21 May 2012
Over the next 67 days we will be devoting our blog to uncovering the Torch Relay Route. We’ll be in front, behind, neck and neck and at times running along either side of the torch as it makes it ways across the country, celebrating the sights, sounds and smells that the UK has to offer. We will blog every 3-4 days during the Torch Relay, highlighting places of interest in the area through which the Torch is about to pass or get close to and flagging up interesting stories and local sites for you to discover.
On Day 3 of the Torch Relay route, we continue our journey through the South West. The torch begins its route in Exeter, a city established on the eastern bank of the River Exe and surrounded by sweeping countryside. Of the many religious buildings Exeter is known for, the remains of St Nicholas’ Priory provide an interesting counterpoint to the arresting eleventh century cathedral based at the heart of the city. The Benedictine priory was transformed into an impressive town house by the wealthy Hurst family in the 1600’s following the dissolution of the monasteries. Today, this Tudor mansion contains beautiful Elizabethan artefacts and replica furniture that give a unique impression of life during this time.
As the torch continues its journey through the South West countryside, it will pass by the town of Barnstaple. Just off the beaten track is Lydford Gorge. Described as a natural beauty, and home to many local myths and legends, the Gorge follows the River Lyd towards the 30 meter high Whitelady Waterfall. Walking through this lush woodland, visitors to the area will encounter an abundance of wildlife, plants and fungi. Not far from the Gorge lies Broomhill Sculpture Park. Situated in a North Devon valley, and surrounded by hundreds of acres of woodland, the park features a large permanent display of over 300 pieces of contemporary art and sculpture. The sloping gardens and tranquil atmosphere of the area provides an ideal balance between art and nature.
Towards the end of Day 3, the torch will pass by the iconic site of Dunster Castle. This impressive structure, perched dramatically on a wooded hill, provides breathtaking views of the Bristol Channel, the Quantock Hills and moors of Exmoor. To the east of Dunster sits one of Somerset’s lesser-known heritage sites: Cleeve Abbey. Founded towards the end of the twelfth century, the abbey suffered severe damage during the 1536 dissolution though remarkably features such as the cloisters, gatehouse and refectory survived. Today, the Cistercian abbey of Cleeve provides visitors with a rare glimpse into Monastic life as it was 800 years ago.
On Day 4 of the Torch Relay route, the Olympic Flame will depart from the historic city of Taunton. To navigate through this town’s labyrinth of heritage assets, the Council have devised a short walking trail which emphasizes the town’s best historic sites. The Taunton Heritage Trail is a self-guided route that highlights the ancient buildings, parks and churches within the town centre. Not far from the centre of Taunton, is another 2012 ‘highlight moment.’ The electric power community boat, called Future Perfect, runs on a sustainably powered electric engine and makes regular trips along the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. From the water, it is possible to view the traditional Somerset countryside and wildlife that stretches along the waterside.
Passing by the magnificent Wells Cathedral and sprinting north east towards Bath, home to Olympic Gold medallist Amy Williams, the torch route heads through picturesque valleys that lie on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset. On one such valley next to the River Frome sits the remains of Farleigh Hungerford. This fortified mansion, built in the fourteenth century by Thomas Hungerford (the Steward of John of Gaunt), was occupied by the Hungerford family for over 300 years before it fell into disrepair and ruin. Much of the original building is still visible today, specifically the gatehouse, chapel and tower. Of the property’s more gruesome features, the crypt lays claim to Britain’s best collection of human-shaped lead coffins. Picking up the torch route on its final leg through the South West, the Olympic flame will rest at the industrial city of Bristol before heading towards the counties of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
Day 5 of the torch relay route begins in Bristol, a city synonymous with Brunel and the Industrial Revolution. From the Torch Relay route, it may be possible to see one of Brunel’s most iconic works, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Spanning across the Avon Gorge, this Grade I listed structure was built in 1754 by the 24 year old engineer. Its dominating presence in the city continues to attract visitors today. A short distance from the Clifton Suspension Bridge is another significant historic monument. In the parkland of Brandon Hill, situated on steep sloping ground, is a 32-metre high tower. Cabot Tower, built in 1897, was designed to commemorate John Cabot’s famous voyage from Bristol to North America 400 years earlier. Recently reopened to the public, visitors can now climb the tower and enjoy panoramic views of Bristol and its harbour.
Towards the end of Day 5, the torch will go though the historic market towns of Marlborough and Royal Wooton Basset. The Torch will conclude its journey at the regency town of Cheltenham, made famous for its historic spa and horse-racing events. Just a little way out from the town centre is the little village of Chedworth. This attractive Cotswolds village is sited close to the Roman Fosse Way (a road linking Exeter to Lincoln) and features the remains of an opulent Roman villa. The villa itself features a beautiful array of mosaics along with a range of artefacts found on site.
We hope you enjoy exploring the delights of the South West – we’ll be back on Thursday with more top tips for places to visit along the Torch Relay route in the West Midlands and Wales.
Post by Katy, Discovering Places team.
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