The Sweet Track is an ancient trackway, or causeway in the Somerset Levels, England, named after its finder, Ray Sweet. It was built in 3807 BC and is the second-oldest timber trackway discovered in the British Isles, dating to the Neolithic. It is now known that the Sweet Track was predominantly built over the course of an earlier structure, the Post Track.
The track extended across the now largely drained marsh between what was then an island at Westhay and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) or around 1.2 miles. The track is one of a network that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Various artifacts and prehistoric finds, including a jadeitite ceremonial axe head, have been found in the peat bogs along its length.
Construction was of crossed wooden poles, driven into the waterlogged soil to support a walkway that consisted mainly of planks of oak, laid end-to-end. The track was used for a period of only around ten years and was then abandoned, probably due to rising water levels. Following its discovery in 1970, most of the track has been left in its original location, with active conservation measures taken, including a water pumping and distribution system to maintain the wood in its damp condition. Some of the track is stored at the British Museum and at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. A reconstruction has been made on which visitors can walk, on the same line as the original, in Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve.
|Location||Shapwick Heath, Somerset Levels, England|
|Built||3807 or 3806 BC|
|Designated||13 June 1996|
|Reference no.||27978 (was Somerset 399)|
|Designated||22 April 1996|
|Reference no.||27979 (was Somerset 400)|
Location of Sweet Track in Somerset
In the early fourth millennium BC the track was built between an island at Westhay and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick close to the River Brue. A group of mounds at Westhay mark the site of prehistoric lake dwellings, which were likely to have been similar to those found in the Iron Age Glastonbury Lake Village near Godney, itself built on a morass on an artificial foundation of timber filled with brushwood, bracken, rubble, and clay.
The remains of similar tracks have been uncovered nearby, connecting settlements on the peat bog; they include the Honeygore, Abbotts Way, Bells, Bakers, Westhay, and Nidons trackways. Sites such as the nearby Meare Pool provide evidence that the purpose of these structures was to enable easier travel between the settlements. Investigation of the Meare Pool indicates that it was formed by the encroachment of raised peat bogs around it, particularly during the Subatlantic climatic period (1st millennium BC), and core sampling demonstrates that it is filled with at least 2 metres (6.6 ft) of detritus mud.
The two Meare Lake Villages within Meare Pool appear to originate from a collection of structures erected on the surface of the dried peat, such as tents, windbreaks and animal folds. Clay was later spread over the peat, providing raised stands for occupation, industry and movement, and in some areas thicker clay spreads accommodated hearths built of clay or stone.
The track was discovered in 1970 during peat excavations and is named after its finder, Ray Sweet. The company for which he worked, E. J. Godwin, sent part of a plank from the track to John Coles, an assistant lecturer in archaeology at Cambridge University, who had carried out some excavations on nearby trackways. Coles' interest in the trackways led to the Somerset Levels Project, which ran from 1973 to 1989, funded by various donors including English Heritage. The project undertook a range of local archaeological activities, and established the economic and geographic significance of various trackways from the third and first millennia BC. The work of John Coles, Bryony Coles, and the Somerset Levels Project was recognised in 1996 when they won the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Award for the best archaeological project offering a major contribution to knowledge, and in 2006 with the European Archaeological Heritage Prize.
Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) of the timbers has enabled precise dating of the track, showing it was built in 3807 BC. This dating led to claims that the Sweet Track was the oldest roadway in the world, until the discovery in 2009 of a 6,000-year-old trackway built in 4100 BC, in Plumstead, near Belmarsh prison. Analysis of the Sweet Track's timbers has aided research into Neolithic Era dendrochronology; comparisons with wood from the River Trent and a submerged forest at Stolford enabled a fuller mapping of the rings, and their relationship with the climate of the period.
The wood used to build the track is now classed as bog-wood, the name given to wood (of any source) that for long periods (sometimes hundreds of thousands of years) has been buried in peat bogs, and kept from decaying by the acidic and anaerobic bog conditions. Bog-wood usually is stained brown by tannins dissolved in the acidic water, and represents an early stage of fossilisation. The age of the track prompted large-scale excavations in 1973, funded by the Department of the Environment.
