Days out in Somerset
Somerset is a thriving county, full of fantastic activities, attractions, and fun family days out. Best known for its capital of Bath, along with the larger towns of Taunton, Yeovil, and Bridgwater, as well as a certain music festival, Somerset offers a fine blend of history, culture, and excitement.
Some of the most popular places to visit in Somerset include the ancient city of Bath. The UK’s only UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its Roman baths and Royal Crescent, as well as its shopping and lively nightlife. And after a breathy climb to the top, Glastonbury Tor rewards you with stunning 360º panoramic views.
Cheddar Gorge will take you back to prehistoric times with its deep, underground caves and rising cliffs, while Exmoor National Park can give you days of outdoor family activities and adventure, while exploring its picturesque villages including Withypool, Porlock, and Winsford. And not far from the A303 in the south you’ll find both the Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford and the Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS Yeovilton.
North Somerset is also famous for the seaside towns of Minehead, Weston-Super-Mare, and Burnham-On-Sea, all renowned for their golden beaches and attractions. But there are plenty of inland market towns across Somerset to explore, including Bishops Lydeard, Wiveliscombe, and Wincanton, each offering visitors a snapshot of local life.
Topography, geology, and climate
Inland, Somerset is largely made up of hills, valleys, and areas of outstanding natural beauty, including open moorland and levels. But it also features around 40 miles of open coastline on the north coast overlooking the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary. This gives Somerset a diverse range of land qualities and different soil types, rich in fertility.
The east of the county features predominantly free draining soils, slightly acid, loamy soils, and similar types over rock over Exmoor and the Quantocks. Central floodplain soils east of Taunton consist of loam and clay with naturally high groundwater, while in the south, Slow, permeable, seasonally wet, slightly acid, base-rich loam and clay soils feature heavily.
Perhaps the most diverse area for different soil types is the north of the county. Loamy, clayey soils with naturally high groundwater are common around Weston and Burnham, before turning to free draining, low acid, base-rich soils inland. Around Bath, this changes to a mix of lime-rich soils of clay and loam above chalk or limestone.
Together with Devon and Cornwall, Somerset enjoys a relatively mild climate, with an average high over the year of around 21ºC (70ºF) during the summer and an average low of 6ºC (43ºF) during the winter. Temperatures over the county’s higher grounds and AONB can drop to around 1ºC (34ºF).
Annual rainfall across the county is consistent, averaging around 725mm (28”), but can be considerably higher across the Blackdown, Mendip, and Quantock Hill regions with up to 900mm (35”). However, with 15% of Somerset at or just above sea-level, extreme weather can cause flooding in the lower Somerset Levels.
Hestercombe House is set in 120 hectares of parkland. There is a formal garden of around 3 hectares beside the house, designed by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll from 1904 to 1908. There is also a landscaped valley behind the house of around 13.5 hectares, created by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde between 1750 and 1790.
Dunster Castle has gardens and woodland on the castle hill. The gardens cover approximately 6 hectares, set within a park of 277 hectares. It was originally a medieval site, with re-workings in the mid to late-18th century and the mid-19th century.
Somerset’s parks and gardens
With an abundance of public parks, gardens, open spaces, and areas of outstanding natural beauty to take advantage of, Somerset offers plenty of things to do and places to visit. From family days out to relaxed inspiration for horticulturalists, the glorious parks and gardens of Somerset have it all.
- North Somerset (Sedgemoor)
Across almost 7-acres, the Yeo Valley Organic Garden near Blagdon, in the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty, is a constantly evolving environment. Consisting of a flourishing, perennial meadow, the Gravel Garden, with its collection of bee-friendly herbaceous plants, the ornamental kitchen garden, and an apple tree-lined Avenue. Full of inspiration, this working, organic farm is one to discover.
- East Somerset (Mendip)
As an RHS partner garden, the Bishop’s Palace in Wells enjoys 14 acres of Grade II listed gardens featuring fine collections of trees, hearty perennials, herbaceous borders, bold shrubs and plants, and its own arboretum, all surrounded by a wonderful moat. With plenty of activities for a family day out, the 800 year-old palace and gardens create an exceptional setting.
The American Museum Garden in Claverton, near Bath, takes in fabulous views across the Limpley Stoke Valley and features landscaped, ornamental borders, pleasure gardens, and open parkland to explore. Touted as one of the finest gardens in southern England, it’s well worth a visit.
In Bath city centre, the Royal Victoria Park includes the historic, 9-acre Botanical Gardens. Famous for its winding paths and walkways, you'll be led through a colourful treasure trove of herbaceous borders, rock gardens, and woodland gardens, taking in a fine collection of plants, shrubs, and trees along the way.
- South Somerset
Just outside Chard, you’ll find Forde Abbey historic house and gardens. This magnificent country house dates back some 900 years. But the gardens have evolved over the last 200 years to become over 30 acres of formal gardens and a walled garden filled with an abundance of flowering displays and borders across every season. Don’t miss the famous Centenary Fountain reaching heights of over 150 feet!
Montacute House, just outside Yeovil, is a magnificent, Elizabethan mansion surrounded by stunning gardens and parkland. Ideal for walking and exploring in every season, Montacute offers something different. From the formal East Court with its mix of manicured lawns and borders featuring a mix of flowers and shrubs, to the North Garden’s clipped yew trees and rose borders, and the expansive Cedar Lawn, perfect for picnics.
- West Somerset and Taunton
Along the coast, Dunster Castle and Water Mill in Dunster, near Minehead, is the perfect place to explore on a family day out. Featuring a collection of separate gardens, including the South Terrace, The River Garden, The Yew Bank, and The Keep, you’ll discover a wide collection of plants, flowers, and trees, in the grounds of an historic 1,000 year-old castle.
Though just a few miles north of Taunton, Hestercombe Gardens are delightfully hidden away in the foothills of the Quantocks. Once inside, you’ll find 300 years of garden history. Among its 50-acres, you’ll see the design work of Sir Edward Luytens in its formal gardens, and The Great Plat - a magnificent, sunken garden with stone-edged borders filled with plants and flowers specified by horticulturist and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll.
And, at the foot of the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, near Wellington, Cothay Manor Gardens invites you to discover its many ‘garden rooms’ each being a small, self-contained garden with plenty to explore, and entered from a 200-yard yew walk. But among these 12-acres, you’ll also see courtyards, a cottage garden, trails along the River Tone, and a wild flower meadow.