Castle Cary, a pretty market town known to many thousands as the gateway to Glastonbury Festival is a place of hidden depths. On the surface, it seems a sweet, old fashioned kind of place without the swagger of nearby Bruton (largely thanks to killer restaurant At the Chapel) – scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find all sorts of surprises.
This is a town steeped in history. On Bailey Hill you’ll find the Roundhouse, a miniature prison or village lock up dating from 1779, just 7 feet wide with two grille windows, somewhere to stash robbers or unruly drunks.
Modern-day Castle Cary is all about the shopping, however. I'm not sure one town needs quite so many gift shops but it's a brilliant place to find presents. First stop has to be Light Green, an eco lifestyle store specialising in vintage clothes and jewellery, ethical fashion and organic skin care. It's full of gems (read our full review here), the perfect place to find lurid (yet organic) eyeshadow for teens, a reworked vintage bracelet for a friend, a gorgeous Neom candle or some serious age defying moisturiser for yourself.
Spectacular present hunting again at the Trowbridge Gallery (main picture and below) which stocks many covetable things from vibrant recycled glassware to framed posters of Hollywood greats, cool woolly hats, affordable art and vintage pieces upstairs. Stylish one-offs, nowhere better for a present, we'd say.
Next head for the Bailey Hill Bookshop which offers free coffee while you browse and sells traditional home-made cakes (a great looking coffee and walnut when we visited). It combines both new and second hand books, a brilliantly chosen selection of fiction, fine art, history and biography. The wonderful Persephone range of republished books are here and most contemporary classics from Haruki Murakami to blockbusters like David Nicholl's One Day. There's a good children's section and even a hidey hole under the stairs where small ones can play. A classic independent book shop.
A couple of doors down is Oates and Musson, a deli, health store and cafe rolled into one. Here you'll find the very best local produce - artisan Somerset cheeses and breads, fair trade teas and coffees, organic meat, chocolate, oils, cereals. The emphasis is on sustainable and fair trade. They also sell wow-factor cakes, soup and salads to eat in or takeaway. I tried the knock out cauliflower cheese soup with a cheese scone pictured below (so good I can't wait to go back).
New to town is Mother's Little Vintage Tearoom (off Fore Street), a cafe styled like a 1930s Lyons teahouse with vintage china, loose leaf tea, freshly ground coffee, old fashioned cakes and waitresses in trad uniforms. It's fabulously pretty in here and the attention to detail is phenomenal - old wirelesses and tea caddies, brown 1930s wallpaper, gilded cake stands, brittle-thin china. Think granny chic (or was that just the immaculately dressed octogenarians sipping tea when I dropped by?) Home-made soup, toasted sandwiches, those legendary cakes and a soothing wash of classical music - somewhere to retreat from the brutal 21st century world. Love it.
Tucked away off the high street in Pithers Yard, you’ll find the headquarters of posh stationers Papyrus, with a small shop downstairs selling their gorgeous products at a discount. It's not open all the time, you'll need to ring the bell and hope for the best. Head here for leather-bound visitors books and diaries, spoiling writing paper, thank you cards with pretty pictures (good stocking fillers to promote thank you letter writing?) – all at a fraction of their original price. It's a real find, this place.
If you're serious about pilates then The Scott Studio in Pithers Yard is a must. This is where some of the UK's best teachers come to train - the classes are exceptional, a combination of matwork and the latest pilates machines. 01963 350 001
Johnson & Johnson, Pithers Yard
This wonderful shop specialises in antiques, fabrics and interior decoration. It's a treasure trove on one side - old photographs, writing slopes, lamps and rugs - and classic fabrics on the other, everything from Baker and Gray to stunning horsehair textiles from local John Boyd.
Lush butchers (2, High Street)
A family butcher which specialises in local free range and organic meat, where quality is everything. Lamb comes from Glastonbury, beef from Bruton, pork from Wincanton - everything sourced within a few miles. You can buy delicious pasties and pies here - we love chicken and mushroom - home-made sausages, home-cured bacon, cheese and organic eggs.
Feeling thirsty? In the centre of town you’ll find The Old George Hotel, a 15th century inn which looks dark and atmospheric from the outside and you'll wonder, hmm, is this too dark and atmospheric, in a Straw Dogs meets Withnail & I kind of way? Fear not, inside it's a joy, the kind of pub to hole up in with an illicit afternoon pint - (top knotch guinness, real ale and cider). Delicious home-baked sausage rolls and chutney on the bar. Somewhere to recuperate from all that shopping.