Tuesday, 3 June 2014

On the Levels: visiting Somerset’s lowlands

Dunkery Hill, near Exmoor House Wheddon Cross
Somerset is – to use a very hackneyed phrase – a county of contrasts. Our guest house on Exmoor is more or less in the middle of the National Park and surrounded by rolling hills and moorland. Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor’s highest point, makes a great walk from here. The coast is less than ten miles away; to get there you go through farmland, ancient woods and very pretty country villages (more contrasts). Wheddon Cross, our village, is Exmoor’s highest – so we’re definitely in the highlands of Somerset.

If Wheddon Cross is part of the highlands then the Somerset Levels, about an hour’s drive from Exmoor House, are the lowlands. They have been in the news lately, although (sadly) for all the wrong reasons.

We decided it was about time we paid another visit, heading first to Martock. This small town is full of honey-coloured hamstone houses and is home to Yandles, an excellent place to buy wood and woodworking supplies. At Yandles you will also find a huge range of crafting books and materials, a very good craft centre and a nice coffee shop / tea room.

Muchelney Abbey on the Somerset Levels
Then on to Muchelney to visit the Abbey (a very atmospheric English Heritage property).  The nearby Priest’s House, owned by the National Trust, is also well worth a look but opening days are limited so do check before you go.

Muchelney means ‘great island'; it unfortunately became an island again for a while earlier this year. In the church we found a truly heartwarming display of cards and letters from people and organisations all over the country, offering practical and moral support to all the people who were affected by the floods.

On the village outskirts is John Leach’s Muchelney Pottery, with a showroom full of John’s unique pottery in lovely earthy colours (some of his work is on display at the Abbey too). The adjoining gallery features exhibitions by local and international artists and craftspeople.

That was just a taste of part of this very interesting area in Somerset, which is well and truly open for business again. You could easily explore the Levels during your stay at Exmoor House, or maybe visit on the way here or on the way home.

No comments: