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What to do in Somerset

What to do in Somerset

As we approach the halfway point of 2018, I thought it was an opportune time to consider some of the amazing and diverse things that you can experience in Somerset over the course of 12 months.

Some Somerset traditions stretch back hundreds of years, other local events are just in their infancy. There is certainly no shortage of things to do. Below, you’ll find a few of my favourites.

WHAT TO DO IN SOMERSET OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR

January – Wassail

Now here are 3 things you probably don’t expect to read in the same sentence; loaded shotgun, plenty of cider and hanging toast in a tree. These however,  are all key components of the ancient tradition of Wassails (or wassailing).

These gatherings take place on or around 17th January (the old Twelfth Night). The idea is to give thanks for the harvest and return cider to the oldest/largest apple tree in the orchard. Cider is usually poured at the base of the trunk and the crowd make as much noise as possible to ward off evil (hence the firing of shotguns). Cider soaked toast is hung in tree branches to attract robins who help to guard the orchard from evil spirits (worms and maggots).

Attendees often party until the early hours and sing traditional folk songs.  Wassails take place all over the country, but as Somerset is the spiritual home of cider why would you want to witness one anywhere else?!

February – Celebrating snowdrops

Now for something a little more sedate. Very near to my B&B are two fantastic snowdrop festivals. One takes place in Shepton Mallet the other at The Bishop’s Palace in Wells.

Shepton Mallet was home to James Allen, aka the ‘Snowdrop King’. Allen – a keen amateur horticulturalist – was the first person to breed new varieties of snowdrops from wild plants. Each year the aim is to not only celebrate this amazing individual but also to plant hundreds of snowdrop bulbs in Shepton Mallet.

Also just a couple of miles from The Cross are the beautiful gardens at The Bishop’s Palace. These are worth visiting at any time of year, but visit in February and you’ll find the grassy banks of the moat and the Arboretum awash with colourful snowdrops.

Find out more about Somerset’s array of gardens.

what to do in somerset in spring

March – Easter ‘Eggstravaganza’

Yes, I appreciate that Easter can fall in April, but let’s just go with it…There are Easter Egg hunts aplenty around here. Somerset is home to many fantastic National Trust properties. These usually host Easter themed events which kids and adults can enjoy.

What to do in Somerset

Cheddar Gorge caves

For something a little more unusual, you can hunt for special glow in the dark eggs in the caves at Cheddar Gorge.

April – Films & Flowers

Time for a couple more festivals. The Wells Festival of Film takes place over 3 days. This year’s theme was ‘musicals’ and alongside special screenings at Wells’ independent cinema, films were also shown outdoors at The Bishop’s Palace and in Cedars Hall – a state-of-the-art performance centre.

Mells Daffodil Festival features so much more than flowers. There are over 150 street stalls, lots of live music and a really diverse range of other events to enjoy during the day.

May – Somerset Day, a good laugh & England’s biggest celebration of rural life

It’s been difficult to whittle my favourite local events in May down to a manageable number, but here is my ‘What to do in Somerset’ in May…

May 11 is Somerset Day. The date was chosen in honour of Alfred the Great, who in 878, gathered together the people of Somerset to march against the Viking army. Somerset Day provides a focal point to celebrate all that is great about this fantastic county and many special events take place up and down the county.

Wells Comedy Festival goes from strength to strength and now attracts many household names. The likes of Sara Pascoe, Nish Kumar and Rhod Gilbert graced the stages in 2018. Lots of the pubs in Wells host afternoon and evening performances. It is often a chance for comedians to try out new material in front of a friendly audience. Prices are kept low and you can easily catch 4 or 5 different performances in a day. (Comedy fanatics can watch over 10 hours of performances on the Sunday!)

What to do in Somerset

The Royal Bath & West Show

The Royal Bath and West Show is England’s only 4 day Royal Show. (In 2018 and 2019 it will straddle May and June.) The size and scale is hard to convey – to say it’s a full day’s entertainment is something of an understatement!

what to do in somerset during the summer

June – The most famous music festival in the world & others…

Yes, it’s the month of the Glastonbury Festival. Founded in 1970 by Michael Eavis, this 5 day spectacular takes place just a few miles away from me. 2018 is a fallow year – Worthy Farm is a working dairy farm and every few years the land is given a chance to fully recover. The festival, along with cider and Cheddar Cheese is probably what most people associate with Somerset. (The Wurzels may also get a mention by some of the older generation.)

