A great day out in Shepton Mallet
- Credit: sub
WORDS: Clare Bourke
PHOTOGRAPHY: Chris Gladstone
For hundreds of years Shepton Mallet has been famous for its industry, including wool and cider, and today these two industries still having a huge impact on this small thriving market town.
But there is much more than meets the eye and on a visit to the town it is easy to see why so many people flock here each year.
They come from far and wide to see some of its architecture. From its Market Cross that dates back to the 1500s to its 10th century Church of St Peter and St Paul, Shepton Mallet is home to 220 listed buildings.
Lorraine Pratten, manager at the Tourist Information and Heritage Centre, is one of the many enthusiastic people working hard to keep Shepton Mallet well and truly on the map.
“We are the gateway to the Mendips and our location is ideal, being 20 miles from both Bath and Bristol, and five miles from Wells,” explains Lorraine.
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“This is an historic market town and people like coming here. When I started here 16 years ago we were getting 4,000 or 5,000 enquiries a year. Now we get 52,000.”
The centre is open six days a week and the perfect place to gain guidance on where to visit or to buy one of the iconic stone sheep that can be seen on roundabouts in the town.
Staff at the centre also produce a 64-page accommodation guide and an annual calendar for the town, which both help them gain funding.
“We have antique shops, delis, craft shops,’ adds Lorraine. ‘We have lovely pubs, local cider producers and lots of talented people in the town. You can get virtually everything you need here. Everyone works hard and there is a great community spirit in the town.’
Always on show
The 240-acre Royal Bath & West of England Showground on the outskirts of Shepton Mallet is owned by The Bath & West of England Society which aims to encourage agriculture, the arts and commerce.
Shows and events take place throughout the year, the biggest of these being The Royal Bath and West Show at the end of May. Although primarily an agricultural event, the show, which celebrated its 150th birthday this year, is also a great day out for families and lovers of all things rural. Next year’s show runs from May 28 to 31.
Coming up in October…
2nd The Dairy Show. A one-day trade show with an exhibition of top class dairy cattle
5th Vintage Motor Cycle Club Autojumble
6th Giant Flea Market. Featuring more than 200 stands with a wide range of merchandise
One particular building of note in Shepton Mallet is Merchant’s House, built in around 1680 by wealthy landowner and wool merchant Edward Strode. The building, in Market Place, has recently been restored from a derelict shell and won the William Stansell award for building conservation from the Somerset Building Preservation Trust
‘Make mine a Babycham’
Perhaps one of the most unlikely icons in the town is the Babycham fawn outside what is now the Shepton Mallet Cider Factory in Kilver Street, where it is still produced today. Babycham, a sparkling perry, was a popular drink during the 1960s and 1970s. Launched in 1953, the brand is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and, thanks to its iconic television and poster advertising, the brand remains strong, even branching out into branded clothing and shoes. Originally Babycham was only available in its trademark ‘baby’ 20cl bottles but full size 750ml bottles have since been produced.
On the trains
Just a short journey out of Shepton Mallet takes you to East Cranmore for the delights of the East Somerset Railway. The perfect place to enjoy a slower pace of life, around five trains a day, pulled by lovingly restored steam engines, do the 35-minute round trip between Cranmore and Mendip Vale railway stations.
East Somerset Railway Chairman Dick Masters says the summer has been a busy one. ‘Our Day out with Thomas continues to be very popular with visitors and the number of people coming on our cream tea and Sunday lunch services has tripled.
‘We have a lot of volunteers in the workshop and on the trains running the engines and have about 80 volunteers in total. But we are always in need of more volunteers and it would be ideal for someone looking for something to do in their retirement. Most of us had never worked on the railways before we started here – all we need are people with enthusiasm.’
October is the time to start booking for the Santa Special Services in December, giving children the chance to meet Santa on the train and in his grotto.
Each year, 40,000 tonnes of apples enter through the doors at the Shepton Mallet Cider Factory to be turned into the much-loved West Country tipple.
The Kilver Street site has been at the heart of the town’s cider-making history for more than 200 years and the factory currently manufactures Blackthorn, Addlestones and Old English as well as some speciality ciders.
Bob Chaplin, Fruits and Orcharding Manager says, ‘We process 40,000 tonnes of apples a year, all of them local South West cider apples from 2,500 acres of trees across Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Herefordshire.
‘We are one of the biggest employers in the area with 170 people working here covering three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’
Not far down the road is the home of Brothers cider on the Anglo Trading Estate. The company produces bottled ciders in a variety of flavours including toffee and strawberry.
But as well as the larger producers, the villages surrounding Shepton Mallet are rife with smaller cider producers including Pennard Organic Wines in East Pennard.
Shopping and relaxing
The town centre is home to a number of small independent traders including antique shops, delicatessens, wool shops, craft shops and interiors shops, including those at the Haskins Furniture complex where you can also grab a bite to eat at Goodfellows.
Just outside the centre is the Townsend Shopping Park with chains including Boots, New Look and Laura Ashley, while a short distance away in Kilver Street is the Kilver Court Designer Village, ideal for picking up a bargain.
Designer outlets include LK Bennett and Jack Wills as well as the Mulberry factory shop, but shopping isn’t the only thing on offer at Kilver Court which features beautiful gardens where you can shop for plants and gifts, pick up something delicious in the farm shop or enjoy lunch or a cup of tea in the Harlequin café.
Did you know…?
Until March this year, Shepton Mallet was home to the country’s oldest working prison. Built in 1610, the prison boasts the Kray twins among its most famous inmates.
For the talented artistic residents of Shepton Mallet, the One Craft Gallery in the High Street offers them a chance to display their work. The shop is an artists’ cooperative showcasing the work of its 14 members and offering visitors the chance to select from a wide range of highly original hand-crafted creative and decorative pieces.
Current chairperson Rowena Kinsman says, ‘Each of the artists works two days a month in the shop so we are all responsible for selling each other’s work. We take a commission but it isn’t as high as most galleries.
‘I sometimes think we operate as a social work department with people coming in to chat to us. Shepton Mallet is just great and the people here are so loyal, friendly and helpful.’
The gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm.
For traditional entertainment like feeding ducks or enjoying a family picnic, Collett Park is ideal. Full of wide open spaces as well as play equipment for younger members and an aviary.