Kate TaylorSee other travel guides written by Kate Taylor
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Food and caravanning go hand in hand and those considering caravan holidays in Somerset won't be disappointed. It's something of a cliché but a Cheddar cheese and cider combo goes down a treat on an autumn afternoon. Whether it's a big-label brand such as Thatchers Gold cider from Sandford, near Weston-super-Mare or a small-scale scrumpy producer, there are plenty of cider makers to visit. And while the name Cheddar Cheese isn't exclusive to the original source of Britain's best loved cheese, there is still a producer doing cheese factory tours in the town, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, with plenty of other cheesemakers in the county too.
Of course, eating cheese and drinking cider in Somerset is stereotyping the county somewhat; you'll actually find Somerset to be multi-faceted, whether it's the pastel-coloured limewash houses in picturesque rural idylls, the Grand Pier of Weston-super-Mare or the tents, motorhomes and caravans filling the fields and campsites near Glastonbury for a boogie in the mud at the Glastonbury Festival.
If it's traditional seaside holidays in Somerset that you're after, the county has them – in spades, if you'll pardon the pun. Yes, you've donkey rides on the beach when you visit Weston-super-Mare; the largest seafront town in the county but around the corner of Bridgwater Bay is Minehead, another seaside classic. In between, you can visit Burnham-on-Sea and Brean, where four miles of unstoppable sandy beach is lined with static and touring caravan parks. But for some of the UK's finest coastline, with real, rugged rocks head to the west of Minehead: Somerset's section of Exmoor coastline, around Selworthy Beacon, Hurlstone Point and Porlock Weir on the on the South West Coast Path, really is noteworthy.
Of course the inland scenery of Exmoor National Park is worth a look too. Here you'll find quiet lanes, beautiful river valleys and those pastel-coloured cottages in droves. Dunster, on the edge of the Park, is a quaint little town with its well-sited National Trust-run Dunster Castle and the equally enchanting 17th-century octagonal Dunster Yarn Market, quite a symbol of the town. There are visitor centres in Linton and Lynmouth, Dulverton and Dunster, and independent tourist centres in Porlock, Minehead and Combe Martin.
Aside from Exmoor, there are hill ranges galore in Somerset. They may be small in square mileage but are no less dramatic: the Brendon Hills, on the edge of Exmoor; the Quantocks west of Bridgwater; the Mendips north of Cheddar Gorge, with its choice of campsites, and the Blackdown Hills on the border with Devon. Each hill range is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty celebrating their varied and distinct landscapes, perfect for enjoying a walk or a cycle ride. You can download free walking routes and cycling routes in Somerset.
If you prefer flatter areas for your cycling holidays, sections of The Somerset Levels Circular Route could be for you. The Levels is a unique wetland landscape of significant importance that has created one of England's biggest willow growing areas, and consequently associated craft industries. You can't help but notice the giant ‘Willow Man’, seen from the M5 near Bridgwater, who represents the area. But visit the Willows and Wetlands Visitor Centre near Taunton, Somerset's county town, and you'll be able to find out more about this special countryside.
Somerset is predominantly a rural county, limited to a few provincial – but charming – market towns. Here you will however, find England’s smallest city, Wells, with the stunning Wells Cathedral, though the architecture of the Bishop's Palace is no less marvellous. And if size is everything, it's not far from Cheddar Gorge, Britain’s largest limestone gorge or Pilton, home to the world's largest and most iconic green-field music festival. You can climb the mysterious Glastonbury Tor for a view of it all.
Top five things to do in Somerset
Be a part of The Great Crane Project – in the sense of giant birds rather than machines – by going on a Crane Safari. Join members of the project team who are reintroducing these wetland birds to their former home. You'll radio track the cranes across the Somerset Levels and Moors then discover the bizarre way in which the chicks are reared. The safaris run from mid-November to mid-March.
Drop in to RNAS Yeovilton where you can visit the Fleet Air Arm Museum to discover the fascinating story of the Royal Naval Air Service. Experience life on board an aircraft carrier; discover the pioneers of early naval aviation and step inside the first British Concorde.
Follow in the footsteps of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The 51-mile Coleridge Way walking route takes you through some of Somerset's most picturesque countryside, which inspired Coleridge to produce some of his best-known work. You can visit Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey near Bridgewater, where the poet lived, because it is now a National Trust property.
When to visit Somerset
Food and drink is on the menu for May, when the Royal Bath and West Show celebrates all things rural, and October, when the Somerset Food and Drink Festival showcases the very best produce of the county.
From September to November you'll find the area lights up as towns across the county take part in the Somerset Guy Fawkes Festivals. Together, the carnivals are reputedly the largest illuminated procession in the world.
It's the winter months, between November and February, that give you the best chance to witness Starling murmurations over the Somerset Levels. A natural phenomenon, when thousands of starlings swirl together in a huge ball across the wetlands, the best places to see them are at the National Nature Reserves of Westhay Moor and Shapwick Heath, and the RSPB Ham Wall reserve.
However, it's the summer that hosts Somerset's biggest bash, the Glastonbury Festival, when the cows are moved from the fields around Pilton and the farm turns into a giant feast of music. There are special access routes for caravans going to the festival.
How to get to Somerset
Caravanners will have few problems reaching any of the areas within Somerset.
Drive to Somerset using either the M4 (junction 18) or the M5 (junctions 19 to 26).
From the east, the A303 crosses through Wiltshire into Somerset, the road's reputation as being both beautiful yet frustratingly slow at times is completely true!
Accessing the Somerset section of Exmoor is best via the A361 and then A396 from Tiverton along the Exe Valley. Watch out on the A39 Bridgewater to Minehead/Porlock road. It's twisty – and narrow in places – though its beauty west of Minehead, through Exmoor National Park, provides one of Somerset's best views.