Tuesday, 22 November 2011

We love Taunton, Somerset’s county town: things to see, shopping, places to eat

Since we moved to the country, the Big Metropolis for us is Taunton, the capital of Somerset. It’s our favourite place round here when we need to do a large shop or a large variety of shopping; more of shopping later, though, because there’s plenty else to tell. I temped in Taunton for a while when we first moved to Somerset, and during my lunch breaks I discovered some of its secret (and not so secret) places and things to see. Here’s a taster.

Vivary Park is great for a wander, well used but still peaceful, with lots of interesting corners. There are some gorgeous houses backing on to the park, at which I’ve cast many an envious look.

If you only have time to look at one of the churches in Taunton, make it St Mary Magdalene. The churchyard and surrounding streets are also very atmospheric, giving a feeling of what the town must have been like in the days before the car parks were needed.

The River Tone flows though the town (Tone-town, it must’ve been!) and it’s a nice stroll along the pathways at Goodland Gardens and French Weir. As I write this, there’s some renovation work going on by the riverside so not all the paths are accessible.

Through the archway at Castle Bow you’ll find a collection of historic and picturesque buildings. The castle itself contains the beautifully laid out Museum of Somerset, recently opened again after a massive redevelopment.

Shopping! The main retail areas in the town centre are the High Street, East Street, North Street and the adjoining arcades, where there are all the usual chain stores and independent shops too. There’s a good farmers market on the High Street every Thursday. For plenty of interesting individual shops, try the area around Middle Street and the back streets near the bridge, also Bath Place off the High Street.

Food is dear to our hearts, and we generally combine a visit to Taunton with a good lunch. Some of our favourite places to eat include The Sanctuary on Middle Street (their light lunch menu is very good value); Brazz on Castle Bow (part of The Castle Hotel); the Castle Green Inn (on Castle Green, would you believe?); the Flying Aubergine (great name!) by the river; there are many more too.

Find more information about Taunton, and a link to a heritage trail, at http://www.visitsomerset.co.uk/explore-somerset-towns-and-villages/taunton-p500243

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Things to do on & around Exmoor when it's raining

Exmoor is fabulous for walking and cycling, as you know. But, this being England, you may get some rainy days during your stay (or there may be days when you’d rather take it easier but still get out and about). With this in mind, here are some suggestions for other things to do…

There are plenty of interesting towns and villages to mooch around, for example Dulverton, Dunster, Watchet, Porlock and Lynton/Lynmouth.

National Trust properties in the area include Dunster Castle, just a few miles down the road from us; Coleridge Cottage (at Nether Stowey in the Quantocks – recently refurbished and now with more rooms open); Knightshayes Court near Tiverton; Arlington Court near Barnstaple (so much to see, you can easily spend the whole day here).

How about a safari on Exmoor? The drivers know where to take you for the best chances of seeing wildlife, even if the weather’s not that good. There are several safari companies; the ones nearest to Exmoor House are Barle Valley Safaris and Red Stag Safari. They may be able to pick you up from our door.

Museums? At Watchet there is the Boat Museum and the Market House Museum. Allerford has the West Somerset Rural Life Museum – a fascinating glimpse into the past, including a Victorian schoolroom. In Porlock, Dovery Manor and the Exmoor Classic Car Collection are both recommended. The Bakelite Museum at Williton was described by some of our guests as ‘quirky, eccentric and amazingly interesting’.

A trip on a steam train might be just the ticket. The West Somerset Railway operates services between Minehead and Bishop’s Lydeard. Day Rover tickets allow you to hop on and off at any station; you can buy the tickets at a discount from us here at Exmoor House. There’s something of interest at every station stop and some great views en route, including a different perspective on Dunster Castle. My favourite bit is where the railway line hugs the coast: it feels incredibly remote.

Other interesting places to visit? To meet many creatures great and small, there’s Tropiquaria, near Watchet, as well as the Exmoor Zoo, Bratton Fleming (which even has its own Exmoor Beast) and the Owl and Hawk Centre near Allerford. A bit further away, you could visit Quince Honey Farm at South Molton in Devon, for all things bee-related; or the Willows and Wetlands Centre at Stoke St Gregory to discover the huge part that willow has played in people’s lives on the Somerset Levels through the years and the sheer variety of things that can be made out of willow.

Just a few ideas, then... hope they'll be useful!