Simple, quiet joys in England’s Castle Cary

Photo of William Yeoman

WILL YEOMAN ventures into ‘charming’ territory during a visit to an old market town

Glastonbury or Castle Cary? Together with an old friend from Birmingham, my wife and I settle on the latter before scraping ice from the car windows and heading south from our digs in Wells for the old Somerset market town.

On a crisp, clear Sunday afternoon in late December, the roughly 20km drive takes 30 minutes. Along the way, we pass through the quaint towns of Dulcete Dinder, Shepton Mallet, Cannard’s Grave and Ansford. Castle Cary, we discover when we arrive, is equally quaint. The other overused epithet that comes to mind is “charming”.

However, there’s no actual castle. Founded in the 11th century, the town survives but the fortifications are little more than earthworks on Lodge Hill, below which the town centre lies. We park the car near the prominent Market House, which we later discover was build relatively recently, in 1855, and renovated in 2014. It’s an impressive building.

As is the much smaller Round House, a late 18th-century structure originally used as a temporary lock-up for a variety of “miscreants”.

When we return to Wells, I look it up on the internet and find this wonderful quote from the time: “If any children above the age of seven years are found in the streets . . . breaking the Sabbath, they shall be taken up and locked in the Round House during school hours.”

Apparently, it is now a very popular wedding venue. Also impressive, not least for its food and drinks menu, is the George Hotel, a thatched-roof inn just across the road from the Market House and dating from the 15th century. Eyed suspiciously by the pub’s locals, we enter and enjoy an excellent afternoon tea of coffee and cake at a fireside table.

Our appetites sated, we continue our exploration of the main street. Though the restaurants and tearooms are open, most of the shops are closed — which in fact, although I’d love to have browsed the antique and bookshops, detracts little from our enjoyment.

Before saying farewell to Castle Cary, we climb a hill to examine a superb example of the English Perpendicular Gothic style, the Church of All Saints. Like the George Hotel, it dates from the 15th century; unlike the hotel, it sports a tall, elegant spire, which we spotted long before reaching the town.

Not so obvious was the pretty graveyard, which we linger in until it grows too dark to read the inscriptions on the headstones.


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