Why I love… Ham Hill, Somerset
By Rachel Hopping, Head of Marketing
I first visited Somerset at the start of the new millennium. My life was on the cusp of changing forever as my partner lived here and I was about to leave the Home Counties for a very different pace of life.
One of the first people I met as I walked around our village, getting my bearings, was an old timer who lived on a plot of land with an organic vegetable and flower garden (there were stories about how he grew asparagus, but they have not been corroborated!) He had a broad Somerset accent and knew before I opened my mouth that I was a grockle*. He fell in step beside me and proceeded to explain that I would not be considered a local until I had lived there for at least 20 years.
Over these two decades of raising a family in South Somerset, I have spent many an hour atop Ham Hill. Steeped in history, its origins can be traced back to its time as an Iron Age fort, constructed between 600BC and 100BC and later toppled by the Romans.
The sloping ramparts, deserted medieval village and the hilly areas, reminiscent of Teletubby Land, provide hours of fun for children and families looking to take in lots of fresh air and stunning views. Not to mention the welcoming and dog-friendly Prince of Wales pub after a hearty walk or the ice-cream van if you fancy a Mr Whippy ice cream on a warm day.
The mounds and dips at Ham Hill are remnants from Victorian quarrying and to this day Hamstone is quarried at the site. The cottages and houses in the villages at the foot of Ham Hill are mainly built from its pleasing honey-hued stone.
The views from the war memorial at the top are breath-taking. You can see the villages of Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Norton-sub-Hamdon and Chiselborough and beyond to the Blackdown Hills. You can even spy Glastonbury Tor on a clear day.
To live in one of these villages is a privilege and I am fortunate to be able walk areas near to Ham Hill most days with my canine friends, taking in the changing seasons as I go. There are endless trails, bridle paths and woods to explore, and as I’ve already hinted, you are never far from a wonderful, traditional English pub. Two of my favourites are the Cat Head Inn in Chiselborough with its lovely garden and cosy interior, and The Lord Nelson in Norton-sub-Hamdon – always fun to be had there!
It still feels a little like a well-kept secret around here. We do welcome tourists and those visiting family for events and weddings who can stay at the friendly B&Bs or the picturesque Little Norton Mill – which is literally at the foot of Ham Hill.
It is not far from a number of National Trust properties such as Montacute House (film location for Sense and Sensibility and Wolf Hall), Barrington Court and Lytes Cary to name a few. Close by in Stoke, there is the delightful Priory Coffee which serves the best bacon sarnies at the weekend. Also, the fabled home of Somerset Cider Brandy at Burrow Hill is like stepping back in time. You must meet its founder, Julian Temperley; he is a fantastic character with a great story to tell. While there, sample the delights of the Cider Bus which makes the trip to Glastonbury Festival every year.
Well, 23 years have since passed since meeting that friendly neighbour on my walk, so I can safely call myself a local and now have the dubious honour of referring to all incomers as grockles! I remember that older gentleman with fondness and feel fortunate to have met and become friends with many characterful folk of Ham Hill and its surrounding villages over the years.
* Grockle is a term widely used in the West Country where it refers to tourists or people recently relocated from elsewhere.