Seeking a fun family day out in Somerset out now lockdown restrictions are lifting? This corner of England has plenty to entertain young and old alike, from historical treasures such as Dunster Castle to the fantastic Haynes International Motor Museum.
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.
Conceived in the 1750s by landowner and amateur landscape painter Coplestone Warre Bampfylde, Hestercombe (open Wednesday to Sunday) 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
A sleek, glass-fronted building welcomes motorcar fans to the Haynes International Motor Museum (reopening in October), 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.
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
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 (open now).
Exmoor Owl and 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.