One of the larger of the English counties and naturally blessed with an abundance of scenic open spaces in which to enjoy the fine British countryside, Somerset is ideal for a luxury cottage holiday. It is famous for its legendary Glastonbury Music Festival, held each summer, as well as the Legends of King Arthur who is said to be buried at Glastonbury Tor. Somerset apple cider, probably springs to mind too, as will the world-famous Cheddar cheese. There are plenty of great attractions from museums to gardens to the stylish city of Bath famous for its Roman baths. For a host of incredible walks however, it’s hard to beat areas such as Exmoor National Park.
Frome is a very charming historic town, with many buildings that date back to the 1700s and original medieval cobbled streets that wind down towards the river. Bikes can be hired for gentle rides along the riverbank, while the green spaces and parks are great for a picnic. There’s also a vibrant arts scene here with plenty of galleries and exhibitions, Frome is perfect for a weekend break, or as a base to explore the wider Somerset area, whilst having the convenience of a lovely selection of restaurants, bars and independent shops, as well as music venues and theatres. to hand for a comfortable stay with plenty of life.
Pop into Rye Bakery for a coffee and cake; it is set within an old chapel and displays art exhibitions too. Part of the town’s vibrancy lies in its thriving market scene with weekly markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, plus a regular Vegan Market, Farmer’s Market and the Frome Independent for designers and makers. Beyond Frome you can venture for long walks in the Mendip Hills, take a day trip to the city of Bath, or visit Longleat Safari Park.
The Mendip Hills is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that runs east to west across Somerset from Frome to Brean Down. The region is renowned for its attractive open countryside and the distinctive limestone ridge that rises from the flat Somerset Levels and Chew Valley from where the views are very impressive. Peppered with breathtaking valleys, ancient hilltop monuments, wildflower-covered slopes, rocky outcrops, deep gorges, caves and underground rivers too, it’s a fantastic destination for walking, cycling, horse-riding, caving, potholing, climbing and observing wildlife, particularly butterflies.
The walk around the top of the gorge is beautiful with views extending over the Vale of Avalon which has connections to Arthurian legends. A visit to Wookey Hole to see the fantastic network of caves is also a highlight. Other places to see include the Victorian fort at Brean Down and Wells with its striking 12th century cathedral.
Exmoor boasts stunning and dramatic landscapes and is perfect for anyone looking for an array of outdoor adventures. It was once a royal forest used for hunting, but has since given its name to the Exmoor National Park, which stretches across west Somerset and into north Devon. Here, 267 square miles await visitors who will enjoy exploring the heather-clad moorland, thick woods, green valleys, farmland, rivers and coastline, which provide a wealth of habitats for wildlife and flora. With characterful villages, a wealth of ancient history and unique features including the famous Exmoor wild ponies, it is a charming place to visit all year round.
Outings to the historic Tarr Steps clapper bridge on the river Barle, the 13th century Cleeve Abbey at Washford and Dunster Castle are also interesting. For wildlife adventures, there are red deer safaris, birdwatching which is very diverse at Porlock Vale and spotting the Exmoor ponies. As a Dark Sky reserve Exmoor is also a great place for star-gazing, while there are plenty of opportunities for soft adventures including white water rafting and mountain biking.
Back in 1956, the Quantock Hills became England’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it has been attracting walkers, photographers, nature-lovers and fossil-hunters ever since. With a wild kind of beauty and a true sense of tranquillity, this protected area which measures just 12 by 4 miles, covers a variety of landscapes. Coastline, heathland and small valleys, known in this part of the world as combes, form the backdrop to cultural heritage and a distinctive character. Views here are equally varied and stretch from the Bristol Channel and wetlands of the Somerset Levels, to the Mendip, Blackdown Hills and Exmoor.
Keep an eye out for wildlife including deer, nightjars and hen harriers. Meanwhile, the Jurassic coastline from West Quantoxhead to Kilve is of special scientific interest. Whilst in the Quantock Hills, visit the wild gardens at Fyne Court and Coleridge Cottage which was home to English poet, Samuel Taylor, whilst ancient sites include the Trendle Ring Iron Age hill-fort on Bicknoller Hill. Just beyond the Quantock Hills you can take a scenic ride aboard the West Somerset heritage railway.
The Blackdown Hills are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that runs along the border of Somerset and Devon. The Blackdown Hills incorporate a variety of habitats including ancient oak woodlands, towering beech hedgerows and deep valleys. It’s one of those places that doesn’t feel like it has changed much over time, and that’s because it hasn’t. This is an idyllic location to enjoy classic English countryside and nature, whether cycling, walking or horse-riding. When you’ve worked up an appetite, there are plenty of friendly country pubs around, most serving up home cooked dishes from local, seasonal produce, as well as local Somerset cider.
“Walking routes are plentiful: through fields, along narrow lanes and via nature reserves. For a fairly gentle circular walk follow the Thurlbear and Orchard Portman route for some delightful scenery.”
Meanwhile, marked trails near the quaint village of Staple Fitzpaine, with its pretty Church of St Peter, lead to the ruined Iron Age hill fort of Castle Neroche. At this point, on a fine day, there are incredible views over the Vale of Taunton across to the Quantock Hills and Exmoor. If the scenery has inspired you, local conservation groups offer courses such as traditional crafts and hedgerow maintenance.
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