Highlights in Taunton: 10 reasons to love our county town
- Credit: Archant
What is it that makes Taunton unique? Here’s 10 of our favourite highlights
1. Independent shops
Taunton has a blossoming independent retail scene, from hair and beauty salons, to craft shops, fashion stores and an array of cafés and restaurants. Two hotspot areas for indie shops are the Riverside and Bath Place, tucked away and well worth exploring. The town is lucky to have top name chefs like Liam Finnegan at the Castle Hotel and Richard Guest at Augustus (which has just opened a second seafood restaurant at the Riverside). You can pick up a leaflet and map listing all the independent shops in the Taunton Visitor Centre.
It’s worth seeking out this place even if it’s just to admire the outside! The museum is housed in a beautiful old stone building, the 12th century castle off Castle Green, but inside it’s a thriving, modern attraction. Having undergone a major refurbishment, themed galleries cover the history of the county from prehistoric times. Don’t leave without seeing the giant’s shoes worn by a 2.2m tall gentleman called Joseph Sewell – and make sure you stop for cake and coffee at its Castle Café.
3. Green spaces
Taunton is lucky enough to be surrounded by beautiful countryside, from the Somerset Levels to the Quantocks and Blackdown Hills. But it also has enviable central green spaces like Longrun Meadow, Goodland Garden and Vivary Park, which is also the site for Taunton Flower Show; founded in 1831, it’s the longest running flower show in the country. The Vivary Centre in the heart of the park has high ropes, climbing walls and – for those who want to keep feet on the ground – golf. Appealing to the young at heart, it’s great for all ages.
A restored garden covering 50 acres, with Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian features. Once you’ve explored the grounds you can enjoy a well-deserved lunch in the Stables Café, then take a wander around the art gallery which has a series of exhibitions throughout the year.
Everyone who comes to Somerset wants the cider experience and Sheppy’s House of Cider is the place to go. As well as tours and a fascinating museum, which reveal all you need to know about Somerset cider, there’s a farm shop selling home-grown beef along with quality meats, breads and cheeses, and a stylish café and bar area. There’s also the old Taunton Cider Company a once major producer which was revived by a group of enthusiasts in 2016.
Along with cider, one of Somerset’s most famous products is willow. The county’s wetlands provide the perfect conditions for growing the material which has been used for centuries to make baskets. Just outside the town at Stoke St Gregory you’ll find Coates English Willow Visitor Centre where you can learn all about the craft and its history, as well as go on wildlife walks, buy willow items from the shop and enjoy refreshments at the Lemon Tree Coffee House.
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Once threatened with closure, the Brewhouse theatre was saved by the people of Taunton who famously held a candlelit vigil outside the building to show support for keeping this valued arts centre alive. It now has a packed programme of events, from music to performance and cinema.
Just 20 minutes from the town centre at Bishops Lydeard is the West Somerset Railway. Running train trips to Minehead, this scenic, beautiful and varied line is the longest heritage railway in England. There’s a host of special events and days out, particularly in the run up to Christmas when Santa takes to the rails.
Dress up and join in the fun of a day at the races. Taunton Racecourse is in a beautiful setting and hosts over 15 national hunt fixtures each season. The words ‘cricket’ and ‘Taunton’ are synonymous, which is why everyone has to spend at least one day at the celebrated cricket ground. Next year will see the ICC Cricket World Cup return to England and Wales for the first time in 20 years with Taunton at the heart of the action.
10. Coming up!
In November there’s be the Taunton Literary Festival. Organised by Brendon Books in Bath Place, visiting speakers include Dan Cruickshank, Victoria Glendinning and Jenni Murrayu