The weather was bound to catch up to us eventually.
We are in the UK, after all, which has a reputation for less than ideal seasons, although we usually find it lovely most of the time. Until this weekend. We set out for our 2-hour drive to Somerset county to dire weather reports for the weekend. Undeterred, we printed out a few country walks to take, and smugly packed our wellies. We’re tough cookies, we can handle a little rain.
A vicious wind and intermittent biting downpours slowed our travels down considerably, our two hours stretching to over three as we diverted off the motorway via various Google accident alerts and sped our way down single lane country roads toward the town of Bath, which served as our homebase.
Saturday morning, we emerged bright eyed and ready for a long day of hiking only to find the UK under attack from a crazy swirling wind that nearly blew us across the parking lot. The rainy drizzle that accompanied the wind, which is normally a minor inconvenience in the UK, was a new challenge as umbrellas were rendered useless, the water coming at us from all sides.
We put on a brave face and took Basil for an early morning walk around our B&B’s working farm, determined to make the best of the weather. A half hour later, fully soaked, sick of dodging the massive mud pools, we gave up.
Clearly, a rethink to our plans was in order. We decided to take to the roads, those deceptively skinny things that are supposedly two-lane, but which obviously fit no more than one small car. A loose plan was hatched, one that allowed us to explore some of the highlights of the county of Somerset, all from the comfort of our tiny car.
We pointed southwest and had ourselves a little adventure.
First we drove to an area formally known as the ‘Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty.’ And yes, that’s a real thing. It even has a website. We were mostly intrigued by the designation of such a name, but sure enough, the scenery proved to be outstandingly beautiful. We braved the natural beauty only once beyond the comfort of our adorable Fiat 500, to give Basil a break and to take a few photos, but we were quickly back in the warm confines of the car, camera lenses wet, jeans re-soaked.
As we neared an intersection, I noticed a carved wooden sign pointing in the direction of Cheddar, the birthplace of cheddar cheese. As unabashed cheese lovers, we were tempted with the prospect of a snack, or perhaps some early Christmas gifts, so off we headed.
The quaint town, nestled in Cheddar Gorge (the UK’s deepest gorge), is unassuming, a narrow row of cafes and pubs which can be covered in a ten minute walk. You wouldn’t even know you were standing in the famous town of Cheddar if not for the several specialized cheese stores selling loads of the stuff.
We waited out a downpour as we shopped and then jumped back in the car.
I had heard of another village nearby called Wells, but couldn’t remember how I had heard of it or what made it special. A quick internet search and we were reminded – in one of my various university art classes, I had clearly memorized the details of this glorious building, the Wells Cathedral. Off we went – and twenty minutes later, we were gazing up at the ridiculous 1,000 year old specimen. No biggie. I ducked in to explore the cathedral, while Drew and Basil walked through a nearby weekend market.
Our final stop for the day was Bath, the famed city most notably known for remarkably well-preserved Roman baths. More to come on our visit to the baths and to Bath, but for now, let’s just say it was the icing on the cake of a day that turned out much better than anticipated.
As I read back over these words, I’m struck that it might seem a little crazy that this kind of day is actually possible in the UK. The sheer number of worthwhile and notable places to visit in the UK is off the charts. Pair that with the relative small size of the place and you can easily drive from town to town, soaking up landmarks and history as you go.
In fact, the same day we experienced this corner of Somerset, we didn’t get a chance to go to Glastonbury Abbey (which has a lot of associations to King Arthur), and we also didn’t make it to the Jane Austen Center, her home in Bath for five years and now a permanent exhibition. We merely scratched the surface of Somerset, so we expect to make a quick return for some more road-tripping fun.