I’m a big fan of the staycation. We visit Cornwall several times a year as we love it there, but we rarely stay in Somerset for our breaks away from home.
Obviously now Harry is at school our breaks are limited to the school holidays, so for our half term we hot tailed it to West Somerset to see what it can offer a young family like ours.
We were invited by Visit Exmoor to find the secrets that West Somerset and Exmoor have to offer. Some little gems go unnoticed and are known only by locals. The Visit Exmoor website detail local secrets so visitors to the area don’t miss out on all of the culture, heritage, scenery and wildlife in the area.
First we went to medieval Dunster set within Exmoor National Park. The village is home to over 200 listed buildings, and as we wandered around the village we fell in love with the beautiful thatched cottages and lovely feel of the place.
Quite honestly I thought we were in Devon, the village had that Devon feel about it with thatched cottages and streams. West Somerset countryside is quite different to South Somerset where we’re from on the Somerset/Dorset boarders.
Dunster Yarn Market in the centre of the village is lit by candlelight at Christmas. My kids liked playing hide and seek in there, although it’s so open it was a short game. It was long enough for me to pop into one of the lovely shops and buy some fudge though.
The secret we were looking for is one of 50 secrets to be discovered on the webite, the underground victorian reservoir set in the grounds of Dunster Castle.
Dunster Castle is a National Trust property, we are members so walked right in. We had to ask where the reservoir was situated, it’s only been open to the public since last year, when in action it held around 40000 gallons of water and served the castle and the village.
The National trust have renovated the reservoir to mark 40 years since it took over the Castle from the Luttrell family. It was very interesting to be able to walk into this space and see where the water would have been.
We then headed up to the top garden for a well deserved rest and chocolate lollies which we bought in the Nutcombe Chocolate shop in the village. Katie had a white chocolate castle and Harry had a milk chocolate train.
The top garden is perfect for picnics with beautiful far reaching views and lots of opportunities to run and hide. Harry particularly liked the ‘track’ that ran around the periphery.
Then we headed back down the steps to grab some drinks from the coffee shop, we sat on the lawn and watched the kids free range, every now and then stopping to look at the fish.
We loved the flora and fauna, I’m a big fan of palm trees and with the sun shining we could have been a million miles away. We felt really chilled out and really enjoyed being there.
Next we left the castle and wandered along to Gallox Bridge, a packhorse bridge which was a perfect place to play pooh sticks. This is a real secret that lots of people miss when they visit Dunster because it is tucked away.
The kids couldn’t wait to wade in and had a great time playing with other children.
We strolled past this cottage with a pretty little stream, the tinkle of water and a beautiful thatched cottage, you can’t get more chocolate box than that.
After a quick play in the playground next to Gallox Bridge we got back in the car to head to the next secret located at Nutcombe Bottom. Isn’t that a brilliant name? The wood is home to the tallest tree in the United Kingdom. Katie fell asleep in the car on the short journey so me and Harry hopped out to learn more. The tree is so tall it would tower over Nelson’s column.
It was really peaceful in the woods and it felt great to get off the beaten track amongst nature. All we could hear was the stream and birds, it was idyllic and good for the soul and it felt really special being there, just my boy and me.
Obviously it was tricky getting the whole tree in the photo so here is the trunk at least.
After our day exploring Dunster we drove to Minehead to check into our accommodation for the weekend, a chalet in the West Lakes Village at Butlin’s Minehead.
As you can see the chalet is really impressive and not what I was expecting at all from my stereotypical view of what Butlin’s is like. The chalet was really clean and so tranquil on the lake, really spacious too and perfect for my family of 4.
The West Lakes Village is situated in a quiet corner of the resort. The food in our restaurant The Deck was really good too, with great options for the children to eat healthily during our stay.
Day two. After a great nights sleep in our beautiful chalet we were ready to discover even more of stunning Exmoor and this part of Somerset at Porlock Weir.
On the pebble beach some people had made themselves a dug out, so cosy and a great way to hang out with each other.
Master H is sitting on his ‘dinosaur bone’ as he called it, he wouldn’t stop playing with it, his imagination is so vivid. We were going to do the interactive family story walk and the kids were just happy playing with pebbles on the beach so we left that secret for next time, I know we’ll be back again.
A futures group set up to grow and harvest oysters in the bay. Porlock Bay Oysters are served in The Cafe at Porlock Weir amongst others. I met with Andrew the chef who showed me from a distance where the oysters were grown and explained that we couldn’t go out to see them due to potential for contamination and safety issues with the children. Andrew explained that the community project are happy to meet with interested parties by prior appointment. Contact Porlock Weir Oysters for more info.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Dixon The Cafe Porlock Weir
After a happy morning on the beach, chatting with Andrew and wandering around the village we headed to our next secret, an enormous collection of plastics at the Bakelight Museum.
In all honestly this attraction wasn’t really our cup of tea. Apart from a couple of exclamations from me and Jon as we recognised items from our grandparents houses, the kids weren’t too enamoured with the collection and Master H in particular refused to let us stay very long.
If you want to go back down memory lane then this is the place for you.
Much more up my street is the artwork in shipping containers at Watchet Harbour. I love art and the small collections didn’t disappoint, I loved the rustic and organic feel with artists on site painting and creating as well as exhibiting, and I think putting art in shipping containers is genius. Each container had a different artist with totally different feels.
The project is called ‘Contains Art’ I do love a play on words. The Visit Exmoor website breaks down the secrets into four categories, Active, Culture, Heritage and Nature so there really is something for everyone. You can pick and choose from 50 hidden secrets depending on if your visit is for the day or longer, with interactive maps you can download to your smartphone.
On our way back to our base at Butlins we spotted Washford train station which we quickly stopped at as we could see the train was at the platform. Master H absolutely adores steam trains and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to sit and watch the main train stop and go. The steam train, carriages and other traditional elements made this a perfect pit stop.
Our weekend in Exmoor has really opened our eyes to the benefits of finding out attractions and gems that aren’t necessarily well known or advertised, finding our own adventure and using local websites and info to help guide us.
As a family we don’t always try new things and yet I think adventures are so important, especially with young children. Getting out in our own county and thinking outside the box has shown us that you don’t have to go very far to find your next adventure. You don’t even have to leave your community.
We were so impressed with Butlin’s too, it made a great base to explore Exmoor and the kids really enjoyed the professional entertainment and fairground. We will definitely stay again, we loved our stay in Somerset.