As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Mendip Hills, Jackie King picks out a selection of restaurants, cafés and markets to find the best local food and drink in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset, southwest England.
It may be a relatively small AONB, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a region with a stronger food heritage than Somerset. Farming still plays a dominant role in the region's ecomony, and the AONB is scattered with cattle and dairy farms, organic veg growers, and breweries.
Some of the biggest names in the business come from the Mendips - think Cheddar cheese, Thatchers cider, Butcombe ale, Yeo Valley yoghurt, to name but a few. We think that the food you eat on holiday is as important as where you pick to stay - you'll be surrounded by good, local food at all of these places. Whether it's eggs from the owners' hens for breakfast at a B&B, delicious aged Chew Valley steak at a pub with rooms, or a summer camping barbecue with ingredients sourced from the local farm shop, you can be sure you'll be supporting the local economy by putting money back into the pockets of growers, farmers and producers across the region.
Yeo Valley Farm
It all began in the 1960s, with the newly-acquired Holt Farm, 30 cows, a few sheep and some arable crops. Fifty years on and Yeo Valley has become one of the nation’s favourite dairy producers. Although Yeo Valley is renowned for its delicious yogurt, produced from its 400-strong herd of British Friesian cows, Yeo Valley focuses heavily on education: Wills Barn, recently-converted, is now a classroom to teach schoolchildren about sustainability and where their food comes from; there are Sarah Mead’s organic gardens – 18 years in the making and now open to the public – and tours and events held throughout the year (ploughing competitions, seed swapping events and summer festivals), as well as courses to sign up to, such as the farm adventure tour, where you can learn about organic and dairy farming. An inspiring place - visit their fun and funky website to find out what it’s all about. yeovalley.co.uk
Ever since it graced the freezers of shops and eateries across the region, Mendip Moments ice cream has been winning awards left, right and centre. Made using water from the their own Mendip spring, and milk from their pedigree herd of Holstein cows (who graze happily on pastures overlooking the Somerset levels), this ice cream is pure goodness with no added nasties. Exciting flavours include mascarpone, fig & honey, and strawberry & balsamic. Visit their website for recipes. mendipmoments.co.uk
A stone’s throw from Cheddar Gorge is the microbrewery, Cheddar Ales. Head brewer, Jem Ham, uses natural ingredients, all of which are sourced from English suppliers, and time-honoured methods to produce a fine selection of Cheddar Ales, such as Totty Pot and George Best. You can book onto a tour or stock up on ales from their shop on site.
Cheddar, or Brilliant Water in Anglo-Saxon, is of course the source of an abundance of fresh, pure and mineral-rich water. Cheddar Water draws water from organic land which has the Soil Association’s stamp of approval within an intricate network of caves deep within the limestone hills. cheddarwater.com
If you’re a beer lover, no trip to the Mendips wouldn’t be complete without a stop off at the brewery of the West Country’s most popular bitter. The new Butcombe Brewery, which produces some 50,000 barrels of the stuff annually, is located in the village of Wrington, on the edge of the Mendips. You can book onto a tour of the brewery (advanced bookings only) or visit the shop to stock up on aler, cider, and even clothing and other merchandise. butcombe.com
The Thatcher family has been producing cider on their farm in Sandford for over 100 years. Their apple orchards may have expanded to some 380 acres, but they still use the same oak vats, recipes and ingredients that William Thatcher, the company’s founder, created in 1904. Deeply committed to protecting the business and farmland for future generations, the family has planted 200 acres of orchards in recent years, as well as 2,000 native British trees (ash, beech, oak). Stop off at their cider shop to stock up; the Strawberry Line footpath cuts straight through the orchards. thatcherscider.co.uk
The Almshouse Teashop
This old building ended its days as an Almshouse in the 19th-century, after which is lay empty for years. To the rescue came John and Nicky, who bought and restored the building several years ago and have turned it into a beautifully atmospheric place for a stop off. Delicious homemade clotted cream teas, light snacks and tasty cakes are served by friendly staff under the stunning medieval oak roof, and there’s also a lovely gift area where you can pick up locally-crafted gifts. thealmshouseteashop.co.uk
