We came back from 5 days in Somerset and even in March and cold winds, the blue sky and the shining sun made it a very pleasant experience.
One lovely little town we visited was Ilminster.
Ilminster is the first Fair Trade town in South Somerset and has lost of quirky retail outlets and local produce. The shops are still very much in the same layout as they were originally and the streets are bendy – there is a Minster of course – which is a church and the town’s name means: ‘The church on the River Isle’ . it was founded in the 8th century as a church town by the nearby Abbey.
It currently has a population just over 5000 so it is a small market town.
It has set up 15 shops in its Fairtrade map and the one we really fell in love with was The Green House. This shop sells mainly recycled / upcycled goods. For instance earrings made from tins, old tables refurbished and made into garden ‘ladders’ for plants, and lots of dresses from other dresses… one of the best ideas that I saw though were the note books. They had equipment for ring binding hardback books and used it on all the old hardbacks that no-one buys these days in second-hand shops. They then took the backs off and inserted clean paper to write on, but the special aspect was that they left in small amounts of the original text also, so you would have a chapter at the front and then clean pages and then maybe another page and then more clean and so on. This is such an original gift and also such a brilliant way of dealing with these books and giving them a new lease of life.
We also loved the deli. And bought several pieces of local cheeses of which they had a great selection including sheep and goat and different flavourings of cheddar of course.
Somerset has been lived in for a very long time of course and many of the towns are very ancient. Andover is such a town. We ate a quick lunch there but had hoped to eat at the Angel Inn which is situated at the heart of the medieval area. it is said to be the 7th oldest public house in England and dates back to 1174. although largely destroyed by fire in 1435 along with most of the town, it was rebuilt for the princely sum of £400. it is still a timber framed inn and has been the host to many royal visitors including King John, Kings Edward I and II,, and Catherine of Aragon. as with many of these old buildings it does have ghosts – 2 farmers and a dog!
One thing we noticed as we drove through Somerset was how deep the road was compared against the road banks. In some places the road banks were the height of a 3 storey house with full grown trees on top! Of course, one way to find out the age of a hedge in England is to count the species. If the hedge has stopped being a hedge and has become a mini forest you know it is old! If the road has sunk that far too – you know the road is old! In fact we were travelling on the Fosse Way, which was a Roman road and possibly a major footway before the Romans came to the England too. One reason the road may have sunk so dramatically is that the area is largely sandstone – see Odcome Hollow – where the road is very sunk indeed and it is as though you are driving in a tunnel almost.
According to wikipedia the Fosse way may have begun as a ditch – a defensive ditch that gave the barrier of the Roman empire to the rest.. or not of course.. it links Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) in South West England to Lincoln(Lindum Colonia) in Lincolnshire, via Ilchester (Lindinis), Bath (Aquae Sfulis), Cirencester (Corinium) and Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum). It joins Akeman Street and Ermin Way at Cirencester, crosses Watling Street at Venonis (High Cross) south of Leicester, and joins Ermine Street at Lincoln.
I also made sure I kept a short note of some of the places we stopped for tea/coffee and cake and here is the list:
Crewkerne: Market Square Deli: Coffee/pot of tea + cake £3.50. This is a great deli with lots of interesting foods and cheeses and a lovely bright clean cafe attached with interesting quotes on the walls including ones about love and chocolate and coffee and so on.
Ilminster: Coffee Shop Tea £1.60, cake £1.80 for a generous slice of Red Velvet which really looked as though it had some beetroot in it.
Lambrook Manor: [Margery Fish’s garden] Folter coffee £1.90 inc refill, Cake £2.20 in the Malthouse.
Margery Fish was a very important writer on horticultural matters especially how to create a cottage garden and her garden was full of hellebores with the snowdrops – where there were some very rare varieties – lining the ditch, but just going over. The hellebores were so tempting – they were in a great variety of colours from darkest purple to cream. Some double. Some spotted. Some cascading. And we went into their plant shop and bought 3 new ones for our front garden… we did see a lot of bees in her garden from bombus to honey.
Due the fact that the garden is built on levels and all the paths are stepping stones/ uneven flags, the garden is not suitable for wheeled vehicles from pushchairs to wheelchairs.