Living in Bristol, I’m lucky enough to be within easy reach of Somerset, one of my favourite English counties. There’s so much to love about it: the vast horizons and bird-filled wetlands of the Levels, the pretty harbour towns and grand old piers of the coast, the rolling hills of the Quantocks and the Mendips… But no matter how many times I visit, there always seems to be somewhere new to explore.
My latest discovery is Kilver Court, a designer outlet village on the edge of Shepton Mallet, which I visited on my way down to At the Chapel a couple of weeks ago. I’d actually driven past it several times over the years, but I’d never stopped to have a proper look – I’d just assumed that it would be like any other outlet village: packed, chaotic and full of flashy brands that just don’t appeal to me. How wrong I was! It turns out Kilver Court is an outlet village with a difference – several of them, in fact.
Firstly, it has a fascinating history. Built as a lace mill, it was purchased in 1907 by progressive industrialist Ernest Jardine, who turned it into a ‘model factory’ with cottages, a pub, a school, allotments and even gardens (complete with a boating lake!) where his workers could relax. From the 1950s onwards it was used as a brewery by the Showering family (inventors of Babycham), before being acquired by Mulberry founder Roger Saul in 1996 to be the brand’s headquarters. When the Mulberry offices moved to London, Roger decided to open the gardens to the public, and the outlet village followed in 2011.
Secondly, there’s so much more to Kilver Court than shopping. I started my visit in the panelled, firelit Harlequin café, where I tucked into gooey chocolate brownies made with organic spelt flower produced at Roger’s nearby farm, Sharpham Park. I then spent a wonderful hour wandering around the gardens, which encompass rockeries, a mill pond, a fragrant parterre garden and a 100m-long herbaceous border bursting with beautiful foliage in a rainbow of colours. They’re bisected by a 19th-century viaduct, and I loved the striking contrast between the meandering paths, the burbling streams and the soaring brick arches. There’s also a plant nursery, plus a restaurant called the Sharpham Pantry which serves home-grown, locally sourced food; you can even get married on site, in a fairytale-like dovecote in the grounds or the light-filled Victorian ballroom.
Thirdly, Kilver Court plays host to all sorts of interesting events: open-air cinema screenings, cycle rides, garden open days. This autumn, it’s even taking part in a Somerset arts festival called ‘The Landscape of Objects’, which will see a sound installation by artist David Ward created beneath the viaduct.
Of course, the shopping is pretty darn good, too. There are two clusters of retailers, all offering discounts of at least 30%, plus a Mulberry factory shop in what was once Jardine’s school. The main arcade is filled with the kind of understated, high-quality fashion brands that I love: Toast, Whistles, JOSEPH, M.i.h Jeans, Seven Boot Lane… if you’re after Gucci bling, this isn’t the place for you!
Across the courtyard lies the Great House, whose ground floor is brimming with food and drink. Lining its shelves are goodies from some of my favourite producers, including Daysleford Organics, Bristol-based 6 O’Clock Gin and Nom Nom chocolates (if you haven’t yet tried their ‘Orange Marmalade’ and ‘Hot Cross Bun’ flavours, you’re missing out). Above are two floors of homeware and lifestyle goodies, most of them by independent British brands: kitchen kit from Dassie Artisan and Joseph Joseph, bed linen and cushions from Also Home, eco-friendly lotions and potions from Nathalie Bond and local Somerset company MAKE Skincare, tableware from Sophie Conran… There are even rugs and throws by Weaver Green, which are made from recycled plastic bottles (though you’d never know it to look at them). My eye was instantly drawn to the home-fragrance displays – I do love a scented candle – and I couldn’t resist stocking up on a few treats from Roam, True Grace and NEOM Organics.
Take a look at Kilver Court’s website if you want to know more about visiting. It’s a lovely place to mooch around, and I’m looking forward to returning for another shopping spree (and another delicious brownie!) sometime soon.
This is a collaborative post with Kilver Court, but as always all words and opinions are my own.
All photography by Abi Dare