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Facts

SOMERSET

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FUN FACTS

Somerset is the 7th largest county or metropolitan borough in England.
Somerset has the 22nd highest population in England.
Somerset is in 37th place for density of population.

  1. The Royal Connection
  2. Back in the ninth century, toward the end of it, the Vikings were trying to conquer all England. By 878AD only one part remained, the kingdom of Wessex, ruled by King Alfred. At the start of 878 Alfred was defeated by the Viking King, Guthrum, and was forced to go and hide in the Somerset Levels, a flat marshy area, often flooded even today. By May 878 Alfred had recovered, formed a new army and defeated Guthrum who he forced to become a Christian.

    Although Alfred never became King of all England it was his work in defeating the Vikings that led to his grandson, Athelstan, being accepted as the first King of all England in 937AD.

    Many people know about the legend of King Alfred burning some cakes. A legend is a story or a person, usually from the past, that may or may not be true. The first mention of this event was in a set of documents written in the twelth century, so 300 years after Alfred ruled. The story goes that Alfred had taken refuge in a pig farmer's hut and the farmer and his wife looked after him for several days. One day while the farmer was taking his pigs to the fields, the wife began to bake some bread (not cakes). Alfred, sitting in front of the fire over which the bread cooked and busy plotting how to beat the Vikings, didn't notice the bread was burning.

    The wife came back and told Alfred off for being happy to eat their bread but not to bother to turn the loaves over. Alfred, suitably told off, then turned the loaves. The pig farmer's hut was in Athelney, now in Somerset.

  3. Somerset Eats
  4. The village of Cheddar is in Somerset. Cheddar cheese is one the best known cheeses in the world so what else could be in this section. Cheddar cheese is a hard cheese and the flavour of Cheddar cheese differs from other hard cheeses, mainly from the way it is produced. It is certainly the world's most popular British cheese. However, as it does not have protected designation of origin status, anyone can make cheddar cheese anywhere. However, in 2007, the name West Country Farmhouse Cheddar was protected so only Cheddar produced from milk from Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and made from traditional methods can use that name.

    In the old days Cheddar cheese would be matured in the natural caves around Cheddar Gorge. It is said that cheese made this way was around as long ago as the 12th century as Henry II was said to be very fond of it. A 19th century Somerset dairy farmer, Joseph Harding, is said to be the father of Cheddar Cheese. Harding introduced several technical inventions and he and his wife introduced the cheese to Scotland and North America while his sons began Cheddar cheese making in Australia and New Zealand.

    Cheddaring is a term used in the making of the cheese where, after heating, the curd is kneaded with salt, cut into cubes to drain the whey and then stacked and turned during the maturing period. Extra-mature cheddar needs to be matured for 15 months or more.

    The picture above shows Cheddar Cheese from the Original Cheddar Cheese Company and has been aged in caves, just like the old days.

  5. Somerset VIPs
  6. Seven random people who were born in Somerset in the last 100 years:-
    Michael Eavis (Farmer and Founder of Glastonbury Music Festival), Mary Berry (Writer, Broadcaster, Cook), John Cleese (Comedian, Actor), Vanessa White (Singer), Alice Temperley (Fashion Designer), Dame Jacqueline Wilson (Author - Tracy Beaker series) and Bill Bailey (Comedian, Actor, Musician)

  7. Now That's Weird
  8. Wookey Hole Caves are a series of limestone caves near Wells in Somerset. The River Axe flows through the caves. I'm not going to tell you how caves are formed, this is intended to be a later part of our site, but I will tell you that the temperature inside the caves is a steady 52 degrees Fahrenheit or 11 degrees Centigrade.

    The caves have been used by humans for over 45,000 years but my weird story concerns something far more recent. Probably during Anglo-Saxon times, maybe 600 to 800AD, a legend says that an old woman who kept a dog and some goats lived alone in the caves. Everything that went wrong in the nearby village was blamed on her. The locals said she was a witch who cast spells. They asked for help from the Abbot of nearby Glastonbury Abbey.

    He sent a monk called Father Bernard who entered the cave carrying a bible (bit tricky as I'm not sure bibles had been written then) and a candle. He tried to talk to the witch but she screamed and cursed at him and ran off further into the caves down a narrow passageway called Hell's Ladder. The monk followed and they met again in the next cavern. The monk quickly scooped up a handful of water from the river, blessed it and threw it over the witch who immediately turned to stone, The cave is also home to the largest stalagmite in the world called the Giant. You may know that Stalagmites grow upwards over years and are usually formed from dripping water falling to the ground. Stalactites grow down from ceilings of caves and are formed from dripping water that congeals before it has time to fall.