In 1973 a jadeitite axehead was found alongside the track; it is thought to have been placed there as an offering. One of over 100 similar axe heads found in Britain and Ireland, its good condition and its precious material suggest that it was a symbolic axe, rather than one used to cut wood. Because of the difficulty of working this material, which was derived from the Alpine area of Europe, all the axe heads of this type found in Great Britain are thought to have been non-utilitarian and to have represented some form of currency or be the products of gift exchange. Radiocarbon dating of the peat in which the axe head was discovered suggests that it was deposited in about 3200 BC. Wooden artefacts found at the site include paddles, a dish, arrow shafts, parts of four hazel bows, a throwing axe, yew pins, digging sticks, a mattock, a comb, toggles, and a spoon fragment. Finds made from other materials, such as flint flakes, arrowheads, and a chipped flint axe (in mint condition) have also been made.
A geophysical survey of the area in 2008 showed unclear magnetometer data; the wood may be influencing the peat's hydrology, causing the loss or collection of minerals within the pore water and peat matrix.
The community that constructed the trackway were Neolithic farmers who had colonised the area around 3900 BC, and the evidence suggests that they were, by the time of construction, well organised and settled. Before this human incursion, the uplands surrounding the levels were heavily wooded, but local inhabitants began to clear these forests about this time to make way for an economy that was predominately pastoral with small amounts of cultivation. During the winter, the flooded areas of the levels would have provided this fishing, hunting, foraging and farming community with abundant fish and wildfowl; in the summer, the drier areas provided rich, open grassland for grazing cattle and sheep, reeds, wood, and timber for construction, and abundant wild animals, birds, fruit, and seeds. The need to reach the islands in the bog was sufficiently pressing for them to mount the enormous communal activity required for the task of stockpiling the timber and building the trackway, presumably when the waters were at their lowest after a dry period. The work required for the construction of the track demonstrates that they had advanced woodworking skills and suggests some differentiation of occupation among the workers. They also appear to have been managing the surrounding woodland for at least 120 years.
Built in 3807 or 3806 BC, the track was a walkway consisting mainly of planks of oak laid end-to-end, supported by crossed pegs of ash, oak, and lime, driven into the underlying peat. The planks, which were up to 40 centimetres (16 in) wide, 3 metres (120 in) long and less than 5 centimetres (2.0 in) thick, were cut from trees up to 400 years old and 1 metre (39 in) in diameter, felled and split using only stone axes, wooden wedges, and mallets. The length, straightness, and lack of forks or branches in the pegs suggest that they were taken from coppiced woodland. Longitudinal log rails up to 6.1 metres (20 ft) long and 7.6 centimetres (3.0 in) in diameter, made of mostly hazel and alder, were laid down and held in place with the pegs, which were driven at an angle across the rails and into the peat base of the bog. Notches were then cut into the planks to fit the pegs, and the planks were laid along the X shapes to form the walkway. In some places a second rail was placed on top of the first one to bring the plank above it level with the rest of the walkway. Some of the planks were then stabilised with slender, vertical wooden pegs driven through holes cut near the end of the planks and into the peat, and sometimes the clay, beneath. At the southern end of the construction smaller trees were used, and the planks split across the grain to utilise the full diameter of the trunk. Fragments of other tree species including holly, willow, poplar, dogwood, ivy, birch, and apple have also been found.
The wetland setting indicates that the track components must have arrived prefabricated, before being assembled on site, although the presence of wood chips and chopped branches indicates that some trimming was performed locally. The track was constructed from about 200,000 kilograms (440,000 lb) of timber, but Coles estimates that once the materials were transported to the site, ten men could have assembled it in one day.
The Sweet Track was used only for about ten years; rising water levels may have engulfed it, and therefore curtailed its use. The variety of objects found alongside the track suggest that it was in daily use as part of the farming life of the community. Since its discovery, it has been determined that parts of the Sweet Track were built along the route of an even earlier track, the Post Track, which was constructed thirty years earlier in 3838 BC.
Most of the track remains in its original location, which is now within the Shapwick Heath biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve. Following purchase of land by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and installation of a water pumping and distribution system along a 500-metre (1,600 ft) section, several hundred metres of the track's length are now being actively conserved. This method of preserving wetland archaeological remains (maintaining a high water table and saturating the site) is rare. A 500-metre (1,600 ft) section, which lies within the land owned by the Nature Conservancy Council, has been surrounded by a clay bank to prevent drainage into surrounding lower peat fields, and water levels are regularly monitored. The viability of this method is demonstrated by comparing it with the nearby Abbot's Way, which has not had similar treatment, and which in 1996 was found to have become dewatered and desiccated. Evaluation and maintenance of water levels in the Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve involves the Nature Conservancy Council, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Somerset Levels Project.
