12 fascinating facts about Somerset, from to King Arthur’s Avalon to the skeleton at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge

From the watery Levels and mystical Glastonbury Tor to the wild, heathery hills of Exmoor, Somerset is a vast, mainly rural county with origins that stretch back through the mists of time. Here are some fabulous facts about the stunning area.

In early morning, as wisps of ethereal condensation rise from the damp, flat lands of the often-flooded Somerset Levels and cattle graze nonchalantly in the foreground, look north from Cow Bridge Road to Glastonbury Tor. The image of the conical hill topped by St Michael’s church tower will transport you back millennia from the physical mist into the mists of time.

It’s a fascinating, largely rural place shaped like a raggedy pixie boot, with Exmoor filling the toe, the laces jammed up against the Bristol Channel and the heel poised over Dorset. This really is a place that has it all – and Rupert Uloth has picked out 12 fascinating facts about this entrancing county.

  • The West Somerset Railway (Bishop’s Lydeard to Minehead) is the longest preserved steam railway in the country.
  • Some believe Glastonbury Tor (pictured above) is King Arthur’s Avalon. Legend has it that this is where Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail. Today, it’s revered for its major intersection of Ley lines.
  • Shepton Mallet had the oldest prison in the country before it closed in 2013. It was built in 1610.
  • The last ever pitched battle (in other words, fought at a pre-arranged time and place) was the Battle of Sedgemoor at Westonzoyland near Bridgwater in 1685.

Cheddar Gorge, Mendip Hills, Somerset, England, UK

  • Cheddar Gorge is the site of the discovery of Cheddar Man, the oldest complete skeleton found in this country, who lived approximately 10,000 years ago.
  • Thomas Coryate was born at Odcombe in 1577. The travel writer went on to introduce the parasol and the table fork to England.
  • The Royal Bath and West of England Society was founded in 1777.
  • Ten-pin bowling grew from Somerset skittles, played outside on a lawn.

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  • Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after hearing about Andrew Crosse’s electricity experiments at Fyne Court.
  • England’s longest way-marked long-distance path, the South West Coast Path, starts at Minehead.
  • The red deer is the largest land animal in England and there are about 3,000 of them on Exmoor, where they have lived since pre-historic times.
  • Dunkery Beacon, a series of Bronze Age barrows on Exmoor, is the highest point in the county (at 1,705ft).