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…
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