Digging into Deepest Somerset
If you think of Somerset (and apparently a lot of people do these days), you probably picture delicious farmhouse Cheddar and cider (or better still, Somerset Cider Brandy), Lorna Doone’s Exmoor, birdlife on the Somerset Levels and donkeys on the beach at Weston-super-Mare … but there is so much more.
The media is currently preoccupied with Somerset as a Notting Hill-in-the-country rural idyll, where a South African billionaire has reinvented beautiful Hadspen House and its gardens as The Newt, close to uber-fashionable restaurants at Bruton and celebrities “living the dream” (until the cows walk down the lane or the cockerel crows at dawn).
Somerset is, and always has been, much more complicated and interesting. Deepest Somerset, the latest book by journalists Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Weir, is a wide-ranging portrait of this county which is still often overlooked by those on the headlong dash to Devon and Cornwall. There is an introduction by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, reflecting on the importance of the connection between people, farming, food and the landscape.
As well as the beaches oat Weston or Burnham-on-Sea, the coast is also the construction site of the massive nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point. The dramatic gorges and rocky hills of the Mendips bear the marks of 2,000 years of industry, from lead-mining through coal-mining and iron ore extraction to the continuing quarrying of stone.
Many people know and admire the, beautiful Perpendicular church towers of Mells, Evercreech, Isle Abbots, Huish Episcopi and more – but how many have also spotted the curious, ugly and utterly fascinating little hunky punk carvings around the church roofs?
A few years ago, apple orchards were being grubbed out and cider was a mass-produced shadow of the real thing. Now there are artisan and craft producers all over the county, led by Julian Temperley at Burrow Hill, the man who won the right to call his apple spirit Somerset Cider Brandy, a famous victory over the EU.
The best known cheeses are the traditional farmhouse Cheddars made by the Keens at Wincanton, Tom Calver at Westcombe, Montgomery’s at North Cadbury, Barbers at Ditcheat and the Trethowan brothers at Hewish. Newer delicious continental style cheeses from Marcus Fergussan of Feltham’s Farm, including Renegade Monk and Rebel Nun.
Fanny Charles spent a day learning about cheddaring at Keen’s, makers of one of the world’s greatest cheeses. Chef Philippa Davis, who lives at Shaftesbury, has not only created delicious new recipes for the book with Somerset ingredients, but also learned about cheese making at White Lake, producers of delicious and award-winning cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses.
Newer products, but all with an ancient heritage, include Porlock Oysters, Somerset Charcuterie and Somerset Membrillo. Ruth Kimber, from a well-known farming family near Wincanton, looks back on a long life as a dairy farmer.
Other contributors include Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Michael Eavis, the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, Mrs Annie Maw, Costa Children’s Book Award-winner Jasbinder Bilan, conductor Charles Hazlewood, garden writer Abigail Ballinger, whose husband runs Bailey Hill Bookshop at Castle Cary, Mulberry founder and champion of spelt grain Roger Saul, National Hunt champion trainer Paul Nicholls, folk singer and historian Eddie Upton and the bird photographer Carl Bovis.
There are beautiful photographs by David Blake, Len Copland, Ian Sumner and Matilda Temperley, and archive pictures, including horrifying scenes from Ilchester Gaol at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion and the persecution of the Quakers.
From the fashion designers Alice Temperley and Terry Macey to traditional potters John Leach and Rob Ellis, from the horse hair factory at Castle Cary to a biotech project at Watchet, from hunky punks to Hinkley Point – dig into Deepest Somerset.
Deepest Dorset, Deepest Wiltshire and Deepest Somerset are all funded by a charitable foundation, with proceeds going to charities in the county. So far more than £65,000 has been raised with the Dorset and Wiltshire titles. Proceeds of Deepest Somerset will support the work of Somerset Community Foundation, the Children’s Hospice South West and the Farming Community Network.
For more information or to buy Deepest Somerset, visit www.deepestbooks.co.uk or telephone 01963 32525.