01/05/2019
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Camping Inspiration: Family Camping In Somerset

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Giles Babbidge spends a week discovering why beautiful Somerset is such popular destination for family holidays

Somerset always evokes fond memories of childhood summer trips and return visits are a chance to see some of the sights I remember from all those years ago. During this trip, we picked attractions roughly within an hour’s drive of our tent, to keep travel distance to a minimum,

Accommodation was the 90-pitch Cheddar Mendip Heights Camping and Caravanning Club campsite, located on the edge of the village of Priddy.

The campsite itself was lovely and quiet with nice, clean facilities and views overlooking adjoining fields.. At night, we enjoyed clear, starry skies - apart from on the last night, where low cloud reminded us that, yes, we were indeed on higher ground in the heart of the Mendip Hills (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

On our first morning, we decided to make life easy and headed 150 yards up the road to Priddy Good Farm Shop, whose full English breakfasts had been highly recommended. We weren’t disappointed! Between us, we enjoyed a ‘Full Farmer’, a ‘Farmer’s Wife’ and a ‘Farmers’s (sic) Kid’, each of which was a very reasonably priced variation on the theme.

This set us up nicely for a day at Wookey Hole, reached by about 10 minutes’ driving along winding country lanes with lovely far-reaching views across picturesque fields.

Wookey Hole is home to the biggest cave system in the UK. The caverns themselves were formed as limestone and conglomerate were worn away by rain coming off the Mendip Hills and what is now the River Axe.

We were initially guided into the first main chamber, named the Witch’s Kitchen (on account of the tale of an alleged witch who used to live there). It set the scene nicely and from here, we followed a series of impressive tunnels leading into multiple chambers that remain at a constant temperature of around 11 deg C.

After the caves, we made our way through the Valley of the Dinosaurs before enjoying Marshfield Farm ice creams. There are actually over 20 attractions to enjoy at Wookey Hole but as ever, we had to take our pick, given only a finite amount of time. We chose the old paper mill (with demonstrations available), the cave diving museum, Mirror Maze and arcade (the latter pleasingly laid out in the style of a seaside pier pavilion). If you have young children, the soft play area (which spans two rooms, connected by a tunnel!) is well worth making time for, too.

The cathedral city of Wells was next on our to-do list for the following day. It was something of a fleeting visit as we had been there on a previous holiday - but nonetheless, we enjoyed a quick look around before getting some provisions and heading back to the campsite. The cathedral itself, built between 1175 and 1490, is an impressive sight - especially if you’re a fan of gothic architecture. 

Sticking with the historical theme, sunny conditions gave the perfect backdrop, the day after, for a quick trip to Bath. We headed straight for the Roman Baths, where we were greeted by friendly and ever so helpful staff. We decided to take advantage of their audio guide handsets; this is definitely recommended, especially if visiting with kids. A special commentary has been made just for them, voiced by children’s novelist and poet, Michael Rosen. It was so good, in fact, that we adults even favoured it for much of the time as the added characters really brought the history and story of the place to life!

There is a wealth of fascinating history to explore here and the attraction itself is a lot bigger than you might think. Multiple rooms and ‘pools’ with raised walkways over excavated hypocaust remains are just the start of it and we were really impressed by the atmospheric lighting throughout.

The whole visit took around three hours at a leisurely pace, with just about the right amount to see and do along the way. Again, this is a place well worth taking in if you are interested in Roman life, ancient civilisations and the like - not forgetting, of course, that Bath itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A wander around the city on the way back to the car led us to Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House (billed as the oldest house in Batch, c. 1482). Here, we purchased a couple of their famous ‘Bath Bunns’ and enjoyed taking a look at the modest kitchen museum which is believed to be the bakery where these regional specialities originated from. Given more time, we could have enjoyed a meal on one of their three floors - but as it was, we headed back to the tent for fish and chips (purchased from The Haynes in High Littleton on the way).

Glastonbury is, of course, synonymous with its music festival. However, we found there’s plenty more to enjoy aside from this. A 30-minute drive from the campsite took us to the town centre, where we left the car. A few short minutes’ walk through a side street later, we were on the main high street - a mix of cafés and bohemian clothes shops set in an atmosphere of quaintness all of its own.

By now, it was time for a morning snack - and Coffee Zero proved to be the perfect place to enjoy a latte and homemade cake, sat on comfy sofas by a nice, bright window.

Suitably revived, it was a 15-minute walk which took us to the excellent Somerset Rural Life Museum. It’s worth noting that there is a car park on site, should you wish to drive there directly. Again, we were greeted by friendly staff who welcomed us and interacted with the whole family, explaining about the Eye-Spy challenge, Farm Toy Adventure and Mini Beast Hunt - all of which were great fun. A nice touch was a cow-design rucksack, one of which gets given to each young visitor, containing key items to help them in their quest.

The museum itself was lovely - well presented, with a great range of signage and original artefacts to entertain and educate all ages; it was very interesting to learn about local ways of life from a bygone era. The fun continued outside with a World War I allotment, Punch (a life-size horse made out of old farm machinery), a Ferguson tractor which children are allowed to sit on and even a life-size milkable cow (whose udders squirted water!).

With a sticker and certificate duly issued to our own little adventurer for having completed the tasks as we went around, we headed back to the car and off to the campsite via Glastonbury Tor. Another popular attraction in the area, we didn’t actually visit this striking hill which overlooks the Isle of Avalon, but we did get a good view of it from below.

