A week camping in Somerset
By Iain Duff
If variety is the spice of life, then Somerset is a bubbling vindaloo of a place.
Rolling hills and sandy beaches are served up alongside a good helping of history and heritage, plus a dollop of family fun and a pinch of mysticism.
It’s the recipe for a wonderful holiday destination for all ages.
There are many great reasons to visit beautiful Somerset, not least because it’s so much closer for many of us than its popular southwest cousins.
Somerset shares its borders with Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon. It is known, amongst other things, for its swathes of peaks, including the Mendip Hills, the Quantocks and the Blackdown Hills – as well as large areas of flatland such as the Somerset Levels.
First stop should be dramatic Cheddar Gorge and from here it’s a short trip to Wookey Hole and its famous caves. The caves are among the most spectacular in Britain, and kids will also love the animatronic dinosaurs, 4D cinema, Magical Mirror Maze and Mystic Fairy Garden.
Explore deepest Somerset: Montacute House, the motor museum in Sparkford, Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, or travel back in time on the West Somerset Railway, England’s longest heritage line.
Then you have the appeal of a visit to mystical Glastonbury with its many unique shops and, of course, a climb up its famous tor, from which you are treated to amazing views across the Somerset Levels.
No visit to Somerset would be complete without spending time enjoying the Georgian splendour of Bath or the medieval intricacy of Wells, with its magnificent cathedral. And Bristol is on the doorstep, too. On the coast, there’s loads of traditional seaside family fun to be had at Weston-super-Mare, Minehead and Burnham-on-Sea.
A week camping in Somerset
# Day 1: Cheddar Gorge
Just a few miles south of the M5 motorway in the heart of Somerset is one of Britain’s most spectacular natural wonders – Cheddar Gorge.
Start by climbing the 274 steps up the side of the gorge to the Lookout Tower.
Once there, you’re on top of the world, with panoramic 360° views of the Mendip Hills and Cheddar Reservoir.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can take a four-mile walk right around the top of the gorge, too.
But there’s just as much fascination below ground in this area.
Cheddar Gorge’s caves were formed 500,000 years ago, like the gorge, by water dissolving the limestone rock. Our favourite is Gough’s Cave.
It tells the story of the Cheddar Man, a prehistoric hunter-gatherer who lived 9,000 years ago.
His bones (the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain) were unearthed in the cave in 1903 and now reside at the Natural History Museum in London.
# Day 2: Wookey Hole
Wookey Hole is home to the biggest cave system in the UK, formed as limestone and conglomerate were worn away by rain coming off the Mendip Hills and what is now the River Axe.
It was also home to the Witch of Wookey, an alleged witch who used to live there, and who appears in residence at peak times.
Visitors hear stories of the witch, explore the illuminated caves, and see cave-aged cheese.
The caves are stunning, with underground lakes and strange rock formations.
In 2015, a new tunnel was blasted through the rocks, extending the visitor route to two chambers, previously only accessible to cave divers.
Other attractions at Wookey Hole include a Victorian penny arcade, a cave museum, dinosaurs, a circus show (weekends only), and crazy golf.
If you have young children, the soft play area (which spans two rooms, connected by a tunnel!) is well worth making time for, too.
# Day 3: A day in Bath
The magnificent Georgian city of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-visit on any trip to Somerset and top of the attractions list has to be the famous Roman Baths.
Built around AD 70, it’s one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world and the interactive museum is filled with treasures.
Thermae Bath Spa is Britain’s only natural thermal spa, where you can try the latest treatments as well as traditional hot water benefits.
Bath is rich in culture and entertainment, and a great shopping destination.
All the big-name stores are here, as well as countless independent shops.
# Day 4: Explore Somerset history
Montacute House is a National Trust property constructed out of local Hamstone under the watchful eye of William Arnold; it was completed in 1601 and still looks magnificent to this day.
After touring the house, enjoy a picnic among the trees followed by a wander around the grounds, enjoying the koi carp in the fountain pond.
Montacute village is also home to the mildly eccentric TV Radio Toy Museum – nostalgia fans should definitely spend a hour or two here!
Haynes’ brilliant motor museum in Sparkford, near Yeovil, and the amazing Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton are also well worth a visit.
# Day 5: A day on the train
The West Somerset Railway takes you on a glorious 20-mile trip from Bishop’s Lydeard to Minehead through lovely Somerset scenery, passing through the Quantock Hills and along the coast of Exmoor.
There are 10 restored stations on the route and the experience makes a great day out.
# Day 6: Beside the seaside
Weston-super-Mare is the biggest and longest-established of the traditional Somerset seaside resorts.
It has been host to thousands of family holidays down the years and is a bustling and vibrant beach location.
The views over to Wales and of nearby Exmoor are enhanced by the long sweep of Weston Bay and the broad, flat, sandy beach has as much open space as any youngster could wish for.
Weston has everything you would expect of a seaside resort, including fairground rides, arcades and plenty of shops.
If you are looking for somewhere to occupy the kids for a long time, try visiting the Grand Pier, which has been rebuilt after a fire.
# Day 7: Wells and Glastonbury
The charming, but small, cathedral city of Wells should be next on your Somerset to-do list. The cathedral itself, built between 1175 and 1490, is an impressive sight - especially if you’re a fan of Gothic architecture.
Nearby Glastonbury is, of course, synonymous with its music festival but you’ll find plenty more to enjoy in and around the town aside from this.
As befits its mystical reputation, there are rows of shops selling a wide variety of weird and wonderful stuff.
You’ll find everything imaginable, from clothing, gemstones, crystal balls and magic wands to books on mysterious topics, medieval swords and all kinds of other quirky bits and bobs.
The steep hill of Glastonbury Tor takes about 25 minutes to ascend, but it’s worthwhile – the views from the top are amazing.
You can see for miles in all directions, across the Somerset Levels to the Mendip Hills and beyond.
The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a lovely way to end the day.
One to visit
The Bishop’s Palace & Garden in Wells has been home to the bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years.
Surrounded by a moat, visitors can cross a flagstone drawbridge. There are 14 acres of outstanding RHS partner gardens to explore.
Activity days, historic re-enactment, concerts, talks, workshops and demonstrations will be going on throughout the year.
What to see
Where to camp in Somerset
Helping you choose the best place to camp in the UK
Camping in the UK gives you freedom, adventure and the chance to get closer to nature, whether it is a night on the Cornwall coast or a week's holiday in the Highlands of Scotland.
Home is where the heart is, and that's especially true when it comes to camping in the UK. Sometimes we forget just how much there is explore in the UK.
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