Heritage Secrets

Uncover the unique stories and history of the area

13 Heritage Secrets in Somerset and Exmoor

Secrets 26-38 of the 50 secrets in Secret Somerset and Exmoor

DOWNLOAD our new suggested Heritage Itinerary, which gives you suggestions for two 'Secret' days out ideas in Somerset & Exmoor.

Discover the Secrets Home Page with downloadable tools, the interactive map, and three other themed secrets pages: Active Secrets 1-13, Culture Secrets 14-25, Nature Secrets 39-50.


26. Ancient Sweet Track, world’s oldest engineered road at Avalon Marshes
27. Unique carved pews at St. Leonard's  Church, Rodney Stoke
28. Westonzoyland , site of the last major battle on English soil
29. Glastonbury Lake Village, one of many lost villages in Somerset
30. Nunney, one of the UK’s finest moated castles
31. The Mineral Line, a feat of engineering, Washford
32. Castle Cary lock up (the inspiration for the Police Helmet!)
33. Rare windmill at Ashton, near Axbridge
34. Finest Georgian street outside Bath  and Arts Centre, Bridgwater
35. Underground Victorian reservoir to explore at Dunster Castle
36. Award-winning Wolf Hall film location , Barrington Court
37. The second oldest clock in the world at Wells Cathedral
38. Story of King Alfred’s burnt cakes: Athelney and Taunton

26. Walk along the oldest engineered road in the world

Drawing of a Neolithic family walking along the Sweet Track, image from South West Heritage TrustStar Location: Avalon Marshes, Shapwick Heath BA6 9TT

Around 6,000 years ago, Neolithic people lived on the higher, dry ground around what is now Shapwick Heath, and built wooden track ways to cross what was reed swamp.  The most important of these, the Neolithic Sweet Track still exists on the Reserve, preserved beneath the wet peat.  You can walk along the line of the Sweet Track and see a replica section heading off into the reeds as it did all that time ago. Make a visit to the Tribunal Museum to find out more about this ancient track.

Did you know? The Romans were the first to start draining these coastal marshes. They also produced salt by boiling brine in trays on mounds which can still be seen.

Access: The Avalon Marshes Centre and car park lies between Shapwick (just off the A39 to Glastonbury) and Wedmore. Visit the website for more information.

Image: Drawing of a Neolithic family walking along the Sweet Track, image from South West Heritage Trust

Links: Avalon Marshes, Megalithic

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27. Marvel at stunning carved pews, stained glass and hunky punks!

Carved pew at Saint Leonard's Church, image by Vicky Banham for Visit SomersetStar Location: Saint Leonard's Church, Rodney Stoke BS27 3UN

There are so many wonderful small (and tall) churches in Somerset with fantastic stained glass windows, many built with wealth from the wool trade. Saint Leonard's Church in Rodney Stoke has some fabulous carved pews and elaborate effigies. Selworthy Church offers magnificent views and Culbone Church is said to be the smallest in England. Visit the church of All Saints Langport to see a tower covered in 'Hunky Punks', the Somerset dialect for the grotesque gargoyle stone carvings on the towers which are plentiful in the County.

Did you know? The pew ends in Rodney Stoke Church were carved by villagers after classes from the rector's daughters. One is the unfinished work of Reginald Hale who was a passenger on the Titanic

Access: Rodney Stoke lies on the A371 (Wells Road) between Cheddar and Wookey. Turn into Stoke Street from the Wells Road and follow it until you come to the church.

Image: Carved pew at Saint Leonard's Church, image by Vicky Banham for Visit Somerset

Links: Rodney Stoke

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28. Imagine the last moments of the last battle on English soil

Star Location: Westonzoyland, TA7 0EP

Battle of Sedgemoor re-enactment by Taunton Garrison, image from Visit Somerset LibraryThe Battle of Sedgemoor was fought on 6 July 1685 and took place at Westonzoyland near Bridgwater in Somerset, England. It was the final battle of the Monmouth Rebellion and followed a series of skirmishes around south west England between the forces of James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and troops loyal to James II. At Westonzoyland head to St. Mary's Church for the Battle of Sedgemoor Visitor Centre, and from where you can do a Family Activity Trail that takes you out to the Battlefield. A model of the battle is housed in the Blake Museum, Bridgwater.