  9. It Happened Here
  10. In 1969 a Somerset farmer at Worthy Farm, called Michael Eavis, and his wife decided to go to Bath. No, as it has a capital "B", it's the city not the white thing. They visited the Bath Festival of Blues, saw Led Zeppelin (ask an oldie) perform and were so impressed they held the Pilton Pop, Folk and Blues Festival on their land the following year, in 1970. 1,500 people attended and the cost was one pound with free farm milk.

    In 1971 a man named Andrew Kerr helped organise a free festival there called the Glastonbury Fayre and the acts included David Bowie (you must have heard of him). 12,000 people attended.

    By now you must have realised we are talking about the beginnings of the Glastonbury Festival. The festival has been held, by my calculations, on 35 occasions during the last 51 years. Michael Eavis is now 85 (yippee, someone older than me and similar views on life too) and still involved although his daughter Emily now helps out, or maybe does a bit more than help out. Glastonbury has promoted performing arts and indeed peace and nuclear disarmament for many years.

    As John Denver sang "What one man can do". Oh, well, look him up. Country Roads? I thought so.



  11. Richard Remembers
  12. I know Somerset and especially its coastline pretty well. Not only have I visited it on each of my three previous journeys but back in 1960 and 1962 we had two family holidays at Weston-super-Mare, on one of which, in 1960, we met a photographer on the beach who was taking people's picture and then telling you where you could go to buy a copy. It would appear that three of us tried to avert our gaze but we obviously still bought the photo. Weston-super-Mare has a pier, or did, and a lot of sandy beach, although it is also a bit muddy. . It is another of those beaches where the tide goes out a very long way, like over a mile. I also always wanted, though never managed, to visit the island of Steep Holm out in the British Channel. One day.

    Further along the coast I can remember a strange lighthouse on stilts on the beach at Burnham. Is it still there? I also heard a story about the mud horses, see picture, used by the shrimp fishermen at Stolford but never saw them in use. I also remember the little village of East Quantoxhead and if memory serves me correctly there is a duck pond in the middle of the village and little cottages look across at it. Cute. There are several old ports along the coast, Watchet and Minehead being two of them, and I remember the village of Dunster because of the old Yarn Market at one end of the High Street.

    Then there is Porlock Hill which I tried to ascend in a heavily loaded motorhome back in 1985 and failed, having to reverse into the lowest escape road and turn round. The road climbs 725 feet (221 metres) in just under a mile (1.6 kms). Apparently the smell of burning brakes from vehicles that came down the hill is quite common in Porlock. Shortly after the road opened in 1843 a local landowner, Mr Blathwayt, built a toll road (where you have to pay to use it) a little further west which has a less steep gradient. My thanks to Mr Blathwayt to whom I gave my money, or to his descendants, and continued my journey. One day I'll tell you the story of the lifeboat which went over the hill but that will have to wait.

    Inland there is the splendour, indeed awesome magnificence, of Cheddar Gorge. The gorge was left behind after the last Ice Age and talking of the past there is also the ancient city of Bath with its many attractions but, to me, most interestingly the Roman baths. As you know I only link to guaranteed reputable sites from here but I suggest you might like to look at this one here. I was back there in 2019 and the photos below come from that visit.



  13. Owlbut's Birdwatch
  14. The rock pipit can be found, not unnaturally, on the rocky shores around England. It is a large, chunky bird, slightly smaller than a starling. You can sometimes see them perched on the rocks or hopping, walking and running as they look for food. They eat insects, beetles, small fish, shellfish and seeds. Bit of a varied diet there.

    The rock pipit has brown, cream and grey streaked feathers with a dirty white chest It has brown legs and a black and yellow beak that is short and thin. There are 34,000 breeding pairs in the UK and, in winter, a few more arrive from Norway to spend the winter here.

    The rock pipit is 16.5 cms in length, has a wingspan of between 23 and 28 cms and can weigh between 20 and 30 grams.

We have asked the local Tourist Board(s) for a small contribution (50 pounds) to the cost of running this project and, in anticipation of their agreement, we are providing a link to their site(s) for the next five years. I can assure you we won't see anywhere near everything when we are there, so, if you fancy taking a trip into Somerset check it (them) out for some great information. Apart from anything else it will get you out in the fresh air, walking around and one day you might be over 70 and still enthusiastically mobile.

All figures the latest available as at July 2020