John of Gaunt, the son of King Edward III and father of Henry IV. Located in the picturesque valley of the River Frome, Farleigh Hungerford Castle makes for a great day out for people of all ages, providing a fascinating look into the past and the often-turbulent history of the Hungerford family. Dark tales from the family’s history are told to visitors through graphic panels and a free audio tour. You can also look forward to discovering the family’s tombs, the crypt with Britain’s grandest collection of human-shaped led coffins, as well as rare medieval wall paintings.
By taking the tour and enjoying a picnic on the grounds on a sunny day, Farleigh Hungerford Castle makes for an ideal spot to enjoy with the whole family. In terms of access, the castle ruins unsurprisingly feature steps and rough paths, though the grounds do offer some wheelchair access and gravel, tarmac, and paved paths. You can read more about Farleigh Hungerford Castle’s access here.
Nichola, from the blog Global Mouse Travels, has shared her experience of visiting the castle with her family: “We loved visiting Farleigh Hungerford Castle. The whole area feels steeped in history and is so atmospheric. It's one of those castles you can feel coming to life in front of you as you imagine spiralled staircases and roaring fires despite the crumbling remains around you. The chapel is also so impressive with its early paintings. The whole site is perfect for a day out.”
Image credit: Michael Day
Found in the village of the same name in the Somerset Levels, Muchelney Abbey was once home to Benedictine monks and is the second oldest religious foundation in the county. Henry VIII sadly decided to rid England of its abbey and monasteries, leading to a number of the abbey’s buildings being demolished in 1538. The 16th century Abbot’s House remains intact, however, showcasing its wonderful rooms with historical finds from the wider site on display for visitors. You can also see the foundations of areas such as the abbey and the remaining parts of the once beautiful cloister walk.
Muchelney Abbey offers plenty to see and do for those who pay it a visit, with more than enough grounds for families to play on and enjoy a picnic, making for a fine complement to the history on display. For wheelchair users, the entire ground floor and grounds are accessible, and ramps have been implemented where possible. You can read more about Farleigh Hungerford Castle’s access here.
English Heritage locations in Somerset
- Cleeve Abbey
- Nunney Castle
- Dunster Yarn Market
- Stanton Drew Stone Circles
- Farleigh Hungerford Castle
- Muchelney Abbey
These are just some of the many wonderful English Heritage sites available in Somerset. The county contains so much history to discover, with many wonderful days out and trips made possible. If you are looking for a fascinating excursion, you can’t go wrong by considering some of the above.
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