Although the wood recovered from the Levels was visually intact, it was extremely degraded and very soft. Where possible, pieces of wood in good condition, or the worked ends of pegs, were taken away and conserved for later analysis. The conservation process involved keeping the wood in heated tanks in a solution of polyethylene glycol and, by a process of evaporation, gradually replacing the water in the wood with the wax over a period of about nine months. After this treatment the wood was removed from the tank and wiped clean. As the wax cooled and hardened, the artefact became firm and could be handled freely.
A section of the track on land owned by Fisons (who extracted peat from the area) was donated to the British Museum in London. Although this short section can be assembled for display purposes, it is currently kept in store, off site, and under controlled conditions. A reconstructed section was displayed at the Peat Moors Centre near Glastonbury. The centre was run by the Somerset Historic Environment Service, but was closed in October 2009 as a result of budget cuts imposed by Somerset County Council. The main exhibits are extant, but future public access is uncertain. Other samples of the track are held in the Museum of Somerset.
Sections of the track have been designated as a scheduled monument, meaning that it is a "nationally important" historic structure and archaeological site protected against unauthorised change. These sections are also included in Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register.
The 39th century BC was a century which lasted from the year 3900 BC to 3801 BC.Boardwalk
A boardwalk (board walk, boarded path, promenade) is an elevated footpath, walkway, or causeway built with wooden planks that enables pedestrians to cross wet, fragile, or marshy land. They are also in effect a low type of bridge. Such timber trackways have existed since at least Neolithic times.Causeway
A causeway is a track, road or railway on the upper point of an embankment across "a low, or wet place, or piece of water". It can be constructed of earth, masonry, wood, or concrete. One of the earliest known wooden causeways is the Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels, England, that dates from the Neolithic age. Timber causeways may also be described as both boardwalks and bridges.Celt (tool)
In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.Cumberland point
A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.Fisons
Fisons plc was a British multinational pharmaceutical, scientific instruments and horticultural chemicals company headquartered in Ipswich, United Kingdom. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It was acquired by Rhone-Poulenc in 1995.Glastonbury
Glastonbury () is a town and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low-lying Somerset Levels, 23 miles (37 km) south of Bristol. The town, which is in the Mendip district, had a population of 8,932 in the 2011 census. Glastonbury is less than 1 mile (2 km) across the River Brue from Street, which is now larger than Glastonbury.
Evidence from timber trackways such as the Sweet Track show that the town has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Glastonbury Lake Village was an Iron Age village, close to the old course of the River Brue and Sharpham Park approximately 2 miles (3 km) west of Glastonbury, that dates back to the Bronze Age. Centwine was the first Saxon patron of Glastonbury Abbey, which dominated the town for the next 700 years. One of the most important abbeys in England, it was the site of Edmund Ironside's coronation as King of England in 1016. Many of the oldest surviving buildings in the town, including the Tribunal, George Hotel and Pilgrims' Inn and the Somerset Rural Life Museum, which is based in an old tithe barn, are associated with the abbey. The Church of St John the Baptist dates from the 15th century.
The town became a centre for commerce, which led to the construction of the market cross, Glastonbury Canal and the Glastonbury and Street railway station, the largest station on the original Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. The Brue Valley Living Landscape is a conservation project managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust and nearby is the Ham Wall National Nature Reserve.
Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community which attracts people with New Age and Neopagan beliefs, and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor, concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur. Joseph is said to have arrived in Glastonbury and stuck his staff into the ground, when it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn. The presence of a landscape zodiac around the town has been suggested but no evidence has been discovered. The Glastonbury Festival, held in the nearby village of Pilton, takes its name from the town.Grade II* listed buildings in Sedgemoor
Sedgemoor is a local government district in the English county of Somerset. In the United Kingdom, the term listed building refers to a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance; Grade II* structures are those considered to be "particularly significant buildings of more than local interest". Listing was begun by a provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Once listed, severe restrictions are imposed on the modifications allowed to a building's structure or its fittings. In England, the authority for listing under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 rests with Historic England, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; local authorities have a responsibility to regulate and enforce the planning regulations.Sedgemoor is a low-lying area of land close to sea level between the Quantock and Mendip hills, historically largely marsh (or moor). It contains the bulk of the area also known as the Somerset Levels, including one of Europe's oldest known engineered roadways, the Sweet Track.There are 90 Grade II* listed buildings in Sedgemoor. The oldest buildings in the list are Anglo-Saxon and Norman churches, with many more churches and churchyard crosses from the Middle Ages. There are also medieval country houses and the remains of castles. Urban architecture is represented by King Square in Bridgwater. Industrial buildings include Ashton Windmill which was built in the 18th century, on a site which has been the location of a windmill since the medieval period. In Bridgwater the Chandos Glass Cone and Brick Kiln are parts of its industrial history. Related transport structures include Bridgwater railway station and the Telescopic Bridge carrying the railway over the River Parrett. The history of the drainage of the Somerset Levels is on display at the Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum. One of the first buildings to make extensive use of Portland cement for pre-cast concrete was Castle House in Bridgwater which was built in 1851. Decorative work in Bridgwater is also represented with the inclusion of the Blake Statue and War Memorial.Grade I listed buildings in Sedgemoor
Sedgemoor is a local government district in the English county of Somerset. In the United Kingdom, the term listed building refers to a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance; Grade I structures are those considered to be "buildings of exceptional interest". Listing was begun by a provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Once listed, severe restrictions are imposed on the modifications allowed to a building's structure or its fittings. In England, the authority for listing under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 rests with Historic England, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; local authorities have a responsibility to regulate and enforce the planning regulations.
