The 8 Wonders of Somerset

It’s not just Glastonbury Festival that draws people into Somerset each year. There are plenty of beautiful wonders in the county that inspire thousands of people each year to strap on their walking boots and tread the path often trodden to take in some magnificent scenery, wildlife and breathe in that clean West Country air! Hear are our top wonders of Somerset, illustrated beautifully by supreme talented local photographers.

1. The Quantock Hills

Based in between Taunton and Bridgwater, the Quantocks are a hive of outdoor activity, popular with walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders and tourists. Made up of heathland, oak woodlands, ancient parklands and agricultural land. It was England’s first ever Area of Natural Beauty – designated in 1956. The fact that it was the first says much about the natural beauty of this landscape, whose highest point is at around 390m.

On a clear day, the hills command views towards Glastonbury Tor and the Mendips to the east, Wales as far as the Gower Peninsula to the north, the Brendon Hills and Exmoor to the west, and the Blackdown Hills to the south. Poet William Wordsworth is known to  have lived in the area and there’s no doubt he would have been inspired in his work by his surroundings. We can see why…

Quantock Hills. Image: Phajus on Flickr

Quantock Hills. Image: Phajus on Flickr

@emmacavill suggested The Quantocks on Twitter and we couldn’t agree more – a ‘no brainer!’

2. Brean Down

The most westerly part of the Mendip Hills, Brean down extends out to approximately 1.5 miles into the Bristol channel; standing at around 320 feet (98 meters). It has its own fort, now owned by the National Trust, built in the late 17th century to protect access to Bristol and Cardiff.

It was then rearmed and used for experimental weapons testing during the Second World War. The infamous “Bouncing Bomb” was also tested here. Brean Down makes for a spectacular walk, with stunning views of the Bristol Channel, across the nearby towns of Brean, Burnham on Sea and beyond. In recent years the rock face has become a hot spot for sport climbing and is a keen rambling/walking destination too. Not to mention, it’s rather beautiful to look at in itself…

View from the fort at Brean Down. Image: Sean Batten on Flickr

View from the fort at Brean Down. Image: Sean Batten on Flickr

Thanks to @AndyPW68 on Twitter for the suggestion.

3. Exmoor

Not just belonging to Somerset, this one, but there’s enough of it in there to count! Classified as a hilly moorland and forests, and named after the river Exe, to which it is home of, Exmoor is known not just for the ponies that share its name (or the beast!), but for its sprawling beauty.

The South West Coast Path, the longest National Trail in England and Wales (630 miles) starts at Minehead and runs along all of Exmoor’s coast. The area was designated a National Park in 1954 and it has recently been named as the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, making it an ideal place for stargazing. Places of interest: Dunkery Beacon – The Highest point in Exmoor & Somerset Tarr Steps – Clapper Bridge across the River Barle Porlock Bay – Shingle beach and coastline near the village of the same name.

Exmoor Hills. Image: Daugirdas Tomas Racys

Exmoor Hills. Image: Daugirdas Tomas Racys on Flickr

4. Sand Bay

The Point of Sand Bay near Weston Super Mare is a beautiful stretch of coastline punctuated by rolling hills, rock formations and a shingle bay. Bordered by Middle Hope & Sand Point to the north and Worlebury Hill to the south, there are views across the Severn Estuary toward South Wales. The Bay is home to a holiday camp that first opened in 1949 and is an area of study for the Marine Conservation Society who carry out four annual surveys of the area.

Sand Bay - Image: Jon Combe on Flickr

Middle Hope, Sand Bay Image: Jon Combe on Flickr

Sand Bay at Dusk. Image: Nick Pound on Flickr

Sand Bay at Dusk. Image: Nick Pound on Flickr

5. The Mendip Hills

Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) The Mendips are a range of limestone hills that run east to west between Weston Super Mare and Frome. The Mendips overlook the Somerset levels, offering superb views of Glastonbury Tor, the town of Cheddar and it’s Reservoir, the Severn Estuary coastline at Burnham on Sea & Weston Super Mare and well as landmarks including Brent Knoll.

A wide range of outdoor sports and leisure activities take place in the Mendips, many based on the particular geology of the area. The hills are recognised as a national centre for caving and cave diving, as well as being popular with climbers, hillwalkers and natural historians. Places of interest: Burrington Combe – Said to be the inspiration for the hymn “Rock of Ages” Crook Peak – The most prominent summit in the Mendips.

View across the Somerset Levels from Deerleap on the Mendip Hills. Image: Mukumbura on Flickr

View across the Somerset Levels from Deerleap on the Mendip Hills. Image: Mukumbura on Flickr

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View from the Mendip Hills. Image: Mukumbura on Flickr

6. Porlock Bay

A frequent stop for tourists, campers and visitors to the Exmoor region, Porlock is a stunningly beautiful coastal village situated to the north of Exmoor National Park. Porlock Bay is a gorgeous expanse of shingle beach & ridges, salt marshes and a submerged forest. Porlock Weir is a popular spot with local surfers.

The area has links with several poets of the Romantic era, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge being famously interrupted during his composition of the Khubla Khan by “a person on business from Porlock” subsequently being unable to remember what had come to him in a dream. ‘Porlock’ is frequently the answer given in store when we ask our customers where they’re going for their camping holiday – it’s a preferred camping destination for many Taunton Leisure customers who’ve been in to pick up a new family tent or other camping bits and bobs.

Porlock Bay Image: LuneValleySnapper on Flickr

Porlock Bay looking towards Hurlstone Point. Image : LuneValleySnapper on Flickr

Porlock Bay. Image: Mjhphoto on Flickr

Porlock Bay. Image: Mjhphoto on Flickr

7. Glastonbury Tor

Arguably the most recognisable and iconic image of Somerset. The sight of St Michael’s Tower sat atop of a steep Hill overlooking not only Glastonbury and nearby Street conjures thoughts of history, spirituality, mythology and the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail and the Isle of Avalon – the buriel site for King Arthur and his second wife, Guinevere.

From the top of the Tor there are outstanding views across much of the Somerset Levels. The Tor was once an island, surrounded by water and accessible from only one point before the draining of the Somerset Levels in the Middle Ages by the monstaries of Glastonbury, Athelney and Muchelney.

Glastonbury Tor overlooking the Somerset Levels at sunset. Image: Graham McPherson on Flickr

Glastonbury Tor overlooking the Somerset Levels at sunset. Image: Graham McPherson on Flickr

Glastonbury Tor & St Michael's Tower in Silhouette. Image: Lakemans on Flickr

Glastonbury Tor & St Michael’s Tower in Silhouette. Image: Lakemans on Flickr

8. Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge that is part of the Mendip Hills. This area was voted as the second greatest natural wonderin Britain by readers of the Radio Times. Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, was found there in 1903 and the caves apparently inspired Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkein on his honeymoon visit in 1916.

Cheddar Gorge looking across to Cheddar Reservoir with Brent Knoll & Crook Peak in the distance. Image: Loughlinphotoimage on flickr

Cheddar Gorge looking across to Cheddar Reservoir with Brent Knoll & Crook Peak in the distance. Image: Loughlinphotoimage on flickr

Climbers ascend Cheddar Gorge. Image: RachelC on Flickr

Climbers ascend part of the gorge. Image: RachelC on Flickr

Did we miss any out? Let us know in the comments below what your favourite parts of Somerset are!

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