Tag Archives: buildings

A-Z of Somerset: Zeals

Okay, so another small liberty with this one. As discussed on previous posts there are no villages in Somerset beginning with the letters J or V. The county is also devoid of any locations starting with a Z, but, a few hundred yards over the border into Wiltshire is the village of Zeals.

Recorded as Sele in the Domesday Book, the name derives from the old English term for willow, and likely relates to the settlement being in the ancient Forest of Selwood.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the area become a centre for flax working, and the population increased significantly. With cheap imports flooding the market in the early 1800s, the cottage industries in the are ran out of work, and employment became limited to agriculture.

Nowadays, the village has a population of less than 700, and, while within spitting distance of the main A303, is sheltered enough to feel remote.

The bulk of the old village is focused on the central green, and the dwellings are mainly stone-built and slate roofed.

To the east of the green are the Zeals Almshouses. Built by local resident and Member of Parliament William Chafyn-Grove in the 1860s, these five one-bedroom cottages are there to cater for retired, single of married people from the village or surrounding area.

Overseeing the spiritual guidance of the community is the church of St Martin. Built in the 1840s, money for the organ, bells and spite was given by Julia Chafyn Grove (daughter of William).

Every village has a meeting point, and for Zeals it is this Bell & Crown pub. as historic as any of the other buildings in the village, its setting adds to the ambiance; nestled beside rolling Wiltshire fields, it would have been an ideal stopping off point for local farmers at the close of their working day.

It may not technically be in Somerset itself, but Zeals is as good an end point as any for the alphabetical meander around the county. With easy access to the towns of three counties – Meare (Wiltshire), Wincanton (Somerset) and Gillingham (Dorset) – it is an ideal place to stop awhile.

A-Z of Somerset: Exton

Okay, so it’s a slight cheat, but, as there are no villages in Somerset beginning with the letter X, one starting with an Ex serves as a good alternative.

Set on the side of a steep valley in the heart of Exmoor, the village of Exton includes the neighbouring hamlet of Bridgetown. Not surprisingly, the village gets its name from the river Exe, which runs through the National Park; Bridgetown has a bridge that goes over the river to the west.

Exton itself is tiny; it has a population of less than 300 people, and is, in effect, made up of two roads; the first runs north-south along the bottom of the valley, the second climbs east, up a steep hill into the countryside.

There is little new about the buildings in the Exton part of the village village; they are all original, stone built properties, and on the drive up the hill, Exton feels more like a hamlet than a village.

But a village it is; the Badger’s Holt inn and village hall are located along the valley bottom, while the upper part of Exton includes the village church.

The church itself is dedicated to St Peter and dates back to Norman times; while their was an extensive Victorian renovation, the majority of the church dates to between the 13th and 15th centuries.

What grabs you about the church, however, are the views across the Exe valley. The well-kept graveyard is hilly, and most of the village’s houses are only visible as rooftops, with the western side of the valley visible in the distance.

Above all, however, Exton is a country village. Its location has inhibited its growth, and this is in no way to its detriment. You either drive through it on your way from Dunster to Tiverton, or you attempt a sharp turn and steep hill to the main amenities.

Either way, it’s definitely worth a pause, and it’s well worth a stop off on your journey.

A-Z of Somerset: Walton-in-Gordano

W is for Walton-in-Gordano

There is no village beginning with the letter V in Somerset, so here is another one that starts with a W.

In the north west of the county, between Clevedon and Portishead, lies the charmingly named Walton-in-Gordano. Named after the river valley in which it sits – to nearby villages of the same name – Walton-in-Gordano is a small, picturesque place.

The village has a small population – less than 300 people – but there is a real sense of community about it. While I was there, a couple of the locals were keen to know what I was photographing and why, suggesting other spots I could photograph in the area.

There is a sense of history about the place too; the old village shop may be gone, but the house that replaced it sits proud in his heritage.

The heart of the village is the local church, St Peter & St Paul. Originally a grain store, it changed use when the parish church, in nearby Walton Clevedon, was razed to the ground by fire. It was rebuilt, but by that point, the new building in Walton-in-Gordano had established itself as the main place of worship.

A short walk from the village centre is Walton Castle. Originally built as a hunting lodge in the fifteenth century, it appears from the main road like a folly on the hill, and it now available to hire out for functions.

Quiet and unassuming, Walton-in-Gordano has the charm of a small village, and the feel of a community. It also has links to the music industry, as it was the birth place of Geoff Barrow, co-founder of the influential trip-hop band Portishead (who took their name from the nearby Somerset city).

Walton-in-Gordano is certainly a pleasant place to visit, and acts as a good starting point for coastal walks south to Clevedon or north to Portishead.