Why the Royal Family love to visit Somerset
- Credit: Archant
Maybe it’s the cider or maybe it’s the beautiful countryside - but whatever it is, the Royal Family certainly enjoys its visits to Somerset whether official or unofficial, says Bernard Bale
When Her Majesty the Queen visited Somerset earlier in 2019 she was walking in her own footsteps, having been several times before. More than that though, she was walking a historic pathway which has seen many kings and queens drawn to the county, some even wanting to stay here.
The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, visited Taunton a few months ago to officially open the new UK Hydrographic Office and praised its 'vital role in supporting maritime navigation, safety, security, and marine development around the country and worldwide'.
That, of course, was an official visit but there have been less formal occasions, especially when Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is in the area in which she clearly delights. As Vice-Patron of the Royal Bath and West Show she has been a regular visitor and always likes to meet as many people as possible and try as many of the delicacies as propriety allows.
"I always enjoy the Bath and West," she once revealed. "Agriculture has always interested me and if you combine that with a day of fun and celebration, it makes for an excellent day out."
The Countess respects protocol but likes to put people at ease. On another of her many visits she toured Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton and met as many patients as possible to wish them well. In addition, on a visit to Radstock Museum she sat in a classroom along with young pupils to discover what life was like in a Victorian school. Instead of watching from a distance she insisted on taking part.
Of course, informality comes in many different situations. There was the time when a couple were being married at St Mary's Church in Bishops Lydeard and the villagers knew it was going to be something of a society affair as Alice St John Webster and Gerald Avenel were the happy couple and they had connections.
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Imagine the surprise of the onlookers when Prince William and Kate and Kate's sister Pippa suddenly arrived. Alice and Kate were good friends and Kate did not want to miss the wedding for anything. They made sure that the spotlight never strayed from the Alice and Gerald but William and Kate were happy to wave and chat to the crowds.
William has also been a regular visitor to Somerset for both formal and informal occasions and once revealed: "I enjoy visiting parts of Somerset because it is such a beautiful county and very relaxing."
His father feels the same way.
Part of the Duchy of Cornwall includes an area of about 62 acres at Ham Hill in South Somerset and Prince Charles takes a keen interest in the land and, especially its ecology. We all know that Charles is very keen to support the countryside, rare breeds and agricultural history as well as the land itself but he is also very hands-on and knows his subject.
Countryside Ranger Paul McNeill had the privilege of escorting the Prince on a tour of the land, including a close encounter with the curious Red Devon cattle who strolled over to greet him.
"The kind of questions that he asked me, showed that he really knows what he is talking about," said Paul. "He is very at home in the countryside and you can see that he enjoys his visits here."
He also enjoys Ham Hill Honey, produced by the bees on his own land and a particular favourite on his breakfast table.
Prince Charles has always been quick to visit the area when there has been flooding and does not stand on ceremony but mucks in with the locals in boats and tractor trailers. He has also instantly donated large sums of money to local relief funds. During the last bout of flooding he was obviously moved by the damage to homes and land.
"It's very sad to see this beautiful county having such problems again, a tragedy," he said. "I have been here on better days and I hope to be here again when the better days have returned."
He has of course, none more so than when he revealed his prowess at pulling a pint at the Prince Charles pub at Ham Hill. There was a Valentine's Day 'do' at the pub and Charles turned up to take part in the fun, chatting with the locals, playing with the children and generally enjoying himself.
That, of course, is what Somerset does for people - they relax and enjoy themselves. When the Princess Royal was on one of her many visits last year she was presented with a box of hand-made chocolates. She smiled with genuine gratitude and said, "Chocolates from Somerset - how lovely. Of course, they will never arrive home."
Talking of produce, if Charles likes local honey and his sister liked those chocolates, what else does the Royal Family like? Well, the obvious answer is cider and it is believed that Prince Philip has always had a liking for Somerset cider and especially Somerset Cider Brandy - but never before breakfast.
Yes, it must be said that just about all the members of the Royal Family need little invitation to come to Somerset and just enjoy being in the county but there is one very special attraction that draws Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II to Somerset, it is a great county for horses!
Our Queen has loved horses ever since she was given her first pony, a Shetland, when she was a little girl and just about every time she is in Somerset she delights in coming face to face with more horses.
Her visits have included going to the Manor Farm Stables, where some of our best race horses are trained. Our Queen likes to get up close to the horses and especially if there is a chance to feed them a carrot or two. She is also very well versed in the blood lines of horses and can recall all the successes of the horses' ancestors.
Her Majesty has also officially named and awarded qualification badges to police horses but even that soon became an informal event as she talked to and patted each horse that she met.
Of course Queen Elizabeth II also has a great reputation for knowing her country and her trips to the county have seen her visiting Wells Cathedral, the Helicopter Museum and many other areas.
It is the horses that captivate her the most though and she once said to one of her hosts, "They are all very beautiful and in superb condition - it must be the Somerset air."
Is that really the reason why so many members of the Royal Family love coming to this part of the world? Probably Her Majesty is right - "It must be the Somerset air."