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Pocket Guide: Taunton

The Somerset town of Taunton lies right in the middle of a region made famous by its apples and distinctive cider. The town in medieval times had a hugely prosperous wool industry, and was able to finance the construction of its St. Mary Magdalene Church, built between 1488 and 1514, with the proceeds. This is a truly massive structure and is famous for its spectacular main tower. Come and stay at one of the many Somerset hotels in the area and enjoy some of the rich history and heritage that Taunton is able to offer.

Kent Hotels and Hanging Judges

The county town and a key trading post for thousands of years, Taunton is on the map of Wessex attractions for a number of reasons. The church and its tower are one, and another is Taunton Castle. This grim structure was the setting of the so-called 'Bloody Assizes' of 1605, when the infamous 'Hanging' Judge Jeffreys doled out harsh punishment on the Duke of Monmouth and those who took part with him in an uprising against James II. The Somerset County Museum is now housed in the castle and covers all aspects of local history. The Roman mosaic from the nearby Low Ham villa, featuring the doomed love affair of Dido and Aeneas, is one of the prized exhibits - not to be missed if you're booked in to a local Somerset hotel or B&B.

Scrumpy Cider at Taunton

For cider lovers, Somerset is a place of pilgrimage. This is one of the few remaining English counties where real farmhouse cider is still being made using the old traditional methods. It's called 'scrumpy' cider, and it was once an important part of farm labourers' wages. Local folklore and tradition has it that foreign additives like iron nails were added in to provide strength, but even if this is untrue it's still powerful stuff! (Seriously - keep it in a cool place otherwise it has a tendency to keep on fermenting and, eventually, explodes!) When you're staying at a neighbouring Somerset hotel, make sure you visit Sheppy's Farm on the A38 close to Taunton to see the cider-making process from start to finish, and try a bit of the amber nectar whilst you're at it. Cider is after all the liquid soul of Somerset.