A Taste of Place: Away, but not away: Wells market, Somerset
06 October 2020
Guild member Rosemary Barron discovers some wonderful shopping in the time of Covid19
Until recently, I've tried to agree with optimists as they expound on this new 'covid life' being an opportunity for us, not (just) a messed-up year. For one of our collective joys is enjoying the food and drinks, and the people who produce them, wherever we travel in the world. Some of us have even had the past good fortune of combining this with work, so have suffered a double whammy. But, yes, there are silver linings to those large, grey clouds.
One is Wells, England's smallest city, and less than three hour's drive south west from London. Its outdoor market is in a setting as beautiful as any, anywhere. Spread over a medieval, cobbled square outside the handsome, gothic-style cathedral, it takes place every Wednesday and Saturday, 9am-2pm*. While there are fewer stalls at the moment than the usual four dozen, you will still find plenty of Somerset's fine products: salamis and hams made with local outdoor-reared pork and fennel, wine or cheeses (somersetcharcuterie.com), Bath Soft Cheese Co.'s award-winning Wyfe of Bath and Bath Blue (parkfarm.co.uk), fine seasonal fruits and vegetables from nearby farms and market gardens, local jams and honeys and, of course, Somerset ciders. Then there are the olives named for Shakespearean characters, sold by an actor, sparklingly fresh fish and seafoods (hartsnaturalseafoods.com), crusty loaves, delicious ewe's milk yogurt from Wootton Organic Dairy (woottonorganicdairy.com), a glorious array of cut flowers and flourishing potted herbs.
There are a few stalls too of second-hand books, sheepskin rugs, vintage clothes and china, earrings and even shoelaces. Much of what you need in fact for an overnight stay, which would give you an opportunity to indulge in another fine 'covid' pastime in these parts – walking, with lunch in, though now outside, a classic – often funky, and invariably local (ales, ciders, and meats and cheeses in their gastronomic offerings) – country pub. Bring your walking boots and go a few miles west of Wells to butterfly-rich Ebbor gorge, before a lunch of good local ales and Mendip-beef hamburgers in Priddy's Queen Victoria pub (thequeenvicpriddy.co.uk); eight miles further west, hill-top walks take you above dramatic Cheddar gorge, with wonderful views across the Somerset Levels and Bristol Channel. Stock up with local meats (including venison and game, when available), cheeses and home-made pies in the village's family-owned butcher-deli, Cobbs of Cheddar, before travelling another two miles west to Axbridge, village-size, but once the county town of Somerset and site of many a civil war drama. Enjoy a true Somerset tea in the The Almshouse (thealmshouseteashop.co.uk) or (another) lunch in the garden of The Lamb, opposite (butcombe.com/the-lamb), both buildings part of a fine medieval square. Or go a few miles south from Wells, to Glastonbury. Need I say more?
* Thanks to covid, do check openings before you travel: mendip.gov.uk/wellsmarket
On Wednesdays, there's a farmer's market, too: somersetfarmersmarkets.co.uk/markets/wells/
And Guild of Food Writers' member Mary Cadogan has good local information on her website cross-croscombe.co.uk
Rosemary Barron is author of Flavours of Greece (Grub Street), and a contributor to Gourmet Traveller, Food & Travel magazine.