- This page is about the county of Somerset in the United Kingdom. For other meanings of Somerset, see Somerset (disambiguation).
Somerset is a county in the south-west of England.
Somerset adjoins Gloucestershire to the north east, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south east and Devon to the southwest. Much of its northern edge is the shoreline of the Bristol Channel. The name is pronounced as though spelt Summerset. It is commonly alleged that local people pronounce it Zummerzet as per the strong local West Country Accent. The name derives from Sumorsaete, meaning land of the summer people referring to the historic summer usage of the Somerset Levels. The name continues in the motto of the county, Sumorsaete ealle, meaning "all the people of Somerset" in Anglo-Saxon.
Trade, industry and tourism
While many towns have developed small scale light engineering industries, the main part of the county contains few significant industrial centres; Bridgwater which was developed during the Industrial Revolution due to then being the West Country's leading port, and Yeovil which is important in the manufacture of helicopters. The city of Bristol sits on its Northern border, and the southern part of that city is within the historic county borders.
Much of the county is very scenic and relatively unspoilt, and tourism is a major industry in the county, estimated in 2001 to be supporting around 23,000 people. Attractions include its coastal towns, part of the Exmoor National Park, the West Somerset Railway (a heritage railway), and the museum of the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Yeovilton. The town of Glastonbury is famous for its many mythical associations, and open-air rock festival (actually in Pilton), while the Cheddar Gorge is famous for caves open to visitors, as well as its locally produced cheese.
Agriculture continues to be a major business in the county, if no longer a major employer. Once Apple orchards were plentiful and to this day Somerset is linked to the production of strong cider, arguably more so than any other part of the world. The towns of Taunton and Shepton Mallet are greatly involved with the production of cider to this day, especially Blackthorn Dry Cider, a refined cider rooted in Somerset and sold nationwide.
- For the full article see History of Somerset
The traditional northern boundary of the county was the River Avon, but this has gradually crept southwards, with the creation and expansion of the City of Bristol. In 1974 a large chunk of northern Somerset was removed to form the southern half of the County of Avon. Avon has now been abolished, and North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset have reverted to Somerset for ceremonial purposes, but are now independent counties in their own right for local government purposes.
Somerset contains England's oldest prison that is still in use, in the small town of Shepton Mallet, and the World's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track.
Geology, landscape and ecology
- For the full article see Geology of Somerset
Much of Somerset falls into two main types of the landscape, determined by their underlying geology. These landscapes are the limestone karst of the north east and the clay vales and wetlands of the south and west. In the north east the Mendip Hills are high, often bare mountain limestone hills with an extensive network of caves and underground rivers and a number of gorges, famously Cheddar Gorge. The main habitat on these hills is calcareous grassland, with some arable agriculture. To the south of the hills, on the clay substrate, are a number of small valleys which support dairy farming and drain into the Somerset Levels. This expanse of flat land, stretching up to 20 miles inland, is only a few feet above sea level and before it was drained, starting in Saxon times, much of the land was under a shallow brackish sea all year. According to legend Joseph of Arimathea sailed across the levels to Glastonbury, a dry point near the southern edge of the levels. In the far west of the county, running into Devon, is Exmoor, a high Devonian sandstone moor. The highest point in Somerset is Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor, with an altitude of 519 metres (1704 feet).
The original county town of Somerset was Somerton, but in recent years that role has been transferred to Taunton. The county has two cities, Bath and Wells - the latter of which is one of the smallest in the country.
Main settlements (with a population of more than 3,000)
- For the complete list of settlements see List of places in Somerset
Places of interest
The West Somerset Railway