IV. PHYSICAL FEATURES AND GEOLOGY
There is a prevalent belief that the picturesque part of the West of England begins with Devon and ends with Cornwall, to which Somerset is merely a stepping-stone. This opinion is no doubt fostered by the impression which the tourist derives of the county through the carriage windows of the “Cornishman.” But the considerations that appeal to the railway engineer are mechanical rather than aesthetic; and, unfortunately for the reputation of Somerset for scenery, the line of least resistance is the line of least interest—the dead level skirting the coast between Bristol and Taunton. As a matter of fact, there are few districts which afford such a variety of physical features as Somerset. Hill and valley, cliff and chasm, moor and seaboard, are all to be found there; and, in addition to its wealth of scenery, Somerset is rich in antiquities of different kinds; whilst it has also been the theatre of some of the most stirring events in English history.
The physical skeleton of the county may be roughly described as consisting of three parallel ranges of hills running transversely across it—the Mendips and their outliers in the N.E., the insignificant Poldens in the centre, and the Quantocks and Exmoor in the W., with the Blackdowns occupying the S.W. corner. The intervening basins are filled with a rich alluvial deposit washed down from the hills or left by the receding sea. The Mendips spread themselves across the E. end of the county in a N.W. direction from Frome to Weston-super-Mare, where they lose themselves in the Channel, to re-appear as the islets of the Steep and Flat Holms. On their S.W. side they descend into the plain with considerable abruptness; and when viewed from the lower parts of the county, present a hard sky-line, like some enormous earthwork. On the opposite side their aspect in general is far less impressive, and towards Bath they lose themselves in a confusion of elevations and declivities. The main ridge is an extended tableland, some 25 m. long, and in places 3 m. broad. It rises to its greatest heights at Blackdown (1067 ft.) and Masbury (958). Geologically, it consists of mountain limestone superimposed on old red sandstone, which here and there comes to the surface. Near Downhead there is an isolated outburst of igneous rock. The Mendips are honeycombed with caverns, the most