What do people think of when you say you live in Somerset? Cider? Glastonbury Festival?
Surely Somerset is so much more than that, so how about a few facts – and the odd fiction:
- Somerset was so named by the ancient Celts and Saxons because they could only live off the land during the summer months.
- Ten pin bowling was developed from Somerset skittles which was customarily played on lawns with nine wooden pins. Skittles is still played across the county, though it is now mainly an indoor pub game.
- Cheddar Gorge is the largest in Britain, standing at around 500 feet. The oldest complete human skeleton ever found in Britain was Cheddar Man, found at the Gorge. It was aged at around 9,000 years old. (Hmmm, is that two facts?)
- The last ever pitched battle to be fought on English soil took place at Westonzoyland in 1685. Pitched means the battle was fought at a pre-arranged time and place, as was the custom from the middle ages. The Battle of Sedgemoor was the final battle of the Monmouth Rebellion between forces of James Scott, 1 Duke of Monmouth and troops loyal to King James II. The royalists were decisive winners.
- There are more than 400 different varieties of cider apple grown in Somerset (and I'm trying my best to taste them all! Ed)
- Shepton Mallet had the oldest prison in England, opened in 1610. When it closed in 2013 it had been housing (and executing) inmates for over 400 years.
- Taunton was the first town in the country to be lit by electric street lighting in 1881.
- The West Somerset Railway is the longest preserved steam railway in the country with 20 miles of track running between Bishop's Lydeard and Minehead. The line has been carrying heritage steam and diesel passenger trains for over forty years and carries over 200,000 passengers a year.
- According to legend, Joseph of Arimethea came to Britain and established the first British church at Glastonbury Tor, 30 years after Jesus's death.
- John Cleese was born in Weston Super-Mare. His father's original name was Reginald Cheese, referring to the village of Cheddar about 10 miles from Weston.
- The Sweet Track, an ancient causeway on the Somerset Levels, is thought to be the oldest engineered road in Northern Europe. Made from timber planks, it has been dated back to 3906 BC and is so named because it was discovered by Ray Sweet in 1970.
- Fyne Court, a National Trust property in the Quantocks, was the home of Andrew Crosse. He was known to the locals as 'The Thunder and Lightning Man' thanks to his electricity experiments in 1836. It is said that Mary Shelley was inspired by Crosse's work which was partly the inspiration for her world-famous novel, 'Frankenstein.
- Around 15% of Somerset is either at or only just above sea-level. The highest point is Dunkery Beacon, on Exmoor, at 520m above sea level.
- And finally, Glastonbury has a very specific claim to fame – the title of "the largest green-field music and performing arts festival in the world". Not the largest festival, or music festival or even festival of performing arts (which Edinburgh once laid claim to). Begun in 1970, costing a quid for the whole weekend, about 1,500 attended. It's now about £250 and hosts about 200,000 people.
That's enough for now. I'm off to sample number 383!