Som­er­set’s Top 8 Se­crets

Its sea­side re­sorts are lovely – but it is hid­den Som­er­set that makes a trip to the south-west of Eng­land ex­tra spe­cial…

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1 FULL STEAM AHEAD!

The chug of the en­gine, the toot of the whis­tle – for a won­der­ful nos­tal­gic ex­pe­ri­ence, step on board Mine­head’s steam train and travel the her­itage line to the vil­lage of Bish­ops Ly­deard. Eight other sta­tions along the 20-mile line of­fer his­tor­i­cal, sight-see­ing and shop­ping at­trac­tions. Ticket booths and the sta­tion mas­ter’s of­fice are won­der­fully recre­ated at dif­fer­ent sta­tions, and drop in to Mine­head’s tiny mu­seum for a glimpse of by­gone years be­fore But­lins came to town.

2 WOTCHER, WATCHET!

Step off the steam train to ex­plore the lovely lit­tle har­bour town of Watchet. You’ll be in good com­pany – Co­leridge was in­spired to write TheRime­ofthe An­cien­tMariner here. A boat mu­seum, vis­i­tor cen­tre, art stu­dios, mar­kets, com­mu­nity book shop, craft shops and even a haunted pub – there’s some­thing for ev­ery­one here, even the kids, who can go crab­bing at the har­bour.

3 SAM­PLE SOME CIDER

Ex­pe­ri­ence the joys of cider drink­ing with a visit to Torre Cider Farm, where six acres of or­chard grow 1200 trees that yield 17 va­ri­eties of ap­ple to make the most de­li­cious cider, on sale at the farm shop. Pre­ar­range your visit with owner Gemma and you’ll get a tour of the or­chards and dis­tillery, and some se­ri­ous cider sam­pling! There’s a pet­ting farm, too, with hens, ducks, sheep and pigs – our visit was made all the more spe­cial by the ar­rival of a litter of the cutest piglets. WWW.TORRECIDER.CO.UK

4 WALK THE DOWNS

From We­ston-su­per-Mare it’s a hop and a skip to Brean Down, the penin­su­lar tip of the Mendips which of­fers an easy cir­cu­lar walk with stunning views across Som­er­set, Ex­moor and South Wales. High­lights in­clude the re­mains of an an­cient hill fort, a Ro­man tem­ple and a Vic­to­rian fort. Look up for fal­cons, down for grass snakes and a whole load more flora and fauna.

5 STEP INTO THE PAST

Though it didn’t es­cape Henry VIII’s ea­gle eye at the time of the dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies, Cleeve Abbey still has some of the best pre­served monas­tic build­ings in Eng­land. Wan­der its clois­ters where 12th cen­tury monks went about their busi­ness of pray­ing, farm­ing and wel­com­ing pil­grims and the sick. The soft grey walls and in­ner rooms, still with traces of orig­i­nal dec­o­ra­tion, ex­ude tran­quil­lity.

6 SEA­SIDE SPLEN­DOUR

With its golden sands, tra­di­tional pier and lovely lit­tle cafés and restau­rants (in­clud­ing the new­ly­opened Bistrot Pierre which serves the most won­der­ful lunch) the sea­side re­sort of We­ston­super-Mare is a must-see for vis­i­tors to Som­er­set. And it has its own se­cret – a bridge con­nect­ing two points of the har­bour, so clev­erly en­gi­neered that to on­look­ers it seems like you’re walk­ing on water!

7 FOS­SIL HUNT

Som­er­set has its own Juras­sic coast­line, and a great place to find fos­sils is St Au­dries Bay. Spend a happy hour or two on the stony beach search­ing for the dis­tinc­tive black whorled fos­sils called Devil’s Toe­nails, and ad­mire the wa­ter­falls that cas­cade from the cliffs. Rock pools yield their own liv­ing trea­sures of sea anemones, shrimps and crabs. Just watch the tide times!

8 ME­DIEVAL MAGIC

Dun­ster is the pret­ti­est lit­tle vil­lage, pre­served in time with his­toric build­ings, cob­bled streets, a loom­ing cas­tle and the old Yarn Mar­ket, an im­pres­sive oc­tag­o­nal pil­lared ed­i­fice that is a meet­ing place and fo­cal point for vil­lage ac­tiv­i­ties. These in­clude Dun­ster by Can­dle­light, a cel­e­bra­tion of Christ­mas with en­ter­tain­ment, stalls and car­ols. Tear your­self away from the old Dove­cote, Water­mill and Doll Mu­seum to dis­cover the sur­round­ing area – Dun­ster’s lo­ca­tion makes it the ideal base for ex­plor­ing Ex­moor Park, home of Eng­land’s tallest tree!

20 miles of lov­ingly re­stored nos­tal­gia

The An­cient Mariner at Watchet Har­bour

Beau­ti­fully pre­served Cleeve Abbey

Knight­stone Is­land, We­ston-su­per-Mare

Dun­ster and the Yarn Mar­ket

Wa­ter­falls at St Au­dries Bay

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