Somerset days out

28/08/2019 11:00

Written by Norm Longley

Seeking a fun and inspirational day out? Look no further than the likes of Hestercombe Gardens or Dunster Castle, though younger ones will love the fantastic Haynes International Motor Museum and the Exmoor Pony Centre.

Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle Nunney Somerset by Nigel Jarvis ShutterstockNunney Castle was built in the 14th century and is an integral part of the village’s amazingly rich history © Nigel Jarvis, Shutterstock 

The village of Nunney is utterly dominated by its magnificent moated castle (English Heritage; free access), somewhat surprisingly one of just three in Somerset. The castle’s history is slightly hazy, but what is known is that it was likely built in the late 14th century by wealthy local baron Sir John de la Mere, then remodelled in the 16th century by the Praters, a staunch Roman Catholic family from London. It's worth spending some time having a nose around this impressive building.

Hestercombe Gardens

Hestercombe Gardens Somerset by Christian Mueller ShutterstockEdwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll joined forces to create the marvellous Edwardian Formal Garden, completed in 1908 © Christian Mueller, Shutterstock

Conceived in the 1750s by landowner and amateur landscape painter Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, Hestercombe boasts quite some history. Two of Britain’s most distinguished architects – Edwin Lutyens (of Whitehall’s Cenotaph) and the renowned horticulturist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll – were involved in Hestercombe’s overall development, joining forces to create the marvellous Edwardian Formal Garden, completed in 1908. The most impressive element of the formal garden is the fragrant-smelling Orangery, its bright, yellow/gold façade instantly recognisable as Ham Hill stone.

Haynes International Motor Museum

Haynes International Motor Museum Somerset by The Haynes International Motor Museum The Haynes International Motor Museum is a world-class transport exhibition one could happily spend hours poring over © The Haynes International Motor Museum

A sleek, glass-fronted building welcomes motorcar fans to the Haynes International Motor Museum, named after its founder and publisher of the iconic workshop manuals, John Haynes, who died in 2019. It is without doubt the most impressive assemblage of vintage and classic cars and bikes in the UK, and ranks among the top tier of motoring exhibits anywhere in the world, though you really don’t have to be a car nut to enjoy this.

Dunster Castle

Dunster Castle Somerset by Dave Goodman ShutterstockDunster Castle was owned by the same family for 18 generations © Dave Goodman, Shutterstock

Spectacularly set atop the tor that dominates the town, Dunster Castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book and was home to the Luttrell family from 1405 until it was handed over to the National Trust in 1974. This unbroken span of ownership gives it a unique appeal, with features typical of each century of privileged, but usually charitable, living. The ornate plasterwork on the ceilings, the alabaster fireplaces, and the intricately carved grand-scale wooden staircase are particularly impressive, but so are the paintings and the furniture – and even the bath (installed in 1870 and one of the first cast-iron baths in England).

Exmoor Pony Centre

Exmoor Pony Centre Somerset by Exmoor Pony CentreLovers of this distinctive native breed can adopt a pony at the centre to help with its upkeep © Exmoor Pony Centre

This excellent centre is located in Ashwick, about four miles west of Dulverton and is home to the Moorland Mousie Trust (named after one of the most popular pony books of all time, published in 1929). There’s an informative display about the trust in the Green Room. There are various riding possibilities, from taster sessions for those with little or no experience to two- or three-hour treks on Exmoor for more competent riders; in all cases, book well in advance.

Exmoor Owl and Hawk Centre

Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre Somerset by Exmoor Owl & Hawk CentreExmoor Owl & Hawk Centre is an excellent place to get up close to a number of different birds of prey © Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre

Less than half a mile north of Allerford is the Exmoor Owl & Hawk Centre, where you can observe many different species of both owl and hawk, as well as other, more unusual birds of prey like a palm-nut vulture. In addition to the flying displays, they offer in-depth bird-of-prey experiences, and barefoot riding. The centre also offers B&B, and serves lunches and teas.

Want to find out more about what to see and do in Somerset? Check out our new guide:

Slow Somerset: the Bradt guide

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