Sedgemoor is a low-lying area of land close to sea level between the Quantock and Mendip hills, historically largely marsh (or moor). It contains the bulk of the area also known as the Somerset Levels, including Europe's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track.There are 53 Grade I listed buildings in Sedgemoor, 14 of which are in Castle Street, Bridgwater. In 1723-1728, Castle Street was built on the site of the demolished Bridgwater Castle, as homes for the merchants trading in the town's port. Outside the town of Bridgwater, the largest concentration of Grade I listed buildings are in the village of Cannington, where the 12th-century Cannington Court and 14th-century Church of St Mary were both associated with a Benedictine nunnery. Cannington is also the site of the 13th-century Gurney Manor and Blackmoor Farmhouse, which was built around 1480 with its own chapel. Most of the Grade I listed buildings in Sedgemoor are Norman- or medieval-era churches, many of which are included in the Somerset towers, a collection of distinctive, mostly spireless Gothic church towers. Many of the more recent structures in the list are manor houses such as Halswell House, where the south range was built in the 16th century for Sir Nicholas Halswell and the main north range in 1689 for Sir Halswell Tynte. The most recently constructed building in the list is the Corn Exchange in Bridgwater, built in 1834.Grinding slab
In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.
Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.Neolithic architecture
Neolithic architecture refers to structures encompassing housing and shelter from approximately 10,000 to 2,000 BC, the Neolithic period. In southwest Asia, Neolithic cultures appear soon after 10,000 BC, initially in the Levant (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there into the east and west. Early Neolithic structures and buildings can be found in southeast Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq by 8,000 BC with agriculture societies first appearing in southeast Europe by 7,000 BC, and central Europe by ca. 5,500 BC (of which the earliest cultural complexes include the Starčevo-Koros (Cris), Linearbandkeramic, and Vinča.Peat Moors Centre
The Peat Moors Centre lay on the road between Shapwick and Westhay in Somerset, England. The centre was run by the Somerset Historic Environment Service, but Somerset County Council closed it in October 2009 in the course of budget cuts.
The museum was dedicated to the archaeology, history and geology of the Somerset Levels. It also included reconstructions of some of the archaeological discoveries, including a number of Iron Age round houses from Glastonbury Lake Village, and the world's oldest engineered highway, the Sweet Track. From time to time the centre offered courses in a number of ancient technologies in subjects including textiles, clothing and basket making, as well as staging various open days, displays and demonstrations.
Somerset County Council, the owners of the Peat Moors Centre, closed the centre for budgetary reasons on 31 October 2009. The former staff hoped to launch a successor to the centre, run by a community interest company, to be known as the 'Somerset Lake Village Project' and involving the reconstruction of an Iron Age lake village.Pesse canoe
The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.Post Track
The Post Track is an ancient causeway in the valley of the River Brue on the Somerset Levels, England. It dates from around 3838 BCE, making it some 30 years older than the Sweet Track from the same area. Various sections have been scheduled as ancient monuments.The timber trackway was constructed of long ash planks, with lime and hazel posts spaced along three-metre intervals. According to Coles, the heavy planks of the Post Track were seldom pegged. The track follows closely in line with the Sweet Track and, before the planks were dated, it was posited that it served as a construction platform for the Sweet Track. It is speculated that it led to places of spiritual significance. It is likely that the route was intended to be a permanent fixture, with the track being updated, maintained, and eventually replaced as it succumbed to the elements. Some of the wood planks also were reused in the Sweet Track when it was built making the specific dating more complex.Racloir
In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.
