Wiveliscombe, or ‘Wivey’ as the locals call it, is a peaceful market town just a few miles from Exmoor National Park; it’s the sort of place where you might stop off when you’ve spent the day exploring the heather clad heaths, or when you’re staying at Hurstone, to pop in for provisions and a bite to eat.
Wivey might be a quiet place but that’s not to say nothing goes on here, far from it. The town has a very friendly and thriving community, and it’s well worth parking up and having a browse around because then you can amble about and take it all in. Most of the shops still have their historic frontages and are a charming mix of traditional and quirky; for the better part, they are independently owned, mostly family run. There’s an award-winning butchers, a deli/wholefood shop (Wivey Larder) that’s stocked to the rafters with all manner of local delights, an antique shop, a rather kooky interiors shop, a long established hardware shop (Wivey Hardware), and looking from the outside like it’s unchanged from decades ago, a laundrette – the Wivey Washer. The thing is, it’s all so agreeable, that slower pace, it’s like you’ve side stepped back to more peaceful times; there is no push and shove in Wivey and the backdrop of the green hills of Somerset make it that much more appreciable.
The streets branch off from the town square, the kind of place where people sit and chat in the day time, or sit and watch the world go by; in the evening it’s where the youngsters might hang out, like they do in these small West Country towns. Go for a wander and look about you and you’ll notice some wonderful architectural surprises, chief among them The Courthouse, now an interiors shop; unimposing red brick, charmingly skew whiff, with grotesque corbels and intricately carved wooden panels. Elegant Georgian town houses stand with centuries old cottages, like the ones that line both sides of Golden Hill, and well worth poking your head in is St Andrews church, built of the red sandstone that was once the dominant building material in these parts. Inside is light and airy with richly painted ceilings; the catacombs beneath the church were used to house national treasures during the Second World War.
Even more fascinating is Wiveliscombe’s historic associations with the Bishop of Bath and Wells - at one time there was a significant Bishop’s Palace here, evidenced by excavations and the arch of the gateway that can be seen near the church. Since then the town played its part in the cloth trade that grew up all over the country, and later, in the brewing industry when Wivey was famous for Hancocks Brewery, a very well known name in the 19th century. These days if you want a seriously good pint The Bear Inn is the place to go; they have their own micro brewery at the back of the pub where the beer is made by the landlord. Inside they serve hearty homemade food in a very welcoming and upbeat atmosphere, which is just what you want if you’ve been up at the open air Wivey lido sunning yourself on the deck or swimming with the kids.
All information correct at the time of writing