Quantock & Blackdown – Somerset
Three beautiful and very different sets of hills encircle the Vale of Taunton. The Brendon Hills form Exmoor’s eastern fringe, while the wilder Quantocks create a distinct chain north to Bridgwater Bay. To the south, at the border of Devon and Somerset, lie the peaceful Blackdown Hills.
While the Blackdown Hills, with their woodlands, lakes and steep escarpments, were one of the most recent places to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Quantocks were the first, back in 1956. Renowned for their combination of lush, rolling pastures, wild heathland and hilltop panoramas, the Quantocks also boast a magnificent herd of red deer, which browse the heather and roam through ancient oak and beech woods.
These hilly landscapes have a timeless atmosphere, and the trees and woods feel very ancient. A great avenue of gnarled beeches lines the estate drive at Holford, and there are more beautiful old beeches along the ridge-top drovers’ road at Triscombe and Thorncombe. At Bicknoller, the massive yew, although supported, has been standing for over a thousand years, and at Dunster you will find a 60-metre-high fir, Britain’s tallest tree.
The hills, valleys and parklands of this part of Somerset are perfect walking country. The great poet Coleridge, a keen walker, once lived in Nether Stowey and his long wanderings through the surrounding landscape were a rich source of inspiration for his poetry. The Coleridge Way, a long-distance walk, starts in the Quantocks, then passes through the Brendon Hills.
Sunset vantage points abound on the western flanks of the Quantocks and offer magnificent views to Exmoor and the sea. To the north, the shoreline along Bridgwater Bay to the Bristol Channel is remote and rarely visited. Here you will find giant wave-cut rock platforms, great stone cobbles, marshland, fantastic birdlife and the ghostly remains of a ruined harbour.
In the far south of this region, the river Culm meanders through bucolic countryside and offers good, secluded swimming. And don’t miss the quirky local pub in the Culm valley: the food is delicious. High on the western edge of the Blackdown Hills sits a beautiful Elizabethan beacon – a glorious place to watch the sun’s last rays, looking down on deepest Devon and Somerset.