Did you know? After the battle about 500 rebels were captured and held in the Church. The 'Bloody Assizes' trials followed with Baron Jeffreys at Taunton Castle. Visit the Museum of Somerset to find out more.

Access: From Bridgwater take the A372, which heads towards Othery and Langport. St. Mary's Church in on the main road. The Blake Museum is in Blake Street, Bridgwater (TA6 3NB) and the Museum of Somerset is in Taunton on Castle Green (TA1 4AA).

Image: Battle of Sedgemoor re-enactment by Taunton Garrison, image from Visit Somerset Library

Links: Zoyland Heritage, Blake Museum, Museum of Somerset

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29. Discover the lost and abandoned villages of Somerset

Star Location: Glastonbury Lake Village at the Tribunal Museum, Glastonbury BA6 9DP

Drawing of Glastonbury Lake Village, provided by South West Heritage TrustExplore the secrets of Somerset's lost and abandoned villages that can still be spotted around the area. The fascinating story of the Glastonbury Lake Village can be viewed in the Tribunal Museum, the 15th century merchant’s house in Glastonbury High Street, which also houses the Tourist Information Centre. Seek out other lost villages in Somerset such as the abandoned village of Clicket near Timberscombe and Stoke Bottom.

Did you know? Somerset has nine villages known as 'thankful' and even 'doubly thankful' referring to the fact they had no losses in WW1 and/or WW2. Nine is the most of any county in England and Wales.

Access: The Tribunal Museum is located in the High Street, in the centre of Glastonbury. Public car parks and toilets are available nearby. Access for people with disabilities is available on the website, where you will also find opening times and prices.

Image: Drawing of Glastonbury Lake Village, provided by South West Heritage Trust

Links: Tribunal Museum, Somerset Life article

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30. Visit one of the finest examples of a moated Castle in England

Star Location: Nunney BA11 4LW

Nunney Castle, image from Visit Somerset LibraryA picturesque moated medieval castle, Nunney Castle in Somerset dates from the 1370s. Its builder was Sir John de la Mare, a local knight who was beginning to enjoy royal favour. Though ruined, Nunney's dramatic great tower is very well preserved. Its four round corner towers and connecting walls are tightly encircled by the castle moat. Oh, and its Free to visit.

Did you know? Damage to the castle began in the Civil War but continued as villagers 'improved' their cottages with timbers, fireplaces and even mullion windows.

Access: Nunney lies just off of the A361 between Shepton Mallet and Frome. Head for the centre of Nunney. There is a free car park close by on Castle Hill. There are no public toilets but there is a pub in the village.

Image: Nunney Castle, image from Visit Somerset Library

Links: Nunney Castle

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31. Explore a piece of local industrial heritage along an Iron ore mineral line

Star Location: Washford, near Watchet TA23 0PA

Walker along the mineral line, image by Vicky Banham for Visit SomersetThe West Somerset Mineral Railway was built between 1857 and 1864 to take iron ore from the mines on the Brendon Hills to Watchet harbour and helped to transform Watchet in the mid-19th century. Sites open to the public are clustered around the two end points of the 11 mile long track. You can walk from Washford to Watchet at one end, where you will have the option of getting a train on the West Somerset Railway back. You can learn about the history of the line in the Market House Museum in Watchet or at the interpretation panel at the Winding House, up in the Brendon Hills, near Raleghs Cross. If you are feeling fit enough you could try walking some of the incline from the Winding House, a 1 in 4 slope!

Did you know? The Incline was gravity-operated with double tracks. Two massive drums wound cables lowering trucks of ore and raising lighter trucks loaded with coal, lime or even passengers!.

Access: The route in Washford starts opposite Old Cleeve First School. On street parking can be found near the school, particularly at weekends, or when parents are not dropping off/picking up children. Alternatively, if coming from the West Somerset Railway Station, there is a narrow path running which you pick up just in front of the Washford Inn. This winds round behind the houses and brings you out by the school. Washford lies on the A39 between Williton and Minehead.