What to do in Somerset

The Glastonbury Festival

During the summer months, music festivals take place in many towns and villages in Somerset. Up and coming events include; Priddy Folk Festival 6 – 8 July 2018, Nass Festival (near Bristol) 5 – 8 July 2018 and the Godney Gathering (Glastonbury) on 21 July 2018. Music, Somerset and the Summer. A winning combination.

July – Planes, theatrics & a donkey

Sounds like the beginning of a sketch you could hear at the Wells Comedy Festival. First the planes.

Yeovilton International Air Day usually takes place in early July. In addition to 5 hours of flying displays there are also various other attractions to enjoy.

Love a bit of culture? Catch a Shakespearean play in the grounds of The Bishop’s Palace. Be sure to take something to sit on. You can take your own picnic or there is a BBQ on site.

What to do in Somerset

The beach at Weston-super-Mare

Now one for the kids. Riding a donkey on the beach at Weston-super-Mare. There have been donkeys to ride on the beach for as long as I can remember (apparently references to Weston-super-Mare’s donkeys have been found in a diary of dating back to 1824!). The long and sandy beach is ideal for games and building sand castles. If you need some construction inspiration be sure to visit the incredible sand sculptures which are on display from March to September. The pier is also worth a stroll along and has been completely revamped since a devastating fire in 2008.

August – Racing on a moat & more music

On August Bank Holiday Monday, numerous  ‘crews’ take to the water of the moat at The Bishop’s Palace to race in homemade craft at the Wells Moat Boat Races. It’s paddle power only and even the Bishop of Bath and Wells takes up an oar. During the course of the races at least one of the crews usually capsizes. There’s lots of other entertainment to enjoy. The event gets underway at around 11am.

What to do in Somerset

Wells Moat Boat Races

The Glastonbury Extravaganza is organised by Michael Eavis (yes, that one) and takes place in the picturesque grounds of Glastonbury Abbey (see the pic at the top of the page). The likes of Van Morrison, Robert Plant and Bryan Ferry have all headlined here. This is a one day event (remember a rug and a picnic) and usually sells out quickly.

what to do in somerset in autumn

September – Let’s get arty

What to do in Somerset

My B&B by artist Chris Lee

Somerset Art Weeks was founded in 1994 and celebrates Somerset’s contemporary visual art. This two week event now has an alternating focus. Open Studios in 2018, Exhibitions and Events in 2019. You can view works at over 100 different locations around Somerset. This year’s event runs from 15 – 30 September. If you are in Somerset in September be sure to look out for the distinctive yellow signs which indicate the various art venues.

October – Food, glorious food!

What to do in Somerset

Wells Food Festival

Wells Food Festival (we do love a good festival in Somerset) takes place on 14 October 2018. From 10.30am – 4.30pm you can walk from stall to stall quaffing incredible produce.  And this is just one of four festivals that Wells hosts in October. Others include the longstanding Wells Festival of Literature (which continues to attract many household names) and the New Music Wells festival. A more recent edition to the calendar is Wells Art Contemporary.

what to do in somerset in winter

November – Carnival time

Here in Somerset, we believe that our county’s carnivals are the largest illuminated processions in the world! During the peak November season, tens of thousands of people line the streets to watch the incredible carnival carts go past.

What to do in Somerset

It’s carnival time!

Each cart has a theme. The largest will be 100 feet in length and illuminated with thousands of bulbs. Carnival club members ride on the carts in fancy dress, often dancing and singing to music. Hundreds of carts can take part in each procession, so a Somerset carnival can easily last for a couple of hours. Carts are judged and prizes awarded at each event. There isn’t a charge to attend a carnival, but please take some change to donate. View the 2018 carnival dates.

December – It’s Christmas!

There are plenty of festive markets and incredible illuminations to enjoy around the county, but for me one of the stand out events happens at Wells Cathedral. Every year, the cathedral hosts two very special Christmas Carol Concerts. The cathedral is stunning at any time of year, but when lit with hundreds of small candles the beauty ratchets up another notch. The choristers at the cathedral are world renowned and to hear them sing modern and traditional carols in this setting is magical.

What to do in Somerset

Pic: Nick James

Tickets for the two carol concerts usually go on sale at the beginning of August and are always snapped up quickly. If you don’t get a chance to attend one of these concerts, there are plenty of other recitals worth catching in the cathedral.

So there it is. My ‘What to do in Somerset’ compendium. It feels as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. Do come and experience Somerset for yourself. It really is a county worth getting to know.

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