It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.Shapwick Heath
Shapwick Heath is a 394.0-hectare (973.6 acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and national nature reserve between Shapwick and Westhay in Somerset, notified in 1967. It is part of the Brue Valley Living Landscape conservation project. The project commenced in January 2009 and aims to restore, recreate and reconnect habitat. It aims to ensure that wildlife is enhanced and capable of sustaining itself in the face of climate change while guaranteeing farmers and other landowners can continue to use their land profitably. It is one of an increasing number of landscape scale conservation projects in the UK.Shapwick Heath, part of the Avalon Marshes in the Somerset Levels Wetlands, and managed as a national nature reserve by Natural England, is a former raised bog lying in the basin of the River Brue. The site supports a diverse community of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. National rarities are the Greater Silver Diving Beetle (Hydrophilus piceus) and the
Lesser Silver Diving Beetle (Hydrochara caraboides) which is now confined nationally to the Brue Basin Peat Moors.The Sweet Track, an ancient causeway crosses the site. It is one of the oldest engineered roads known and the oldest timber trackway discovered in Northern Europe.
The adjoining Shapwick Moor has been purchased by the Hawk and Owl Trust as a reserve. Ham Wall nature reserve is to the east.Somerset Levels
The Somerset Levels are a coastal plain and wetland area of Somerset, England, running south from the Mendips to the Blackdown Hills.
The Somerset Levels have an area of about 160,000 acres (650 km2) and are bisected by the Polden Hills; the areas to the south are drained by the River Parrett, and the areas to the north by the rivers Axe and Brue. The Mendip Hills separate the Somerset Levels from the North Somerset Levels. The Somerset Levels consist of marine clay "levels" along the coast and inland peat-based "moors"; agriculturally, about 70 per cent is used as grassland and the rest is arable. Willow and teazel are grown commercially and peat is extracted.
A Palaeolithic flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence in the area. The Neolithic people exploited the reed swamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways, including the world's oldest known timber trackway, the Post Track, dating from about 3800 BC. The Levels were the location of the Glastonbury Lake Village as well as two Lake villages at Meare Lake. Several settlements and hill forts were built on the natural "islands" of slightly raised land, including Brent Knoll and Glastonbury. In the Roman period sea salt was extracted and a string of settlements were set up along the Polden Hills. The discovery at Shapwick of 9,238 silver Roman coins, known as the Shapwick Hoard, was the second largest ever found from the time of the Roman Empire. A number of Saxon charters document the incorporation of areas of moor in estates. In 1685, the Battle of Sedgemoor was fought in the Bussex area of Westonzoyland at the conclusion of the Monmouth Rebellion.
As a result of the wetland nature of the Levels, the area contains a rich biodiversity of national and international importance. It supports a vast variety of plant and bird species and is an important feeding ground for birds and includes 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, of which 12 are also Special Protection Areas. The area has been extensively studied for its biodiversity and heritage, and has a growing tourism industry.
People have been draining the area since before the Domesday Book. In the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Glastonbury, Athelney and Muchelney were responsible for much of the drainage. The artificial Huntspill River was constructed during the Second World War as a reservoir, although it also serves as a drainage channel. The Sowy River between the River Parrett and King's Sedgemoor Drain was completed in 1972; water levels are managed by the Levels internal drainage boards. During 2009 and 2010 proposals to build a series of electricity pylons by one of two routes between Hinkley Point and Avonmouth, to transmit electricity from the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, attracted local opposition. Discussions have taken place concerning the possibility of obtaining World Heritage Site status for the Somerset Levels as a "cultural landscape". It was suggested that if this bid were successful it could improve flood control, but only if wetland fens were created again; the plans were abandoned in 2010.Uniface
In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.Westhay
Westhay is a village in Somerset, England. It is situated in the parish of Meare, 4 miles (6.4 km) north west of Glastonbury on the Somerset Levels, in the Mendip district.
The name means 'The west field that is enclosed by hedges' from the Old English west and haga. The 'g' in haga is silent.Westhay is a marshland village on the River Brue in typical Somerset rhyne country, standing on the site of pre-historic lake dwellings. The site of the lake-village is marked by groups of mounds. Nearby was the Peat Moors Centre which closed down in the autumn of 2009. The prehistoric Sweet Track and Post Track run from the village southwards towards Shapwick.
The village is close to Westhay Moor and Westhay Heath, which have both been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Westhay is serviced by one pub.
Westhay is well known as the site of the Starling Roost featured on many TV wildlife programmes. The roost is in National wildlife reserves such as Westhay Moor, Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath. The area also contains one third of the UK breeding population of Bitterns and the only known UK breeding populations of Great White Egret and Little Bittern.