Primarily a rural county, barring the two large historical towns of Bristol and Bath to the north, Somerset has a diversity of attractions on offer for the visitor. Two fine coastal resorts on the Bristol Channel in Burnham-on-Sea and Minehead: spectacular caves at Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole: the dramatic landmark of Glastonbury Tor, stark sentinel of the Somerset Levels below, the wild open expanses of Exmoor and the rolling wooded hills of the Quantocks, the spectacular ecclesiastical houses of Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey and the many picturesque ‘English' villages secluded down narrow country lanes or tucked within the verdant folds of the Somerset landscape. Some of these contribute toward the chronicles of English folklore and legend others are rooted in the passing history of the county.
To the north where Somerset shares a border with the county of Avon, the gaunt prospect of the Mendip Hills runs a ragged line eastward from the coast. Riddled with many spectacular caves and gorges the Mendips are the source of the limestone employed in building Wells Cathedral, in addition to many other great Somerset churches. Ancient, historical Wells, with its majestic cathedral complex, medieval in essence, sits at the foot of the Mendip Hills, one of the great splendours of English heritage.
Travel south-west and the landscape abruptly changes forming a wide basin of fenland known as the Somerset Levels - also called the Plain of Sedgemoor near where the last major battle was fought on English soil in 1685. The levels represent land reclaimed from the winter flooding that annually turned the area into a huge lake, but is now rich pastureland. Drained in the Middle Ages, it is intersected by a maze of drainage ditches known as rhines . The remains of prehistoric lake villages may be seen, where inhabitants constructed huts on stilts resembling artificial islands protruding from the marshland. Glastonbury Tor and Abbey, a rich medley of legend and history, gazes westward across the Levels toward the coast. Here is where Joseph of Arimathea traditionally buried the Holy Grail, the all consuming focus of the forlorn quest undertaken by King Arthur's chivalrous knights; here too is the blessed Isle of Avalon in Arthurian legend.
Westward, beyond the low lying pastureland the terrain again rises to form the undulating heatherland and forested Quantock Hills, home of red deer and for many visitors the most beautiful part of Somerset. Gentle slopes fringed by small villages, pastures, brightly heathered moorland and dark tangled woods, loud with running brooks, dense with wild flowers and peaceful with the stillness of nature. There are no towns or large villages to intrude upon this tranquillity, rather it is a realm of hamlets and scattered farms arrived at by tightly winding lane or track. The Quantock foothills reach down into the heartland of Somerset - the Vale of Taunton Dene, which lazily stretches out from the county town of Taunton. Here, the lush green river valleys are rich in fertile meadows and bounteous orchards.
Further west, the vast aspect of the Exmoor National Park fills the horizon, three-quarters of which lies in Somerset, the remainder spilling over into Devon. Preserved for its coastal and hill scenery and for its importance to the naturalist, Exmoor offers the visitor far more than pure scenic beauty. It boasts the smallest church in England at Culbone, the ancient clapper bridge at Tarr Steps, the alluring tales of banditry and romance belonging to the Doone Valley on the Devon borderlands and two of the most delightfully picturesque villages at Selworthy and Dunster, the latter steeped in historical interest.
Finally, south Somerset, despite being mostly a region of remote villages and small county towns, still remains rich in venerable houses and reminders of history. Massive prehistoric earthworks, known as Cadbury Castle, are linked in later centuries with King Arthur's fabled Camelot. A small obelisk at Athelnay commemorates the desperate vigil of King Alfred in the winter of AD 878 before a battle at which the invading Danes were decisively beaten. One of the oldest maces in Europe is preserved at Ilchester and Montacute House is a sublime survivor from Elizabethan England. The ancient order of the Knights Templar is remembered at Temple Combe, while Crewkerne and Cricket St Thomas both have links with Horatio Nelson.