Image: Walker along the mineral line, image by Vicky Banham for Visit Somerset

Links: West Somerset Mineral Line

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32. Unlock the secrets of a lock up thought to have inspired the policeman's helmet

Castle Cary Lock Up, image provided by South West Heritage TrustStar Location: Castle Cary BA7 7BP

Somerset has more lockups than anywhere except Yorkshire! Visit Castle Cary and visit the small circular eighteenth-century prison called the roundhouse. This is a temporary prison, or village lock-up. It was built in 1779 by Mr WM Clark for £23, from money left to the poor of Castle Cary in 1605. In 1992 the Lord of the Manor, Sir Henry Hoare Bart, gave the building to the parish council.  It is reputed to have inspired the shape of the British policeman's hat and is even licensed for Weddings!

Did you know? Taunton lockup is described as "... a hole into which drunken and bleeding men were thrust and allowed to remain until the following day"

Access: Castle Cary lies close to where the A303 and A37 merge, close to Sparkford and Wincanton. The lock up is near the post office in the centre of the village.

Image: Castle Cary Lock Up, image provided by South West Heritage Trust

Links: Castle Cary, BBC News story, Weddings at Market House

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33. Seek out the sails of a stone windmill above the Isle of Wedmore

Star Location: Ashton Mill, near Wedmore BS26 2PP

Ashton Windmill, image by Vicky Banham for Visit SomersetVisit Ashton mill, a pretty 18th century mill on the Isle of Wedmore, above the Somerset Levels. You can see great views over the Levels, Cheddar Gorge, and the Mendips. The mill even has all its original machinery in working order. Discover other fascinating sources of wind and water power around Somerset by visiting mills such as Stembridge Mill, Dunster Working Watermill and Bishops Lydeard Mill.

Did you know? Stembridge Tower Mill in High Ham, Somerset, England, is the last remaining thatched windmill in England.

Access: Access for Ashton Windmill is between Wedmore and the A38 at Lower Weare. Admission is free but opening times are limited and so it is best to check the websites for details.

Image: Ashton Windmill, image by Vicky Banham for Visit Somerset

Links: National Mills Weekend, Sedgemoor Museums

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34. Stroll down one of the finest Georgian Crescents in the West Country

Star Location: Bridgwater, TA6 3DD

Castle Street in Bridgwater by Vicky Banham for Visit SomersetAcknowledged as the finest Georgian street outside Bath, Castle Street was built by the colourful First Duke of Chandos on the site of the derelict castle. Chandos, one of England's richest men at the time, was a patron of Handel and so it is fitting that the first Arts centre in the UK to be funded by the predecessor of the Arts Council is housed in Castle Street. Chandos is also responsible for the Glass Cone as he tried to establish glass making in the town. Nearby is Castle House, an old building with a moulded concrete facade way ahead of its time when it was added in 1851.

Did you know? Bridgwater has 26 Blue Plaques celebrating its history including one for Isolda Parewastel who escaped having been was captured while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1365.

Access: Kings Square (for the Georgian Crescent) and Castle Street (for the Arts Centre) are best accessed from the public pay and display car parks on Northgate. A short walk from here will bring you to the Georgian Crescent. Bear to the far left hand corner for Castle Street.

Image: Castle Street in Bridgwater by Vicky Banham for Visit Somerset

Links: Bridgwater Tourism Information, Bridgwater Arts Centre

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35. Gain a unique perspective from inside a Victorian underground reservoir

Star Location: Dunster TA24 6SL

The underground reservoir at Dunster castle, by Dave Wood of the National TrustThe reservoir at Dunster Castle in Somerset held about 40,000 gallons (182,000 litres) of water and supplied the castle and the village until 1960. The National Trust is carrying out the work as part of its celebrations to mark 40 years since it took over the property from the Luttrell family.

