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Somerset, England

Somerset County (in Wessex or the West Countries)

Somerset CountySomerset (in 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 a while.

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.

Somerset 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

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 about.

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 too.

Fact and Figures

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 as well.

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 website.)



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