Why Wellington, Somerset is becoming a foodie destination
- Credit: Archant
When a town can boast having three community orchards offering free fruit for all, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. Laurence McJannet marches to Wellington for some culinary surprises
It is no coincidence that Wellington shares its name not only with one of England’s most famous military heroes but also with a classic British dish of fillet beef wrapped in puff pastry. For this small market town, so inextricably linked with the 1st Duke of Wellington, has become something of a foodie haven in recent years, with a particular focus on sustainable, local and ethical produce. (Contrary to popular belief, however, beef Wellington was not one of the Iron Duke’s favourite dishes but invented for a civic reception in Wellington, New Zealand).
With more than its fair share of fabulous eateries, not to mention handsome old houses, friendly folk and a variety of events and festivals, it’s no surprise The Times recently decreed that Wellington was the third-best place in Britain to live. Indeed many seeking a taste of the ‘Good Life’ have come to make this picturesque spot between the River Tone and the Blackdown Hills their home.
Evidence of Wellington’s love of food can be found throughout the town – residents are spoiled for choice with no less than four bakeries, while locally sourced meats and cheeses, as well as small-batch ciders and other artisanal fare can be picked up at the bustling farmers markets held on the first and third Saturday of each month.
That Wellington is renowned for its wealth of fabulous food suppliers and outlets owes much to its farming heritage. In 2006 the Wellington Economic Partnership felt that the town should celebrate that heritage and formed the Food Town Committee to promote not only the food businesses in the town but also the many suppliers from around this stretch of the Somerset-Devon border.
The Wellington Food Town Festival was the fruit of the committee’s labours, and enjoyed ten successful years, growing to become a highlight of Wellington’s summer season. The festival has developed from small beginnings, through a variety of locations and dates before settling in the town centre on the first Saturday in September.
Eat:festivals took over the Wellington event in 2016, supplementing its successful recipe with the Hawksmoor Cookery School, Retreat demo stage, farm machinery, live entertainment and competitions. It retained the focus on local produce and sustainability, with most stalls and suppliers coming from within a 25-mile radius of the town, and promoted initiatives such as discouraging single-use plastics. The organisers encouraged visitors to walk, ride or cycle into the festival that took place on September 1 with incentives for cyclists and a ‘Step Challenge’ for those on foot. Last year’s event brought some 18,000 visitors to the town centre to sample the wonderful produce provided by some 90 stallholders from all over the South West.
In evidence of their efforts to support and celebrate local food producers, the organisers of eat:Wellington, Bev and Sarah Milner Simonds and their team, recently won Best Food and Farmers’ Market at the Western Daily Press Food and Farming Awards, beating off stiff competition from Frome Independent and Stroud Farmers’ Market.
Another group that’s flourishing in town, augmenting its reputation as the go-to place for ethical gourmands, is Transition Town Wellington. It’s one of thousands of Transition Town groups worldwide, initially inspired by the permaculture movement and now tackling environmental and ethical issues on a local scale. As more people become conscious of food miles, and of the benefits of growing and sourcing local food, TTW have begun to nurture a variety of successful local food schemes.
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“For a small town like ours to have no fewer than three community orchards is amazing.” says Holly Regan-Jones, one of the founder members of TTW.
“But not enough people know about Swains Lane, Trinity Orchard or the Community woodland by the Basins – and people don’t realise that the fruit that’s growing there is free to pick for anyone and everyone.”
Helen Gillingham, a keen gardener and member of TTW’s sustainable food group, has even created a hand-drawn ‘treasure’ map – the Wellington Foraging Map – which shows where to find apples, plums, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, walnuts and hazelnuts, rhubarb, sloes, herbs and other foragable food.
“It’s amazing how much more I’ve learnt about what’s growing around our town by doing the map,” she says. “And people have been great at letting us know what we’ve missed, so we can show even more on the next edition.” TTW organises lots of different activities, including a scything group (with champion scyther Andrea Rickard), community gardening projects, seasonal crafts and cookery workshops and juicing days.
