Is there a bigger cliche than following a tractor across the border into Somerset? After spending the first part of our week off in Oxfordshire, we headed west to the land of cheese and cider!
Despite growing up in Devon and now living in Dorset, I’ve never actually been to Bath. Why does it feel so much better to have got that confession off my chest? Anyway, as it was practically on route, we decided to drop by. We were quite unlucky with the grey, drizzly weather, but it didn’t dampen my excitement to get exploring.
The architecture is a big part of why Bath is so magical. We started at the royal crescent, with its honey coloured Georgian townhouses. It feels a bit like you’ve walked straight into a Jane Austen novel! Just as beautiful, despite being more than 850 years old, Bath Abbey was just a short walk away, and definitely the heart of the city. I also fell in love with some of the quaint, smaller streets that weave between the buildings. Something you don’t get in more modern towns and cities.
Sadly, we’d already had lunch, but we did find room for a coffee from The Columbian Company, and bought some Ben’s Cookies to take with us. I can’t tell you how happy these made me when a few hours later we were stuck in a gigantic traffic jam. If you’re ever in Ben’s, the praline ones are the best!
Anyway, I’m getting side tracked by cookies. Again! Back in Bath, we had Blitz with us, so unfortunately couldn’t do the classic tour of the Roman Baths, but we did do a really nice walk along the river and canal. Because it sits in a valley, Bath is surrounded by greenery and I really like the blend between the two. It’s a really pretty city.
We stayed at Bickfield Farm, in a little village called Compton Martin in the Chew Valley, just south of Bristol. I found Bickfield annexe on airbnb primarily because it was dog friendly. It turned out to be an absolute gem.
The owners, Gloria and Stephen, breed race horses and were really interesting to talk too. I’ve never really thought about it before, but unlike human racing, male and female horses apparently line up in the same field (literally!)
It was a lovely, unique extra to be able to explore the farm and meet the animals. As well as the race horses, they also have some really antisocial alpacas, free range chickens, two dogs and I think there was a cat lurking around somewhere. Blitz wasn’t too keen on the horses, but thankfully he was better behaved than the labrador that had stayed the week before and had caught and eaten a chicken! Mortifying. The whole farm is immaculately kept, and we even got freshly laid eggs each day to make breakfast with. Heaven!
The annex itself was perfect for a two night stay. The kitchen has everything you could need and the bathroom is really modern with one of the best waterfall showers. It was smaller than I thought, but that just made it even more cosy.
I’ve been to Cheddar Gorge a few times, but I always forget how breathtaking it is. It feels so oldy worldy, as well as ever so slightly Austrian. It’s also the only place I’ve ever been that has made me wish I was a cyclist! You drive in through a windy road cut through the sheer limestone cliffs and rolling hills. If ever a road was made for cycling, this one was.
I love how active Cheddar Gorge is too. From cyclists to walkers and from rock climbers to runners, everyone is outside making the most of such a beautiful place, and that makes me happy. We did the perimeter walk with Blitz and then came back down for a home made cream tea at The Lion Rock Tea Rooms, named due to the imposing lion shaped rock it sits beneath. Is it just me, or do cream teas taste so much better after a morning spent outdoors? They are also fraught with controversy though. The scone vs scon debate aside, as a Devon girl at heart, putting jam on before the cream is an unforgivable sin!
The only thing left to do before we said goodbye to Cheddar, was to find some cheese. The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company seemed like the perfect place. Not only can you watch the cheese being made, but it’s now the only cheddar still produced in the town using unpasteurised milk from locally grazing cows. We bought a block of cheddar with a ‘good slosh of port’ and the only thing I was sad about was that it wasn’t bigger! It was delicious.
After a morning in Cheddar, we drove to nearby Wells for the afternoon. Wells is England’s smallest city and takes it’s name from three wells, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral. It’s also home to Vicars Close, the oldest intact street in Europe. It was built in the 14th century, and tapers by more than 3m to give the illusion that it’s far longer than it’s actual length of 140m. I’m not sure modern housing estates go to quite the same measures to be aesthetically pleasing!
Even though it’s the smallest city, there’s lots to see. We wandered around the cathedral and through pauper’s gate to the Bishop’s Palace, complete with it’s moat and drawbridge. Someone told me the swans that live on the moat have been trained to ring a bell for food, which I didn’t believe at the time, but I’ve looked it up since and I think it’s actually true!
My favourite part of Wells was the market place. I love a good market, and under the watchful Bishop’s Eye and backdrop of the palace, this one is a beaut. There was everything from fresh flowers to breads, vegetables and handbags and we definitely lost a few hours exploring. In case your wondering why Wells looks familiar, it was the setting for the majority of the film ‘Hott Fuzz’. As in, ‘I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a police officer. Apart from the summer of 79 when I wanted to be Kermit the frog’.
Running the Chew Valley
Whilst chatting to the owners of Bickfield farm, they said that before we leave, we should drive up the hill opposite to check out the views. So, me being me, I put on my running shoes and went for a run up the hill!
600 feet of elevation in the fist mile and a half was a fairly heavy climb for me, but they were right, the views at the top were totally worth it. And I even made friends with some sheep.
After glimpsing the Chew Valley lake, one of the two reservoirs in the area, I had to go and hunt it down. 3 miles and one wrong turn later, I made it. It was so peaceful around the water with just some wildlife for company. I was a bit worried for a while as the path I was running suddenly turned into a water company, no trespassing area with no warning whatsoever. Cracking! It was either continue and take my chances, or start the long road back, so on I went around the lake. Luckily I’m pretty sure the only eyes that saw me were those of a crane.
You can tell I was running scared though, as I somehow managed to average 7.43 min mile pace for this run, which considering the elevation is pretty impressive for me! I’d love to come back to this area and run right around the lake. Oh, and also through cheddar gorge and round the reservoir there if I’m making wish lists!
The Carpenter’s Arms
The final night of our adventures and we headed out to a local pub for dinner. The Carpenter’s Arms was a great find. Their website says that they have a reputation for good food, and I can definitely second that. Where possible I always try and eat locally sourced and seasonal food, so when I saw the Chew Valley trout on the menu, it was a no brainer. Both that, and the sticky toffee pudding I followed it up with, were some of the best pub food I think I’ve ever had. Blitz also loved lying by the fire and being fed the occasional one of Dan’s chips! Totally dreamy.
I loved this area so much, that I came home and immediately signed up for Bath half marathon next year, so thanks Somerset for a great couple of days, I’ll definitely be back next year!