Essential Wessex: Berry Pomeroy Castle

With its beautiful woodland setting and Hammer Horror design, Berry Pomeroy Castle in South Devon is a popular destination for lovers of the gothic. But it has much to offer anyone interested in history and heritage. Originally thought to be of Norman origin, due to a mention of a manor on the same site in the Domesday Book, it was actually built during the Wars of the Roses by the Yorkist Pomeroy family and later extended by the Seymour family.

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, bought it from the then-impoverished Pomeroys in 1547, adding a mansion to the original fortress,It was further extended early in the 17th century, but fell into disrepair in the 18th, It became known as a romantic ruin, a magnet for landscape painters and authors of gothic novels such as The Castle of Berry Pomeroy by Edward Montague, an 1806 tale presumably modelled on Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764). Its popularity was boosted by a reputation for being the most haunted castle in England.

Today, Berry Pomeroy Castle is maintained by English Heritage. It is open at weekends from 10am to 4pm, and admission costs £7 for adults and £4.20 for children. Visitors can explore the kitchens, and climbing the staircase to the first floor of the medieval gatehouse reveals a large 15th century painting of the Adoration of the Magi on one of the walls.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is TQ9 6LJ. Sadly, the only bus route to serve the castle. the 149 from Totnes to Torquay, does not run at weekends.

Wessex Attractions: Blackfriars, Gloucester

Blackfriars is a former Dominican priory located on Southgate Street in Gloucester. It was founded in 1239, during the reign of Henry III, on the site of a former Norman castle; and was one of the first friaries to be established in England. Dominicans were colloquially known as "black friars" due to the colour of their habits, as distinct from the Franciscan "grey friars" and the Carmelite "white friars", both of whom also had friaries in Gloucester.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the priory was dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In the 19th century, the buildings were converted into housing, and a bottling plant. They remain one of the most complete examples of a medieval monastery surviving today, and came under the guardianship of English Heritage in 1960. They are now leased to Gloucester City Council for weddings, events and conferences. See their website for more details. The Gloucester History Festival, which takes place in September, is a popular event that celebrates the history and culture of the city. The festival includes lectures, tours, and reenactments, and attracts visitors from all over the world.

Gloucester City Council has invested in the renovation of the priory buildings, ensuring that they are maintained for future generations to enjoy, including the restoration of the Great Hall, which is one of the largest surviving medieval halls in the country.

The renovation of Blackfriars also includes the creation of new spaces for art exhibitions and community events. The new spaces will allow the priory to continue to be a vital part of the cultural and community life of Gloucester.

Blackfriars is located within half a mile of the main bus and rail stations in Gloucester, and the postcode for satnav purposes is GL1 2HS.

Wessex Attractions: Over Bridge

Before the opening of the first Severn Bridge in 1966, traffic wishing to cross the River Severn from Bristol and points south had two choices: the Aust Ferry, and Over Bridge in Gloucester. The latter was built in the late 1820s from a design by Thomas Telford (1757-1834), the Scottish civil engineer nicknamed "the colossus of roads", whose other achievements include the Menai Bridge. The design was based on Jean-Rodolphe Perronet's design for a bridge over the Seine at Neuilly.

Telford's 150-foot, single span stone bridge replaced an earlier bridge dating back to Tudor times, though there had been a bridge there for much longer, as one is recorded in the Domesday Book. It closed to traffic in 1974, when the present A40 bridge was opened, but remains as a pedestrian bridge.

The bridge is currently maintained by English Heritage, and is a scheduled monument. It is two miles from Gloucester railway station and is well-served by local buses. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is GL2 8BZ.

Wessex Attractions: Muchelney Abbey

Muchelney Abbey, two miles from Langport on the Somerset levels, was a Benedictine monastery founded by King Ine of Wessex around 700 and refounded by Athelstan in 939, making it the second-oldest religious foundation in Somerset. It was abolished by Henry VIII in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, with many of its buildings being demolished. Those that remain are now the property of English Heritage.

Visitors can explore the foundations of the abbey, some of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times. Surviving buildings include the abbot's house and cloister, and - holy shit! - a monastic latrine. The abbey has ample grounds where children can play and explore.

Admittance at the time of writing costs £7 (free to English Heritage members). The abbey is currently closed for winter, with no indication as to when it will reopen. When it does (probably around Easter), the satnav postcode is TA10 0DQ. Somerset County Transport bus 850 serves the site on Thursdays. Otherwise, the nearest bus stop is in Langport, a mile away, served by Buses of Somerset service 54, from Taunton to Yeovil.

Wessex Attractions: St Catherine’s Chapel

St Catherine's is a 14th century chapel in Abbotsbury, Dorset. It was popularly believed up until the late 19th century that invoking St Catherine in prayer would help young women to find a husband. The south doorway contains three "wishing holes". Local women in the area would place a knee in one and a hand in each of the other two, and offer up a prayer to the saint. One can only assume that Dorset's isolated nature kept it safe from Protestant strictures against "popish superstition" so long after the English reformation.

The chapel is now managed by English Heritage, though church services are still held there a few times a year. It is free to visit. The satnav postcode is DT3 4JH, and it is served by buses 253, X53 and (on Wednesdays) 61.