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The best outdoor experiences in Somerset

This county is a paradise for nature lovers.

Wildlife watchers, walkers and white-knuckled adventure seekers will all be in their element in Somerset. From starling murmurations to stargazing in Exmoor National Park, these are the best outdoor experiences Somerset has to offer.

Somerset Levels Somerset by Joe Dunckley Shutterstock
The landscape of Somerset is varied and fascinating, and definitely worth exploring in its entirety © Joe Dunckley

Climb the canyon walls of Cheddar Gorge

climbing Cheddar Gorge Somerset by mrtom-uk iStock
Scaling the rock face of Cheddar Gorge is a fun challenge for the adventurous traveller © mrtom-uk, iStock 

Cheddar Gorge might be best known for its famous caves but it also draws in plenty of climbers hoping to scale its vertiginous walls. Why not don a harness and take on the challenge for yourself?

Watch the winter migrants at Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve

Owned and managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust, Westhay Moor – the Avalon Marshes’ northernmost reserve –  was once a significant peat harvesting area.

Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve Somerset by Mike Woodhead Avalon Marshes Landscape Team Somerset-Wildlife Trust
The bird-rich landscape of Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve is a sight not to be missed © Mike Woodhead, Avalon Marshes Landscape Team, Somerset Wildlife Trust

It is a little-visited corner of the county and hence you can enjoy this peaceful landscape, consisting mostly of open reedbeds, in relative solitude. As elsewhere on the Levels, winter is really the best time to observe birds here (including grey herons, bitterns and marsh harriers).

Fish for trout on Blagdon Lake 

Blagdon Lake Somerset in Chew Valley at the edge of the Mendip Hills south of Bristol provides drinking water but also used for fishing and is a nature reserve

Manmade Blagdon Lake was completed in 1905 and, with its plentiful stocks of brown and rainbow trout, it has since become one of the country’s premier fly-fishing venues. 

Witness the murmurations spectacle on Shapwick Heath

Between November and February, Shapwick Heath’s main draw is the murmurations, the name given to large groups of starling flocks. Although not uncommon elsewhere in the UK, it’s widely acknowledged that few parts of the country can rival the Somerset Levels when it comes to this marvellous spectacle.

These great swarms – which can be anything from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands – generally peak in December and January when the resident community is joined by a large migrant population from northern Europe.

Walk the Coleridge Way

You can follow in the famous poet’s footsteps, literally, by undertaking the Coleridge Way, a 51-mile-long path beginning in Nether Stowey and ending in Lynmouth, in north Devon.

Coleridge Way Somerset
On the Coleridge Way © Visit Exmoor

If you have the time and inclination (and a bit of good weather), this is a wonderful trek, one ideally completed over a leisurely five or six days.

Visit the cranes on the Levels

One of the most exciting events to happen on the Levels in recent times was the introduction of 93 common cranes on West Sedgemoor Nature Reserve, the first 21 of which were released in 2010.

Cranes Somerset by Dick Kenny Shutterstock
The best time to spot the cranes is in the early morning, before they are disturbed by walkers or farming operations © Dick Kenny, Shutterstock

Until then, this majestic bird had been absent from the South West for over 400 years. At last count, in 2018, there were at least 56 of the original 93 cranes alive, and an additional 17 second-generation birds in the group, so the Levels are an excellent place to go to see these fascinating birds.

Hunt for fossils at Kilve Beach

Unique fossil-rich Kilve Beach lies within the Quantocks AONB and is Somerset’s answer to Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.

Kilve Beach Somerset by Christian Mueller Shutterstock
Fossicking on Kilve Beach is fun for all the family © Christian Mueller, Shutterstock

Fossiling along the shoreline is great fun for all the family, but do watch out for the changing tides and take sturdy footwear for clambering over the rugged, rocky beach. 

Cycle the Brean Down Way

Brean Down Somerset Jon Drew Shutterstock
The eight-mile-long Brean Down Way culminates at the beautiful sands of Brean Down © Jon Drew, Shutterstock

Inaugurated in 2017, the Brean Down Way is an eight-mile mixed-use path between Weston-super-Mare and Brean Down. Now part of National Cycle Route 33, the traffic-free route is mostly level, and there is also the option of cycling a couple of beach-bound sections, though obviously only at low tide.

Walk the South West Coast Path 

Some 35 miles of the South West Coast Path traverse Exmoor (it starts in Minehead).

Hill near Bossington Somerset by Chris Spracklen South West Coast Path Association
Tackle the long-distance South West Coast Path for a challenging hike and stunning views © Chris Spracklen,  provided by the South West Coast Path Association

If you are planning on doing some extensive walking, then it’s worth making the most of the best seasons: spring or autumn is the best time to visit the coast, when the landscape is at its loveliest and the crowds have thinned out.

Stargaze on an International Dark Sky Reserve

In 2011 Exmoor was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, being ‘a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment’.

Exmoor International Dark Sky Reserve Somerset by Keith Trueman, Visit Exmoor
Inland Exmoor is perfect for stargazing due to its status an an International Dark Sky Reserve © Keith Trueman, Visit Exmoor

Although stargazing is a year-round activity, winter months offer greater absolute darkness and less chance of atmospheric humidity, resulting in clearer night skies – optimum conditions would be a hard frost, a clear night and no moon. A great time to visit is during the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival in October.

Visit Exmoor’s indigenous red deer population

Red deer Exmoor Somerset by phil Woolley Shutterstock
Exmoor is one of the view places left in the country where you can see the majestic red deer © Phil Woolley, Shutterstock

Exmoor’s iconic animal, red deer have existed on the moor since prehistoric times and the national park now plays host to one of Britain’s last remaining indigenous populations. There’s something very special about spotting one of the herds as they stalk the moor.

See a carpet of white in February at Snowdrop Valley

Come February, North Hawkwell Wood near Wheddon Cross really comes into its own as it is completely carpeted with snowdrops. Snowdrop Valley is owned by the Badgworthy Land Company and is an ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Area).

Snowdrop Valley Exmoor Somerset by Visit Exmoor
North Hawkwell Wood is a real spectacle in February when thousands of snowdrops start blooming © Visit Exmoor

During the snowdrop season the narrow road leading to the valley is closed to traffic so visitors must walk there along a choice of two woodland routes or take the Park and Ride bus that runs from the Wheddon Cross car park (next to the Rest and Be Thankful Inn).

Want to find out more about exploring Somerset? Check out our guide to the county.