County of southwest England.
Area 3,460 sq km/1,336 sq mi
TownsTaunton (administrative headquarters); Bridgwater, Frome, Glastonbury, Wells, Yeovil; Burnham-on-Sea, Minehead (coastal resorts)
Physical rivers Avon, Axe, Brue, Exe, Parret (the
principal river), and Yeo; marshy coastline on the Bristol Channel; Mendip Hills; Quantock Hills; Exmoor; Blackdown Hills
Features Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole, a series of limestone caves where Stone Age flint implements and bones of extinct animals have been found; Glastonbury Tor, with annual music festival in June
Agriculture apples; dairy farming; cereals (wheat, barley, oats), vegetables (turnips, mangolds (a root vegetable used as animal feed)); cider; cattle- and sheep-rearing; willows (withies) for wickerwork
Industries agricultural implements; chemicals; dairy products (including Cheddar cheese); engineering; food processing; helicopters; leather; stone quarrying (slate, sandstone, and limestone); textiles; tourism
Population (2001) 498,100
Famous people Roger Bacon (philosopher), Ernest Bevin (member of Parliament), Arthur C Clarke (writer), Henry Fielding (writer), John Locke (philosopher), John Pym (parliamentary activist)
Topography Somerset is bounded on the southwest by Devon; on the southeast by Dorset; on the east by Wiltshire; on the northeast by Bath and North East Somerset, and North Somerset; and on the northwest by the Bristol Channel. There are low cliffs along the northern coast, which has long sandy beaches and mud tracts at low tide, particularly in the northwest. Bridgwater Bay is the chief inlet; the only important harbour is at the mouth of the River Parret.
The Quantock Hills, the highest point of which is Willsneck (387 m/1,270 ft), extend from Taunton northwest towards the sea. In the south of the county is the second-largest area of fen country in England, the Somerset Levels, which includes the area known as Sedgemoor; peat was formerly cut here.
The wild forest of Exmoor lies partly in the extreme west of the county and partly in Devon. Dunkery Beacon (518 m/1,700 ft), the highest point in the county, is on the edge of Exmoor.
Fauna There is a breed of hardy ponies peculiar to the Exmoor district; red deer are also found there. There is good river fishing, including salmon fishing, particularly in the west of the county.
History There are many notable Roman remains in Somerset, including a large mosaic pavement near Langport, and many later Saxon stone carvings in the church at Milborne Port. Somerset was originally part of the kingdom of Wessex, and figured largely in King Alfred's struggle against the Danes. Somerset contains several abbeys and castles, notably at Glastonbury (7th century) and Dunster (13th century, modernized 17th century), and a 12th-century cathedral at Wells. A battle was fought at Allermoor in 1645 during the Civil War. At the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, James II defeated the Duke of Monmouth, a claimant to the English crown who had been proclaimed king at Taunton that year.
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