BBC Countryfile Magazine’s insider’s guide to Somerset
BBC Countryfile Magazine’s insider’s guide to Somerset
We're lucky enough at BBC Countryfile Magazine to be based in stunning Somerset, so when we need a breath of fresh air the team heads to the wilds of Exmoor, the mystical delights of Glastonbury, the Mendip hills and many more wonderful little spots in this special county. Here's our insider's guide to Somerset.
1. Bruton: Stroll the Saxon lanes of Bruton, studded with independent shops and cut through by the delightful River Brue. This enchanting small town has also become a world renowned hub for artists – especially the Hauser and Wirth Art Centre.
2. Ham Wall RSPB reserve: The heart of the great Avalon Marshes, where vast swathes of the Somerset Levels wetlands are now devoted to wildlife. Each year, more species are discovered here and in winter it is the home of the famous starling roosts – one of Europe’s most memorable natural spectacles.
3. Cadbury Castle, South Cadbury: An impressive iron age hill fort overlooking gorgeous rolling countryside. Thought by some Arthurian fans to be the site of the fabled Camelot, it was – according to some archaeological interpretations – attacked and captured by the Romans in AD70 (some 400 years before the mythical Arthur ‘existed’. It remains an eerie and daunting fortress.
4. Quantocks’ Combes: Intimate combes infiltrate the eastern side of the Quantock Hills offering streamside walks through oak glades. In spring, these are alive with the exotic songs of pied flycatchers and wood warblers – while butterflies and wood ants dominate the summer months. Holford, Hodder’s Combes are the best examples, near the village of Holford.
5. Wincanton Races: A small, family friendly National Hunt racecourse on a hill above a small and overlooked market town. Skylarks serenade the winners and you can get closer to the action than at most other courses.
6. Velvet Bottom: This peaceful cleft in the Mendip Hills just above tourist choked Cheddar Gorge offer walks through craggy countryside, wildflowers, cuckoos in spring and spectacular butterflies.
Art Editor Tim Bates’ Favourite place
7. Nether Stowey: The village of Nether Stowey is a little ripper, it’s like going back in time. We we’re lucky enough to catch the village fair whilst there in the local Village hall opposite the home of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge which is now a National Trust property.
Section Editor Heather McKay’s Favourite place
8. Frome: Wander the narrow, cobbled streets of St Catherine’s quarter in Frome for independent gift and clothes shops, or for the hardened second-hand eye there’s an antique and collector’s market every Wednesday at the Cheese and Grain. Plenty of opportunities to rummage for vintage treasures! When your appetite kicks in, head to the organic Garden Café, or for a treat The Stardust Bakery have cupcakes galore.
Features Editor Joe Pontin’s Favourite places
9. Clevedon Pier: Stroll a Victorian boardwalk that glides elegantly above the Bristol Channel, then pop in to seafront café Five The Beach for a cream tea.
12. The Yeo Valley Organic Garden: Gorgeous contemporary gardens set among lush pastures on the shores of Blagdon Lake. Leave time to eat at the excellent café. Open Thursdays and Fridays.
13. Mendip walk: Park in steep-sloped Burrington Combe, and wander hills prickling with errie ancient monuments and honeycombed with caves. Wander back via the Plume of Feathers by the stream in Rickford.
14. Salt & Malt: Superior fish and chips and delicious cream teas from lakeside tearoom tastefully revamped in New England style by the owners of the outstanding, Michelin-starred Pony And Trap pub over the hill.
Online Editor Sian Lewis’ Favourite places
15. Wild swim on Exmoor: The rolling landscape of Exmoor makes the perfect escape if you’ve been feeling a bit cooped up. Go for a walk and meet the native ponies who graze here, then head for a refreshing dip in the quiet waters of the River Barle at Cow Castle.
16. St Werburghs City Farm in Bristol: You’ll don’t have to venture into the countryside to find rural life in Somerset. Head to St Werburghs in Bristol for a pocket of village life in the big city – there’s a huge community allotment and an adorable city farm full of pigs and goats to meet. The city farm has its own hobbit-house cafe for tea and cake, and The Farm pub next door is great for something stronger.
17. Cycle to Blagdon: Beautiful Blagdon lake is surrounded with forgotten little country lanes and quiet chocolate-box villages, perfect for exploring by bike. Earn your tea up and down the hills and then head to the New Inn – in winter there’s a huge roaring fire and in summer you can sit in the gorgeous garden and look out over the water.
Production Editor Maria Hodson’s favourite place
18. Glastonbury town and Tor: Glastonbury – the town where magicians walk among Muggles, and no one bats an eye. On a recent solo trip, I camped at Bridge Farm campsite and sett off to explore the town. On the High Street, where many a passageway seems to lead to Diagon Alley, a curious mix of tourists, time-travellers and townsfolk were wending their way in and out of esoteric emporiums with fantastical titles such as Man, Myth and Magik, or the Goddess and the Green Man. An hour can easily be whiled away here while people-watching over a coffee, and reflecting on questions such as “If your outfit jingles that much, is it a real problem if you fidget?”. To cap off the enchanting day, I took the high road through hazel, beech, sycamore and ash trees up to the Tor itself, to enjoy a sunset view over the Somerset Levels, Dorset, Wiltshire and Wales. A magical place indeed.