Posted on October 3rd, 2015
Did you hear on the BBC news that West Somerset is in the top 4 of the happiest places to live in the UK? Who would have thought it? West Somerset is almost a secret land to most people in the UK…..
During the summer our home has been host to quite a stream of visitors from both other parts of the UK and Europe. Through Airbnb, many people have picked us for our peaceful rural location in the unspoiled Quantock Hills, proximity to Glastonbury*, or simply to visit relatives or family occasions. As inhabitants , we benefit from the fact that as a tourist destination little is known about this area, as the cars and caravans pile down the M5 to Devon and Cornwall. This ignorance has protected the hilltops grazed by sheep and wild ponies, the deep valleys and the coast .. Now that summer draws to an end, visitors decrease, but they are missing what to me is perhaps the best time of all. The Autumn colours are spectacular, especially the ancient oak and beech trees on old trackways and estates – indeed in the gardens here at Broomfield Hall.
So here are my top – (almost) secret – reasons for visiting the Quantocks in the Autumn:
- The literary landscape, (and wonderful outdoors) – did you know that the deep valleys of the Quantocks and wild moors of the Quantocks inspired Wordsworth and Coleridge, who wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner here. How many know of this literary connection, aware only of their association with the Lake District? Now there’s a Coleridge Way you can follow – and his house in Nether Stowey to visit. Get the Julien Temple film ‘Pandemonium’ out to see his interpretation of their time here… You can go pony-trekking on the moors on the top of the hills – or a wander through deep wooded valleys like Holford where Wordsworth lived..where you can sometimes spot a herd of red deer, themselves almost a vanished species, during the rutting season.. (for a great video of a red deer rut, not Quantocks, click here)
- Let a very special steam train on the West Somerset Railway take the strain, and travel through heritage stations from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead admiring the landscape at a restful pace. Imagine you are on the Hogwarts train as you pull in to Dunster and see the magnificent castle on the hill…Stop off at Watchet and see the statue of the Ancient Mariner… Or end up in Minehead with all its entertainments. Alternatively – and this IS a big secret – take the Santa special on selected dates in November and December, and Santa himself will be there to greet you…
- The remarkable rock formations and fossils at Kilve – as striking to me as the Giants Causeway yet scarcely as famous – there are great walks along the coast line here too. Then, if it’s a sunny day, have a cream tea at the Chantry Tea Gardens, and be enchanted!
- Magical Gardens – whether grand and designer-laid by illustrious gardeners such as Gertrude Jekyll, as at Hestercombe, or settled into a wilder harmony as at Fyne Court, the trees are fabulous in their Autumn foliage (both are now National Trust, but the latter you can often have almost to yourself much of the time) The secret Unicorn garden at Cothay Manor, and the rest of their beautiful gardens are probably best seen in June- but in October you can see the inside of this ancient manor house by booking a tour while coming along to their Fine Art, Decorative and Antiques Fair on the weekend of 23rd October – and sneak a look at the Unicorn too. Then there are the smaller, private gardens, lavished with loving attention, which open to the public under the National Garden Scheme; admittedly these are winding down in October, but start up again in February.
- Somerset Arts Week – every October (this year 3-18 October) you can view the incredible array of artistic talent that dwells in the county, with over 100 studios and village halls across Somerset as venues. (Alternate years are Somerset Art Open Studios Weeks). Its another best kept secret of the this amazing county… There are many events associated with the week – some artworks are now linked to landscape and gardens.
- It’s not just art that flourishes down ‘ere in Zummerzet, but also Music. No I don’t mean the world famous Glastonbury Festival, which as we all know is held in June at the solstice. I’m talking about Music on the Quantocks. One of our neighbours, Peter Lewis is the founder of this thriving initiative, born out of his own passion for high quality music, especially Early Music, and his desire to bring it out of London and down to his home patch. Over 100 sell-out concerts have as a result been held in churches, village halls, and the main churches in Taunton, with performers as eminent as The Sixteen with Harry Christophers, as sublime as Stile Antico (due to perform on Sunday 29th November in Taunton) or the Marian Consort (Bishops Lydeard Sunday 13 December), or as talented as world class violinists Tamsin Waley-Cohen (Saturday 10th October), or Tamsin Little (Saturday 30th January) … Concerts are to be found on the Facebook page, but tickets sell out quickly so sign up for their email bulletins at firstname.lastname@example.org and get in quick if the idea calls to you of a concert in a lovely old Quantock church with top musicians recreating the early music for which you could say they were built – it’s hard to find anything more magical. Then come and spend the night in our lovely old house for B&B!
- From the sublime to…. Well, actually one is lost for words when it comes to the Bridgwater Carnival When it comes to reasons to visit our area, this is one other not to be missed event – at least once in your life event! The most amazing Carnival in England! With more light bulbs than you will ever see again – 300,000 or so attached to around 50 ‘carnival carts’ – massive trailers on which local people in costume according to their chosen theme dance and sing, or stand like statues in a tableau, while the streets fill with masquerading individuals, groups and marching bands, in an electrifying atmosphere. The culmination comes with an ancient firework display known as ‘squibbing’, unique to Bridgwater (started with celebrating the demise of poor old Guy Fawkes, Bridgwater being a famously Parliamentarian town). OK, Bridgwater did put on a show in Weymouth for the 2012 Olympics. The whole High Street is taken up, and the assembled throng is inches from a cascade of sparks on the end of broomsticks held aloft in gloved hands by the doughty squibbers. After the Carnival Parade on Saturday 7th November, the performances carry on to other towns and villages in the area for the following week..
Come and visit! We have availability to rent our whole house between 8th – 19th October – or come for a night or two as B&B guests..BOOK NOW.
Or come for a detox retreat here in Somerset
PS In my next blog about Somerset I will also cover the necessity of trips to Glastonbury and Wells, together constituting the ancient heartland of spiritual England – too much to say in this blog, but think now about coming here for the Frost Fayre in Glastonbury on Saturday 28th November as a Christmas market with a difference, or one of the ‘Wheel of the Year’ or Full Moon evenings at the Chalice Well or the award winning markets held in Wells on Wednesday mornings and Saturdays throughout the year – winner of Best Farmers Market in the South West in 2014 …. Enough said already…..