It was in 'The Mists of Avalon' that I first heard this part of England being referred to as 'the summer country'. But , this region that we now call Somerset, has been inhabited since ancient times due to its milder climate and fertile farmland. It was to this rural county in the south-west of England that we recently travelled and, as always, came back with bucket-loads of memories.
We stayed in a bungalow (with a lovely garden and a games room) on the outskirts of a tiny place called Churchinford and woke up to the songs of birds I cannot even name. As always, we choose solitude over cities whenever we can and this was no exception. From Churchinford we ventured further afield, to the neighbouring counties of Dorset and Devon, whizzing through country lanes so narrow that we held our breaths and crossed our fingers that we wouldn't encounter a car, or worse, a tractor, coming from the opposite direction. It did happen once or twice but by some miracle (and deft driving by my husband) we managed to squeeze past each other unscathed. We drove through some of the most beautiful countryside that I have ever seen: gently rolling hills, sleepy villages and the seemingly hap-hazard beauty of English country gardens. I'd left a piece of my heart in England many, many years ago and, on each trip, I feel whole again. For a while. Except that when it's time to pack up and leave, I find that a bigger piece seem to get left behind. This visit was no exception.
But I don't want to bore your socks off (if you're even wearing them in the summer heat) with talk about my fragmented heart. Instead I'll tell you a little bit about the places that we visited. As I said in the introduction, we were staying in the tiny village of Churchinford. This is a rather remote place so, if you ever decide to stay there, you would definitely need your own transport to be able to get around and make the most of your stay. Like almost anywhere that you go to in England, Somerset and the rest of the south-west is rich in history and there is a lot to see. Here are the places that we managed to visit in one (very crammed) week.
This town, and the ruins of its abbey, has long been on my bucket list as it is purported to be the final resting place of my beloved King Arthur and of his queen, Guinevere. Close to the town is Glastonbury Tor. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit this famous conical hill that arises out of the Somerset Levels. Which gives me the perfect excuse to go back to this mystical place one day.
This town is famous for its Gothic cathedral, picturesque streets and colourful shops.
The history of Bath goes back thousands of years, mainly because of the hot spring that runs underneath the city and which was considered to be sacred by the ancient Britons. Bath is famous for its well-preserved Roman Baths, its Gothic abbey and its regal Georgian architecture. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
Dunster is a colourful, medieval village complete with a castle on top of a hill. It sits at the edge of Exmoor National Park and it truly feels like it is a place straight out of a fairy-tale.
- Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton
If you're dragging a ten year old boy with a keen interest in anything military around with you, then this museum is worth a visit. It has an extensive collection of military and civilian aircraft as well as models of Royal Navy ships and aircraft carriers. I sat in the car and read a book for 3 hours but my son loved it.
This coastal town is best know for the fossils found on the beaches and embedded in the cliffs. It forms part of England's Jurassic Coast and is also a World Heritage Site. Its harbour wall, known as The Cobb, featured in the movie 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.
Dorchester is a quaint market town dating back to prehistoric times on the banks of the River Frome. We were lucky to visit on market day, which is Wednesday, so we got a true feel of life in a market town. Dorchester was the home of author Thomas Hardy and it is the backdrop for his novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.
The collection in this museum traces the history of the tank and, with almost 300 vehicles on exhibit, it is the largest collection of tanks in the world. Needless to say, this museum is strictly for the boys.
Those were just a few snippets of information to (hopefully) arouse the curiosity of those who haven't visited England's 'summer country'. More will follow in the coming weeks - so stay tuned. In the meantime I will try to pick up what remains of my heart and try to go about daily life as best I can without stopping to think every few minutes about the beautiful flowers that grow like weeds in this 'green and pleasant land'.