Somerset East – Somerset
The lively river Frome runs through this tranquil region, with fine picnic spots in the flowery meadows or leafy glades along its banks. The great chalk escarpment of Cranbourne Chase rises to the east, while to the south there are magnificent views from the summits of ancient hill forts.
Two grand estates lie just on the region’s eastern border, abundantly supplied with water from the Wiltshire Downs. Stourhead is one of England’s finest landscaped gardens and its peaceful lake, ornamented by classical, pillared buildings, was created by damming the river Stour. The great river rises here, just below King Alfred’s tower – it’s well worth climbing the monument’s 200 steps-flowing into secluded, spring-fed pools in Six Wells Bottom before passing through Dorset down to the sea.
Nearby Longleat, the other great estate, features a series of beautiful spring-fed lakes. Its lower waters are now part of the safari park and home to hippopotamuses and sea lions, but the upper pools are crystal clear and lie in a quieter area of the parkland.
Heading west from the Wiltshire border, is the region’s main river, the Frome. One particularly bucolic stretch is occupied by the Farleigh Hungerford swimming club, and is a wonderul place for a dip. The Frome powered numerous industries, such as the Fussell family’s iron works during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The highly successful business produced scythes, sickles, spades, shovels and other agricultural implements in the headwaters around Mells. Now the great works lie derelict and wreathed in ivy, but the wooded vale is deeply atmospheric, with the constant background gurgle of the stream.
You can explore more of Somerset’s ancient ruins, including the perfect tiny castle of Nunney, and the ancient stone barrow on a remote hillside below Wellow. Or pay a visit to the venerable Wyndham’s Oak, which may have been a gallows tree, on the boundary of what was once a royal forest. Its massive trunk is now hollowed, and most of its great branches are gone, but step inside and imagine all the history this tree must have witnessed.
To the far south are the great earthern ramparts of Cadbury Castle, thought by some to be the true Arthurian court of Camelot. The views are sensational and it is a wonderful place to capture the last hours of a summer day and watch the colours fade across the landscape.