Castle Cary is a handsome conservation market town, with winding streets of honey-coloured sandstone and good Somerset cheeses. Many fine 18/19th century houses and a pretty horse pond are grouped together at the heart of this pleasant little settlement.
Castle Cary Market House © Travel About Britain
At its centre stands a handsome colonnaded Market House (circa 1855) which houses the Council Offices and the Castle Cary & District Museum. The undercroft, with its arcade of pillared arches, was originally used as a farmer's market. A weekly street market is still held on the cobblestones outside. Opposite the entrance stands the thatched 17th-c George Hotel, one of the oldest buildings in Cary.
The Castle Cary & District Museum displays a collection of agricultural, industrial and domestic artefacts, dating from the medieval period to present day. Open to the public from Monday to Saturday (from 10:30am). Free entry.
The High Street is lined with small independent shops, cafés, delicatessens and restaurants.
Castle Cary Round House (Lockup) © Travel About Britain
A rare 'pepper-box' style lock-up (1779), situated behind the market hall, was once used for the detention of the town's petty criminals. The domed roof is said to have inspired the design of the policeman's helmet.
A low grassy earthwork is all that remains of Cary's namesake castle, which fell into disrepair and was used as a local quary in the 16/17th-c. Stone from the castle was used in the construction of several of the town's old buildings, including the George Hotel. Walter Douai, a Norman Knight who participated in the invasion of 1066, originally constructed the fortification to guard the river. King Stephen famously attacked Castle Cary in 1138, and although it withstood the main attack it was eventually besieged into surrender.
The source of the River Cary rises from Lodge Hill - a scenic spot to the south of the town with an observation point at the summit. The river flows down into a small pond at the edge town, originally used for the watering and welfare of horses. From here it runs on through an area where flax mills were once prevalent. One such old mill still operates here, weaving horsehair textiles used for furniture upholstery. Horsehair from Cary was once prized by furniture designers such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite in the 18th-c.
Just up the hill from the horse pond can be seen the pinnacle of All Saints Church, a rare sight in this part of Somerset. The curate James Woodforde (1740-1803), born in the nearby parish of Ansford, is noted for his written accounts of local parish life, including the world famous "The Diary of a Country Parson". A display about his life and writings can be found in the town museum.
There are several good walks around the town, some taking in places of interest and others offering spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and across towards Glastonbury and the Somerset Levels. For a list of walks visit the local information desk in the Market House. Castle Cary is also featured on National Cycle Route 26 - an 85-mile trail from Portishead to the Isle of Portland via Wells, Castle Cary, Yeovil and Dorchester.