The following morning, we decided to take in some heritage on a grander scale and for this, we picked Montacute House. On the way, we paid the town of Shepton Mallet a visit in order to get refreshments. Taking advantage of one hour’s free parking, we soon came across The Cheeky Bean Café - which again had a lovely atmosphere along with original artwork hanging on the walls and a range of books and magazines for customers to enjoy with their food and drink. The view was also nice as we sat overlooking the Market Cross.

Montacute House is a National Trust property constructed out of local ham stone under the watchful eye of William Arnold; it was completed in 1601 and still looks magnificent to this day. Maybe not the best choice if you have really young children to entertain, it nevertheless has much to offer the whole family.

We first made a beeline for the family picnic area as, by that time, lunch was very much on the cards and we had prepared our own. Sat amongst towering, established trees, it was a very peaceful escape in the early-afternoon sunshine with plenty of space for children to run around and play games.

The Great Hall was our first port of call upon entering the house and it was here that we picked up a clip board and pen to take part in a Family Trail eye-spy challenge which had us looking for objects and details within various rooms. The Parlour Passage led us through to the Parlour, which had a lovely setup of original period furniture including a grandfather clock and striking ornaments.

Fans of textiles and needlework are in luck because the Brown Room at Montacute houses the Goodhart Sampler Collection. A 120-strong group of 16th and 17th century samplers of international importance brought together by Dr Douglas Goodhart, these are taken from the full collection which numbers nearly 300 pieces.

Likewise, if traditional artwork appeals, Montacute is worth a visit for its 53-metre Long Gallery, which extends the full length of the house. It’s actually the longest of its kind in England and is extended via small adjoining rooms. Thanks to a collaboration between the National Trust and the National Portrait Gallery, the top floor of the house now displays a fine collection of Tudor and Jacobean portraits on loan from the NPG in London. Among the subjects, it was fascinating to see notable individuals such as artists, writers and monarchs.

We rounded off the visit in leisurely fashion, with a wander around the grounds, enjoying the koi carp in the fountain pond and rope swings in dappled shade. 

With a busy holiday nearly complete, it was time to slow things down a bit… and what better way to do this than by heading to the beach? And so, our last full day saw us take a trip to the seafront at Weston-Super-Mare, which was just under an hour away from the tent. Again, we had fun and games with the roof box, but ultimately parked 5 minutes’ walk from the beach.

Sat by the sea wall, conditions were just right - a bright day with a cool breeze, perfect for making sand castles, kicking a ball around and, of course, enjoying locally-produced ice cream. The beach itself is a glorious stretch of golden sand at low tide; a top tip here would be to check the tides before your visit to avoid disappointment, as you’ll have a potentially long walk in order to reach the water.  

Back at the campsite, we rounded off the day with a stroll over to the modest play area which has a couple swings, a slide and a small climbing slope - which proved to be popular throughout the whole week.

Somerset likes to describe itself as the Jewel of the South West - and rightly so. Whether you’re a keen sightseer looking to learn more about the area or simply love sitting amongst open countryside, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Likewise, it’s also a place that is perfect for camping of all levels - whether that be solo trips or with the whole family in tow.


WHERE TO CAMP IN SOMERSET

CHEDDAR MENDIP HEIGHTS
Townsend, Priddy, Wells, Somerset BA5 3BP
01749 870241
campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk
Facilities: Amenity block with free hot showers, dishwashing area, washing facilities, recycling, shop, Wi-Fi.

ACACIA FARM CAMPSITE
Bristol Road, Rooksbridge, Somerset BS26 2TA
01934 750314
acaciafarmsomerset.co.uk

CASTLE FARM CAMPSITE
Castle Lane, Heath House, Wedmore, Somerset BS28 4UH
07710 674840
castlefarmcampsite.co.uk


ABOUT SOMERSET

Somerset can be found in the southwest of England and shares its borders with Gloucestershire, Bristol, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon. It is known, amongst other things, for its swathes of rolling hills including the Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills and Blackdown Hills - as well as large areas of flat land such as the Somerset Levels.


DID YOU KNOW?

Cheddar Gorge in the Mendip Hills is a well-known modern-day tourist spot. In 1903, it was the site of a rather special discovery - Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton. Thought to be over 9,000 years old, the remains (known as Cheddar Man) are now kept at the Natural History Museum in London.


THINGS TO DO IN SOMERSET

WOOKEY HOLE
Wells, Somerset BA5 1BB
01749 672243
wookey.co.uk

WELLS CATHEDRAL
Cathedral Green, Wells, Somerset BA5 2UE
01749 674483
wellscathedral.org.uk

THE ROMAN BATHS
Abbey Church Yard, Bath Somerset BA1 1LZ
01225 477785
romanbaths.co.uk

SOMERSET RURAL LIFE MUSEUM
Chilkwell Street, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8DB
01458 831197
swheritage.org.uk

MONTACUTE HOUSE
Montacute, Somerset TA15 6XP
01935823289
nationaltrust.org.uk

WESTON-SUPER-MARE BEACH
Marine Parade, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset BS23 1AL


EATING OUT IN SOMERSET

For food on the go, here are a number of places to eat during days out.

PRIDDY GOOD FARM SHOP
Townsend Farm, Priddy, Wells, Somerset BA5 3BP
01749 870171

THE HAYNES FISH AND CHIPS
Hight Street, High Littleton, Bath BS39 6JH
01761 470525
thehaynes.co.uk

COFFEE ZERO
42 High Street, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 9DX
01458 835505

THE CHEEKY BEAN CAFE
12-12a Market Place, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 5AZ
01749 939574
thecheekybean.co.uk

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