Bridgwater is the main town of the Sedgemoor area of Somerset. It is a major business and shopping centre. The town centre makes for pleasant shopping with historic streets, covered shopping malls and plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs to keep you going. The highlight of the year comes in November for Bridgwater as the finale to the Somerset Illuminated Carnivals takes place around firework night. Don't miss a dazzling display of illuminated floats and music that stems from a celebration of Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot.
In and around Bridgwater you'll find plenty of historic interest. Town trails take you from medieval to Georgian history and architecture and there are a series of blue plagues across the town highlighting particular places of interest. Out to the south east of Bridgwater you'll find sites that played important roles in the Battle of Sedgemoor including the battle site itself at Westonzoyland. For more exploration of the countryside around Bridgwater pick up The River Parrett Trail that takes you through the heart of the Somerset Levels up to Bridgwater Bay.
Bridgwater is the main centre for the Sedgemoor area of Somerset. The town is in a fantastic location for exploring the Somerset Levels, the Mendip Hills, the Quantocks and the coast is which all lie within easy reach around and are easily accessible from Bridgwater.
Bridgwater is one of the main shopping centres in this part of Somerset. The Angel Place Shopping Centre is the main covered shopping mall with a range of high street names. Across the way is the Public Market with more specialised retailers. You'll also find high street shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants down the pedestrianised Fore Street and the roads leading off here. On the town's outskirts you'll also find Bridgwater Retail Park for bigger nationwide stores.
Bridgwater's Tourist Information Office is in the council offices on the Georgian King Square. It is open Mon-Fri: 8.45am-5pm.
Bridgwater is most commonly visited for its shopping, but it does some historic sights worth looking out for when you're walking around. Bridgwater is mentioned as early as the Domesday Book and has always been a place of settlement due to its higher land up from the floodplains of the Levels. It developed as a river port on the River Parrett. This is where much of the cloth produced across Somerset was shipped out. The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal linked the two towns as they both became commercial centres in the Industrial Revolution. The Bridgwater Docks followed linking to the canal and then the railway helped the town to prosper.
The area in and around Bridgwater are steeped in English Civil War history. Bridgwater was the scene of a major siege in 1645 when Parliamentary artillery all but destroyed Bridgwater's domestic and commercial buildings. Not far away to the south east of the town you have the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor at Westonzoyland. The battle, fought on 6 July 1685, was the last major battle to be fought on English soil. It was the final act in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth who attempted to overthrow the Catholic King of England, James II. The King's artillery proved too efficient for the rebels who were swiftly defeated. The ghost of Monmouth is said to appear on the battlefield either on the anniversary of the battle. You can follow an interactive trail around the battle site in the village of Westonzoyland. Other historic features are also highlighted in Bridgwater and the villages Othery, Middlezoy, Chedzoy. Pickup a leaflet at Tourist Information Centres.
A leaflet is also available from the Tourist Information Centre "Bridgwater Town Trails". These are a good way of getting your bearings around Bridgwater while finding out a bit more about its history. The Cornhill is the centre of historic Bridgwater where the medieval market was held. From this you'll find all sorts of historic buildings of different architectural styles such as the Georgian terraces on Castle Street - regarded as one of the finest Georgian terraces in the South West. Castle Street was used as a location in the 1963 film "Tom Jones".
Bridgwater Civic Society have put up a series of blue plagues around the town centre marking historic places. Check the link right for their locations.
Bridgwater hosts the biggest winter carnival in the world! It is the culmination of the Somerset Carnivals that originated from celebrating the success of Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot that was masterminded by local man Robert Parson. The Bridgwater Carnival usually takes place in the first week of November. It's well worth timing your visit to coincide with one of the carnivals that are held at a whole host of towns throughout the county. The Somerset Carnival tradition dates back to the 1600s when many places in Somerset commemorated the Gunpowder Plot. Street entertainment, fireworks and special events throughout the town add to the fun and carnival atmosphere.
Processions gradually make their way round a predetermined route from around 7pm at night. The floats are illuminated with coloured lighting which makes a welcome splash of colour in the dark autumn nights. A huge amount of effort is put into creating carnival entries. Some are created by Carnival Clubs; some by keen individuals or groups, all work throughout the year raising the money themselves to create spectacular themed floats which are judged prior to the procession begins. Prizes are hotly contested and ensure the standards are raised year-on-year. It is a fantastic, lively event with brilliantly decorated floats and costumes and lots of music and dance to get your feet tapping. The Bridgwater Carnival culminates in the Squibbing - a procession along the High Street where squibs (firework) are held high showering the participants and crowds below.
It's a fun night out for all the family and you can help raise funds for charities or the clubs for the next year's entry. Thousands attend carnivals, so watch out as parking can get very limited on carnival nights and town centres can often be cut off to traffic during the carnival.
Check the weblinks right for this year's carnivals and past carnival photographs. If you search YouTube for Bridgwater Carnival you'll some dazzling footage of past carnivals and the Squibbing.
The River Parrett Trail is a 50 mile, long distance hiking trail that extends from near Crewkerne to Combwich near Steart, just south of Burnham-on-Sea. You can complete the whole trail over 3 or 4 days or break it up as a series of shorter walks during your holiday in Somerset.
The trail follows the River Parrett from the Dorset Hills where it starts through the Somerset Levels countryside and characteristic Somerset market towns, ending at its mouth at Bridgwater Bay. The going is relatively easy as most of the walk is on flat ground. If you want more of a challenge along the way you can have a go at canoeing on the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal or hire a bike from the Langport Visitor Centre and explore further afield.
There is a good variety of attractions along the way. Historic towns such as Langport (the River Parrett Trail Visitor Centre is also here) and Muchleney and you can join the Battle of Sedgemoor Trail at Westonzoyland near Bridgwater to find out more about the last battle on English soil.
If wildlife's more your thing there is a good range of nature reserves to explore in the heart of the Somerset Levels where you can do a bit of birdwatching at West Sedgemoor RSPB reserve or slight further inland around Shapwick Heath. You can also find out more about the willow weaving that has been a traditional craft of the area for thousands of years at the Willows and Wetlands Centre at Meare Green Court, Stoke St Gregory, Taunton, Somerset TA3 6HY. Tel: 01823 490249. Fax: 01823 490814. Check The Parrett Trail website for more information. You can get a free leaflet from Tourist Offices or buy the Trail Guide to plan your trip.