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Somerset: Coast or country?

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View over Somerset cliffs

The historic county of Somerset is one of the most unspoilt and attractive locations in the UK, but it may be fair to say that it is not spoken of as an idyllic holiday destination quite as often as its West Country neighbours, Devon and Cornwall.

In this article, however, we will explore the many reasons why the county should not be overlooked by anyone seeking a relaxing getaway, with a little help from some experts who know its best features inside out.

Whether you prefer to spend your time away sunathing at the beach or exploring the countryside, Somerset will have something for you. Read on to discover more about some of the area’s most stunning natural attractions, as well as a few ways to spend the day if the weather isn’t being kind.

The coast

The pier at Weston-super-Mare

Somerset is probably better known for its rolling countryside and quaint villages than its coastline, but this doesn’t mean that it does not have a great deal to offer in this regard.

We asked Ian Barnes, founder of the brilliantly informative beach guide website Coast Radar, to tell us more about what he thinks are the best Somerset beaches to visit on your next trip to the county:

“Somerset is often overlooked with tourists passing through on their way south to Devon and Cornwall or Wales to the north. This is a shame, as the Somerset coast offers a diverse landscape from traditional family seaside resorts to woodland and dramatic cliffs.

“If you are looking for a traditional sandy beach then the 11km stretch between the seaside towns of Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea has a number to choose from. One example is just to the south of Weston-super-Mare under the spectacular 97m high outcrop of Brean Down that itself extends out to sea for 2km and offers some spectacular views inland to the Somerset Levels or out to sea and South Wales.

“For a more remote and dramatic coastline, Somerset’s Exmoor stretch offers woodland and sea cliffs but is sparse for beaches. The two good entry points into this stretch are at Watchet and Porlock, with Watchet being the place to visit for fossil hunting with the cliffs around the town known for their rich findings.

“For wildlife lovers the WWT wetland reserve of Steart Marshes is one of the largest coastal wetlands in the UK, whilst the Bristol Channel on the northern boundary has the second largest tidal range in the world, exposing mud flats and an excellent landscape for waders and wildfowl.

“If you’re travelling with your four-legged friend then Somerset is home to some dog-friendly beaches around Weston-super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea and Watchet, some of which welcome dogs without any restrictions whatsoever.”

The country

Horse grazing at Crook Peak, Somerset

Whilst there is certainly more to the county’s coastline than may be widely known, we couldn’t talk about Somerset without mentioning the glorious countryside that it is also famous for.

Discover South Somerset, who promote the many delights to be found in and around towns such as Chard, Crewkerne and Langport in this part of the county, summed up the various ways in which you can enjoy a leisurely day or two in the area’s beautiful surroundings:

“South Somerset is the ideal place for a break. If it is peace and quiet you are after, why not just relax in the unspoilt countryside, rich in wildlife and wild flowers?

“Take a stroll through picturesque villages and market towns with weekly market stalls, book and antique shops, and plenty of places to eat and drink, from restaurants and local pubs to cafes and tearooms.

“There really is so much more to discover in South Somerset - for other ideas, visit www.discoversouthsomerset.com.

Of course, there are plenty of lovely towns and villages scattered elsewhere among the Somerset countryside - all of which would be worth spending your holiday at, or at least visiting for the day.

Church Street in Wedmore

One of the many places we could talk about is Wedmore, a typically picturesque village which can be found on the famous Somerset Levels. The wider parish is often referred to as the Isle of Wedmore because it was formerly surrounded by water. Indeed, you will not have to cast your mind back too long ago to be reminded of how susceptible the Levels can still be to severe flooding, although Wedmore was fortunately spared the worst of the damage caused in the terrible winter of 2013/14.

The Isle of Wedmore’s community site nicely sums up why the area is such a rewarding place to visit for any true lovers of the great British countryside:

“[T]here are lots of walks allowing you to mingle with farm animals and wildlife. If you enjoy getting closer to the wildlife, the Westhay Nature Reserve is close by. This has proven to be popular with BBC nature programmes and bird enthusiasts from around the UK and world... “…There is a very friendly golf club with a challenging 18 hole golf course on the edge of the village which welcomes you with those stunning views of the Mendips and the valley below too. “The area is a photographer's delight whatever the season.

“Wedmore makes a great base for exploring the surrounding history, landscape, habitat of birds and wildlife of both the Mendips and the Somerset Levels. You can do this by bicycle, car and or on foot!”

The attractions

Bittern steam train at Yeovil Junction

Of course, you will already know that we cannot always rely on the British climate to care that we’re on holiday. We hope that you will be able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors when you next stay at one of our luxury holiday homes in Somerset but, if it does rain at any point during your trip, you’ll no doubt be glad to find out a little about some of the all-weather highlights that can be enjoyed in the county.

Catherine Warrilow from Day out with the Kids, a site which has been providing families with advice on great activities and attractions throughout the UK for more than 10 years, believes that Somerset is packed full of brilliant locations and fun things to do, whatever the weather: “Somerset is one of our top picks for a great day out. You can explore the quintessentially British beaches – Minehead or Watchet are favourites. If you head to Watchet, squeeze in a visit to the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust, where kids can operate the signal levers.

“Don’t forget to take a trip to Wookey Hole Caves – this year saw the opening of brand new unseen caverns – and there’s plenty to do for a full day out. If you want to satisfy the adrenaline junkies then pay a visit to Puxton Park and seek out thrills on their super-fast slides.”

Red convertible Ferrari at the Haynes International Motor Museum

We also spoke to the experts at Great Days Out – suppliers of guides and money-saving vouchers for attractions in Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire and Hampshire – who told us about some of the best places you can visit on a rainy day:

“Somerset is a lovely place to visit with its long sandy beaches and wealth of magnificent countryside interspersed with historic towns and places. As well as its many natural attractions the county is blessed with plenty of fascinating, quirky and fun visitor attractions, which are not to be missed.

“Its diverse selection of visitor attractions include historic country houses and abbeys, heritage railways including the West Somerset Railway – the longest heritage railway in the country - Roman remains such as those at Bath, and famous caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar. It also has a rich tradition in local produce, most famously cheese and cider.

Grumman Martlet plane at the Fleet Air Arm Museum

“For all those who have a love of cars from whatever age there’s a world of fun-fuelled action and excitement just waiting to be discovered at the award-winning Haynes International Motor Museum. Another superb transport museum is the Fleet Air Arm Museum. It’s guaranteed to thrill the family with the chance to get up close to some of the most powerful and interesting naval aircraft and even Concorde.

“Somerset is famous for its cider so why not soak up the atmosphere of a real working mill at Perry’s Cider Mill and try some of their award-winning ciders? For something that’s a bit quirky visit the Montacute TV Radio Toy Museum. It’s nostalgic fun for all ages with its collections of TV and radio memorabilia including Dr Who, sci-fi, superheroes, and detective programmes.

“With attractions aplenty offering something for everyone, Somerset is the perfect place to visit for that special break. For further ideas of great places to visit and for discount vouchers go to www.greatdaysout.org.

Image Credits: Rich Lock, Charlie Marshall, Hugh Llewelyn, Dave_S., Robert Cutts