The map, designed by local ethical designer Simon Parkin, has been sponsored by eat:Wellington as well as Brazier’s Coffee Roasters, a fantastic coffee roasting emporium and until recently one of Wellington’s best kept secrets. Brazier’s is tucked away in the iconic former Fox factory, the Grade II-listed Tone Works or Toneday Mill dating from 1790, which lay derelict until recently redeveloped. Amid shabby, industrial chic, the company serves fantastic coffee, locally baked bread and moreish cakes, and sells wholesale to local and regional businesses too.
In town you are well catered for by a range of independent bakeries, coffee shops and delis – including Cafe Licious, Tamarind Bay, Skylark, Coffee#1, Rule 7 Bistro, and the ever-popular Shauls Bakery to name a few. On the outskirts of town there are more purveyors of fine food too – most notably 2015 Somerset Life Food and Drink Award winner Rumwell Farm Shop with its fabulous cafe, Willowbrook Cafe and Tearoom in nearby West Buckland, or Moonbeams Farm Shop at the foot of the Blackdown Hills, a wonderful place to find free-range, locally reared meat and poultry.
One undoubted town centre highlight is the pretty Odette’s Tearoom on the High Street, with its vintage theme, fine china and wonderful gardens. Another used to be fishmongers Wet & Wild on Fore Street, until its recent closure, but regulars didn’t have to wait long before a mobile fishmonger stepped into the breach, setting up outside the old Post Office to cater to the town’s fresh seafood demands. Another closure, that of Scarlett’s Garden at the White Post Nursery just out of town, created the opportunity for another wonderful eatery to establish itself. The White Post Cafe is a lovely airy space, flooded with natural light and the aroma of fresh seasonal ingredients. It boasts beautiful views of the Blackdown Hills, as well as a fine line in creative seasonal platters. Don’t miss their monthly communal feasts, a lovely way to share platters, enjoy old vinyl music and make new acquaintances.
Flavours on the High Street is one of many restaurants that offer a memorable dining experience, with excellent food infused with Turkish influences and fine wines served in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Fresh seasonal produce is sourced locally – including game from the Somerset-Dorset border and fish from Plymouth and West Bay.
Unsurprisingly Wellington boasts an array of good pubs too. There’s the Vintage Inn, a handsome listed building that has become the heart of Wellington’s thriving social scene, with an eclectic programme of live music. Cottage Inn on Champford Lane is another thriving community pub that has resisted the trend for renovation, and is all the more charming for it. Holywell Inn is a lovely old beamed pub with luxury holiday cottage, themed dining evenings and dependably good, robust pub food. If you fancy an amble out of town, the traditional Blackbird Inn and fantastic pub-restaurant The Globe are well worth seeking out too.
Wellington’s boutique deli, simply called the Cheese and Wine Shop, on South Street, sells some wonderfully aromatic cheeses, as well as Asian ingredients, condiments and hampers, and a fine selection of wines. It is a great place to fill your basket with delectable nibbles for a picnic, and where better to head to enjoy your feast than the hills over which towers the emblematic Wellington monument, just a 3km cycle ride away. Built to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s victory in the battle of Waterloo, this striking 53m-tall obelisk is now looked after by the National Trust.
It’s nigh-on impossible to resist all the lovely gastronomic temptations to be found in Wellington. In fact, you’d need to possess the fortitude of the Iron Duke himself not to indulge in a local cheese, Somerset cider or indeed a slice of beef Wellington. If you have no intention of resisting, however, it’s easy to get a taste for Wellington. Just follow your nose and you won’t go far wrong.
Find out more...
Copies of the Wellington Foraging Map have been sent to local schools and can be found at the tourist office, museum and library, or downloaded from ttw.org.uk.
Click here to find out more about the eat:Festivals.