Did you know? Like most Somerset towns in the past Dunster lived by making wool. Wooden hammers worked by water mills pounded the wool. The people of Dunster became famous for making a type of thick wool called Dunster’s

Access: Access to Dunster Castle is from the A39, at the bottom of Dunster Steep. Alternatively if you want to visit the village, National Park Centre and other attractions park in Dunster Steep Car Park. Check the Dunster Castle website for opening times and prices. The reservoir is included in the normal ticket price.

Image: The underground reservoir at Dunster castle, by Dave Wood of the National Trust

Links: Dunster Castle, BBC news story, Exmoor heritage

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36. Step behind the camera for award-winning Tudor scenes

Star Location: Barrington Court, near Ilminster TA19 0NQ

Gardens at Barrington Court. image supplied by Discover South SomersetThe property was saved from ruin and restored by the Lyle family in 1920s, when the court house resembled a barn rather than the proud manor house that it is. Close your eyes and you’ll almost be able to hear the sounds and see the sights of the glamorous parties held in the great hall during Barrington’s heyday. It has been used for several dramas including Wolf Hall which was also filmed at nearby Montecute House.

Did you know? In the 1920s Barrington Court was leased to the Lyle family (of Tate & Lyle) who engaged Gertrude Jekyll to design the garden.

Access: Barrington Court is signposted from the A303 and free parking is available.

Image: Gardens at Barrington Court. image supplied by Discover South Somerset

Links: National Trust, BBC article

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37. Set your watch by the world’s second oldest clock mechanism

Star Location: Wells Cathedral BA5 2UE

Second oldest clock mechanism, image supplied by South West Heritage TrustThe famous Wells clock is considered to be the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and probably in the world, to survive in original condition and still in use. The original works were made about 1390 and the clock face is the oldest surviving original of its kind anywhere. When the clock strikes every quarter, jousting knights rush round above the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter hours with his heels.

Did you know? Experts agree that the Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral is one of the most splendid examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe

Access: The clock is situated in Wells Cathedral. Wells is on the A371 between Shepton Mallet and Wookey Hole/Cheddar. There are plenty of car parks in the city.

Image: Second oldest clock mechanism, image supplied by South West Heritage Trust

Links: Wells Cathedral

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38. Learn why the Somerset Levels were crucial for King Alfred the Great

Star Location: Athelney Monument, TA7 0SD and Museum of Somerset, Taunton

Alfred's Monument and the history tree at the Museum of Somerset, images supplied by South West Heritage TrustLegend has it that when King Alfred was on the run from the Vikings, he took refuge in the Somerset levels in a peasant women’s house and was asked to watch her cakes whilst they cooked. But distracted by his own problems, he lets the cakes burn and was roundly scolded by the woman. The tale of King Alfred's adventure through the Somerset levels is recounted in the TV series, Last Kingdom, which are based on the books of Bernard Cornwell. Visit Athelney monument to see the site where King Alfred built a great monastery to give thanks for winning the Battle of Edington in 878, despite later being pulled down in the dissolution of the Monasteries. Discover more about the history of King Alfred in the Museum of Somerset and in Somerton, the ancient royal capital of Wessex.

Did you know? Replicas of the Alfred Jewel - made during the King's reign and found in Somerset in the 17th century - can be seen in North Petherton Church and the Blake Museum, Bridgwater.

Did you also know? Alfred's men won another important battle against the Vikings in 878 at the Battle of Cynwit, which is thought to be Cannington Hill near Bridgwater. The Vikings were led by Ubba, who is regarded as one of the sons of the mythical Ragnar Lothbrok. The story of Ragnar and his sons is currently being shown on the Amazon Prime on demand TV series, Vikings.

Access: The monument can be seen from the layby on the A361 between East Lyng and Burrow Bridge. To walk to the monument take Stanmoor Road from Burrowbridge (which follows the River Tone) and at Athelney, turn right over Cuts Road Bridge. Off road parking is possible but do not block farms or entrances. From here it is a short walk through the gate, briefly along the River Parrot Trail, before turning left up to the Monument, which lies behind Athelney Farm.

Image: Alfred's Monument and the history tree at the Museum of Somerset, images supplied by South West Heritage Trust

Links: Athelney Monument, Museum of Somerset

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