East Harptree Village Shop
This community-owned shop, in the pretty Mendip village of East Harptree, sells over a thousand products – just about everything from bread and fruit to Ecover refills – thereby reducing the village’s dependence on supermarket and supporting the local community and economy at the same time. Anyone in the community can become a stakeholder, with all profits being ploughed back into the village community. As much local produce is sold as possible, with information given on the provenance and sourcing of produce. Their website has a comprehensive Q&A section on the scheme. eastharptree.org
Lye Cross Farm
The Alvis family has been farming the land for 400 years and, for the last 50 years, has been producing tasty farmhouse cheddar from their 1000-strong herd of cows. As well as dairy production, they also rear their own beef and pork. You can stock up on Lye Cross Farm produce at their lively farm shop onsite, which has a great deli and bakery, and sells fresh milk, preserves and chutneys. lyecrossfarm.co.uk
Priddy Good Farm Shop
Dubbed the ‘Harrods Food Hall of the Mendips’ by one enthusiastic customer, this family-run farm shop on the owners’ farm in Priddy, in the heart of the Mendips, sells homebred beef and lamb, homemade sausages, burgers, pies and cakes and locally sourced free-range pork and chicken. They also do catering services, hog roasts, and BBQs. A priddy good farm shop indeed. facebook.com/PriddyGood
Salt and Malt tea room and fish café
Sail a boat, take your rod down to the water’s edge for a spot of fishing, or soak up the watery views from the lakeside paths: however you chose to spend your time at Chew Valley Lake, head to the lake’s tearoom and fish cafe set on the stunning waterside. Offering perfect fish suppers to eat in or take away. Tea, coffees and cakes are served all day and traditional lunchtime bites, such as fish and chips and British bangers are prepared daily on site. Views look out across the lake. saltmalt.com
The Lamb, Axbridge
Occupying an old 15th-century coaching inn in the pretty medieval square of Axbridge is the Lamb Inn, the focal of the village and popular with visitors and locals alike. Inside, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, with wonky beams and old slate floors. The menu features a delicious range of dishes, such as their famous beef and Butcombe pie, or homemade delights such as lasagne or scampi. The Lamb Inn is slap-bang on the Mendip Trail, a walking or cycling circular route connecting six Butcombe pubs in the area.
The Queens Arms, Bleadon
In its former life, this Butcombe pub, on the western edge of the Mendip Hills AONB, was a cottage. Now, it is a lovely village pub with a cosy, lively atmosphere: warm terracotta walls, old pews and settles, and award-winning chefs who whip up great locally-sourced food – try the ham hock terrine with Rose Farm piccalilli or the Butcombe beer battered fish and chips served with home-made tartare sauce. They grow their own herbs and bake their own bread, too. The pub is dog-friendly so it makes a perfect pit-stop for walkers on the Mendip Trail. butcombe.com/pubs/queens-arms
The Swan, Rowberrow
This pub in Rowberrow, an ex-mining village, started out life as an old cider house. Thatchers is still served here, but it’s the food which attracts the punters these days (though cider does features heavily in the menu!): opt for the slow-cooked spiced pork belly with Ashton Press cider apple sauce, Welsh rarebit with Ashton Cider chutney, or roasted butternut squash and rosemary risotto. Walkers, horse-riders, cyclists and runners are all made very welcome.
The Queen Victoria, Priddy
This is one of those pubs that you long for after a day’s rambling around the Mendip Hills: roaring log fires, low beamed ceilings and flagstone floors, great real ales and a fantastic menu, which includes locally-sourced dishes such as Somerset brie and beetroot tart, and Priddy Farm ham, egg and chips. Dogs are welcome and there’s a great kids playground which will keep the little ones entertained for hours.
The Ring O’ Bells, Compton Martin
This is Butcombe Brewery’s oldest owned pub and is perfect for walkers, fisherman, and families. You’ll find lots of delicious dishes on the menu, such as a trio of pork and Butcombe sausages with creamy mash, and local smoked trout salad with apple, capers and new potatoes. They have recently opened two rooms upstairs as B&B – a perfect country retreat in the heart of the Mendips. butcombe.com/pubs/ring-o-bells
For more information on characterful places to stay, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Mendip Hills.