Somerset County (in Wessex or
the West Countries)
Wessex or the West Countries)
ďAs different as chalk and cheese.Ē Ė Medieval saying
From the windswept expanses of the Levels to the vast emptiness of the
Moors and across the gentle rolling hillsides of the Blackdown, Mendip,
Quantock, Polden, and Brendon hill ranges, to the rugged paths above the
Bristol Channel Somerset is about the countryside. Somerset is quiet
afternoons, long hikes, weak in the knees making baked goods and cheeses,
firmly held traditions, and people who will take the time to stop and chat
Many tourism books seem to miss Somerset, or touch on only Wells
Cathedral; then itís off to Bath or the Cotswolds to the north, the coast
to the south, Stonehenge to the east, or Lands End to the west.
is much more than a place close to, or sometimes including, Bath. Whether
or not Bath is part of Somerset isÖ. well, dependant on whom you talk to.
Maybe thatís why so many books seem anxious to skip over Somerset? None of
us are sure what weíre talking about! But weíll get to that in a moment.
The name Somerset in one form or another has been around for a very long
time. The early Welsh/Celts who settled here called it Gwlad yr haf, the
Land of Summer. The Saxons divided the area in to the Shire and the
Hundred for administering law and collecting taxes. As a result this
county has sometimes been called Somerset and sometimes Somersetshire. The
Sumorsaete recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, originally complied on
the orders of King Alfred the Great around 890 A.D., were the People of
the Summer Lands (or summer pastures). Iíve read this referred to the fact
that some areas of the land were moved into and worked only in the summer.
In 1998 the new County Council settled on County of Somerset officially,
and Somerset it remains. Once youíve hiked this green and gentle land
filled with sunshine and the scent of flowers youíll realize, along with
so many throughout history, that summer is also what Somerset is so much
Where is Somerset?
Youíll find Somerset in mid-west England, west and a little south of
London. Bristol lies about 120 miles west of London, and the county
administrative seat of Taunton in Somerset is about a 170 mile drive from
London going through Bristol. The traditional northern boundary of the
county was the River Avon, but the boundary moved southward with the
creation and expansion of the City of Bristol.
The Cities of Bristol and
Bath were stand alone counties in their own right.
In 1974 a large part of
northern Somerset was removed to form the southern half of the County of
Avon, Bath became part of Avon as did, I think, Bristol. Avon has now been
abolished, and North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset have
reverted to Somerset for ceremonial purposes, but are administratively
independent for local government purposes. (I think?)
There are official
boundaries, geographic boundaries, traditional boundaries, and ceremonial
boundaries all still in use. So you will find maps and websites and books
showing Avon and others that do not show it at all. You will find the same
things with Bristol looking like itís part of Somerset, and others where
it is not. You will find only Somerset on some maps and North and Bath and
North East Somerset on others. But hey, itís British, thatís how things
are done sometimes! For the purposes of this website,
itís just all Somerset, Bath is in it, and Iím tossing Bristol in there
Somerset covers 1,332 square miles (3,451 square kilometers) and is broken
into the five administrative districts of South Somerset, Sedgemoor,
Mendip, Taunton Deane, and West Somerset.
Somerset County Councils include: Somerset County Council, South Somerset
District Council, North Somerset District Council, Taunton Deane District
Council, Bath & North East Somerset Council, and the City of Bristol.
The population of Somerset is around 500,000 with the greatest
concentration in South Somerset and the least in West Somerset.
Geographically Somerset consists of a low-lying basin called Sedgemoor
near the coast and bounded on the northeast by the Mendip Hills. On the
West itís bounded by Exmoor and the Quantock Hills.
A large part of Somerset lies within the Exmoor National Park and both the
Mendips and Quantocks are designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Large strips of land along the coast are being put aside for conservation
Somerset is about the countryside and it seems there are those
who want to keep it that way. Somerset is mainly an agricultural county
with dairy farming and stock rearing being important, although these
industries are no longer the major employers. There is some market
gardening and tourism plays its large part in the economy. Limestone and
sandstone are quarried in the upland areas and in some places sand and
gravel are worked from the land. Peat extraction is still a part of the
modern economy too.
The Cities of Somerset
Taunton, which is the administrative headquarters of Somerset, Bristol,
Bath, Bridgwater, Frome, Glastonbury, Wells, Yeovil are considered cities.
City status in the United Kingdom is granted by the British monarch to a
select group of communities. The status does not apply automatically on
the basis of any particular criteria, although it was traditionally given
to towns with diocesan cathedrals. There are currently 66 officially
designated cities in the United Kingdom. (Read more about ďCityĒ status in
Great Britain in the Articles-Travel in Great Britain section of this