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This page is about the county of Somerset in the United Kingdom. For other meanings of Somerset, see Somerset (disambiguation).
Status Ceremonial & (smaller) Non-metropolitan county
Traditional county
Region: South West England
- Total
- Admin. council
- Admin. area
Ranked 7th
4,171 km²
Ranked 12th
3,451 km²
Admin HQ: Taunton
ISO 3166-2: GB-SOM
ONS code: 40
- Total (2003 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
- Admin. pop.
Ranked 22nd
208 / km²
Ranked 25th
Ethnicity: 98.5% White
Somerset County Council
Executive Liberal Democrat
Members of Parliament
  1. South Somerset
  2. Taunton Deane
  3. West Somerset
  4. Sedgemoor
  5. Mendip
  6. Bath and North East Somerset (Unitary)
  7. North Somerset (Unitary)

Somerset is a county in the south-west of England. The county town is Taunton, situated at 51° 00′ 49″ N, 3° 06′ 23″ W. Somerset adjoins the counties of Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north east, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south east and Devon to the southwest. The county is bounded to the north by the coast of the Bristol Channel.

The name is pronounced as though spelt Summerset. Some local people pronounce it Zummerzet as per the local West Country Accent. The name derives from Somersæte, meaning land of the summer people. The name continues in the motto of the county, Sumorsaete ealle, meaning "all the people of Somerset" in Anglo-Saxon.

Somerset is a largely rural county famous for its rolling hills and downland, the large flat Somerset Levels, and the Exmoor National Park which straddles the border with Devon. The town of Glastonbury is famous in mythology. The north of the county is administratively independent and includes the city of Bath, a World Heritage Site famous for its Roman history and Georgian architecture. The popular sea-side resort Weston-super-Mare lies on the Bristol Channel coast.



For the full article see History of Somerset

The Somerset Levels, and specifically the dry points such as Glastonbury and Cadbury Castle, have a long history of settlement, and are known to have been settled by mesolithic hunters. The caves of the Mendip Hills were settled during the neolithic period and contain extensive archaelogical sites. Somerset, like Dorset to the south, held the Saxon invasion back for over a century, remaining a frontier between the Saxons and the Romano-British and Celts. The first known use of the name Somersæte was in 845 after the region fell to the Saxons. After the Norman Conquest the county was divided into 700 fiefs, and large areas were owned by the crown.

In the English Civil War Somerset was largely Royalist, unlike neighbouring Wiltshire. In 1685 the Monmouth Rebellion was played out in Somerset and neighbouring Dorset. The rebels landed at Lyme Regis and traveled north hoping to capture Bristol and Bath, but were defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor.

The traditional northern boundary of the county is the River Avon, but this has crept southwards, with the creation and expansion of the City of Bristol. In 1974 a large part 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 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 the landscape of Somerset falls into two types, determined by the 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).

Trade, industry and tourism

The main part of Somerset has few significant industrial centers. Bridgwater was developed during the Industrial Revolution as the West Country's leading port. Yeovil is important in the manufacture of helicopters. Many towns have developed small-scale light industries, such as Crewkerne's Ariel Motor Company, Ltd., one of the UK's smallest automobile manufacturers.

Agriculture continues to be a major business in the county, if no longer a major employer. Apple orchards were once 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 involved with the production of cider, especially Blackthorn Dry Cider, a refined cider rooted in Somerset and sold nationwide.

The Dunster Yarn Market was built in 1609 for the trading of local cloth
The Dunster Yarn Market was built in 1609 for the trading of local cloth

Much of the county is scenic and unspoilt. Tourism is a major industry in the county, estimated in 2001 to support 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 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.


Somerset has long traditions of art, music and literature. Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote while staying in Nether Stowey, Alfoxden and Porlock in the west of the county. Traditional folk music, both song and dance, was important in the largely agricultural communities. Somerset songs were collected by Cecil Sharp and incorporated into a number of works including Holst's A Somerset Rhapsody. The tradition continues today with groups such as The Wurzels.

The Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts takes place most years in Pilton, near Shepton Mallet, attracting over 100,000 music and culture lovers from around the world, world-famous entertainers and local people alike.

A number of shows and events form part of the agricultural calendar.

See also:


Taunton war memorial
Taunton war memorial
Palladian Pulteney  Bridge and the weir at Bath
Palladian Pulteney Bridge and the weir at Bath
The west front of Wells Cathedral
The west front of Wells Cathedral
The West Somerset Railway
The West Somerset Railway

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.

Main settlements (with a population of more than 3,000)

For the complete list of settlements see List of places in Somerset

See also

External links

Places of interest

National Trust National Trust
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Country Park Country Park
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Museum (free)
Museums (free/not free)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
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