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  • Writer's pictureAlasdair Bruce

Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, or Alasdair's guide to the locality?

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Stourhead gardens glowing in the evening light.

Mere, Wiltshire, is not exactly a bustling metropolis. It would be wrong to say that the people of Bristol and London flock to Mere to escape the slowness of city life. For young adults, there is not really a nightlife to write about. Having said that, there is not really one for the elderly people either.

But, surprisingly, young adulthood and the late teen years, at least for me, are not only characterised by late nights in underground night clubs listening to repetitive music. Then again, I might be doing youth incorrectly, in which case ignore the following.

However, once this preconception of youth is shrugged, it becomes clear that there is actually an astounding number of activities that can replace head bobbing and fist pumping to club classics. These activities can generally be catered for in Mere and the surrounding area, but this does not always come without effort.

I moved to Mere four years ago and I, for the most part, thoroughly enjoy living in this relatively quiet corner of the English countryside. Like most other young people though, there are times where I need to migrate to busier climes to give my social skills a leg stretch and to evade nags hurled by my (wonderful) mother.

Other than these escapes, which are a necessary part of growing up, I am completely content in the area. Mere might not have it all, but one does not have to look far beyond what lies between the George Inn and the Walnut Tree to discover the possibilities.

Summer is when I spend most time at home, and each year there seems to be something new to keep boredom at bay. In 2015, my first summer in Mere was a lonely affair having just moved here and not knowing anyone my age (sympathy please). I frequented the charmingly laidback Two Counties Farm driving range and played golf at Bullpits Golf Club.

Fortunately, I have recently been rescued from wallowing in my own frustration at my subpar (in the bad sense) golfing abilities by the addition of friends to my home life (applause please). Instead of a silent drive home, perhaps with some ambient self-pity inducing music, I will meet friends at the White Lion in Bourton and soak up some sun in its sprawling beer garden.

On rainier days, refuge can be found in the welcoming Westway Cinema in Frome, where the latest films are screened for a reasonable price. If, however, one does not enjoy sitting in a dark room full of strangers competing to eat popcorn as loudly as possible, as some do, there are other even more peaceful pastimes.

For those looking to undertake a somewhat intellectual experience on cold days, or even warm days for that matter, there is no shortage of thought-provoking endeavours.

Hauser & Wirth, a world-class art gallery with galleries in Hong Kong, New York, Los Angeles, Zurich, and other locations, has somehow found itself in Bruton, Somerset. The free exhibitions can be brilliant; I enjoy the tranquillity of the art gallery, and the Roth Bar and Grill serves good coffee. And going to Hauser & Wirth makes me feel more sophisticated than I am, which is great. Messums near Tisbury is another excellent escape for art lovers.

Beyond art, there are other cultural hotspots in Wiltshire. Recently, Stonehenge was branded by Lonely Planet, the travel guide company, as the eighth most unmissable experience that the United Kingdom has to offer. I, however, think that I have seen the undeniably striking landmark enough times from the A303’s glacial traffic flow to feel the need to travel there. It is also slightly less impressive when you find out that having a pub lunch was sixth. But, Stonehenge has more to offer than just sights: each year over the summer solstice, an incredible celebration bringing together people of all ages and walks of life takes place at this prehistoric world heritage site. People gather for a night of festivities to cheer in the sunrise.

Some late-teens, early-twenties also surprisingly like to engage in what is widely known as exercise. Behind the veneer of sleepiness, Mere has a brilliant sports club, with soundly priced membership to the tennis courts and various clubs, including football, archery, bowls and cricket.

Every Saturday, a parkrun takes place at Henstridge Airfield. This initiative organises weekly 5km runs and is open to anyone. For example, the one time that I went I got overtaken by a father pushing his daughter in a pram. It is literally open to anyone.

Of course, this might be your idea of hell and you would much rather spend Saturday easing off a hangover from the night before. Mere itself has three pubs, all of which would I am sure could benefit from more young clientele.

Mere's more accessible version of Arthur's Seat.

The George Inn, the Walnut Tree Inn, and the Butt of Sherry are all in close proximity and within crawling distance from anyone who lives in Mere.

If the weekend has got you feeling a bit rough around the edges on Sunday night, there is no need to bother trying to cook through your fragility, because Mere has two takeaways that can satiate those greasy desires of the stomach. Golden Valley Chinese takeaway and Indigo Blue’s Bangladeshi cuisine both do great food for a night in.

If, like me, you feel like your best days are slipping away from you and you find yourself more interested in things that are typically uncool like hiking, you will be in luck with the locale’s surroundings. Mere itself has great walks along the downs, and up at the stunning Stourhead National Trust estate.

Bath, a 45-minute drive from Mere, has some great walks for the seasoned hiker, including the history-filled Bath Skyline circular trail. Heaven’s Gate, overlooking the Longleat estate, provides a great statue-lined view that can be followed by a safari, which, as far as I am aware, cannot be done many other places in the United Kingdom, given the shortage of African wildlife elsewhere.

Stourhead's architecture neatly nestled in the landscape.

The variety of the area, however, is not as simply discovered and experienced as it is in other places. However, the adventure is part of the enjoyment. There always seems to be something new to occupy my time in Mere; every summer seems to welcome new activities and opportunities. This is probably why, and a symptom of, more people moving to the area to escape property prices in and around London. There are many things to do in this place that we are fortunate to call home; looking, and asking a neighbour or a friend, is an exciting place to start.

First Published in the Warminster Journal: 30/08/2019


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