A few blogs helped me plan a winter tour in Somerset in the UK so hopefully this blog will give others tips!
The American Museum
We arrived at Bristol Airport and drove straight to the American Museum in Claverton Manor House just four miles outside Bath. We did deliberate about this as we wondered whether it made sense to visit an American Museum whilst on a visit to the UK. Wow, we were glad we opted for it as it was a real treat. If you are a quilt enthusiast, a lover of old houses, somebody who loves amazing scenery and somebody with an interest in American history and culture, definitely pay this place a visit. The house is in a fabulous location with a breathtaking view over the Avon valley.
The collections of furniture, quilts, silver, glass, portraits and exhibitions are all held within the manor house itself so you get to enjoy the displays as well as the fabulous home. There is an exhibition centre at the side of the house and at the time of our visit, there was a wonderful display of quilts in addition to the quilts exhibited in the house. There is also a wonderful cafe in the Orangery which had plenty of choice and not too expensive.
Pickwick Lodge Farm Bed and Breakfast
After this visit, we headed for our bed and breakfast a few miles further on just outside Corsham. Pickwick Lodge Farm is a 17th century Cotswold farmhouse situated within a 300 acre farm. We loved this place and it oozed English charm. Gill, our host, made us feel so welcome and was quick to give us tips as to where to eat.
The village centre of Castle Combe
The following day we set off for Castle Combe village which is about 12 miles from Bath. This is one of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds with all the houses built out of the traditional cotswold stone so don’t miss it as it really is a gem! It has been the setting for a few films, eg Dr Doolittle.
Allington Farm Shop near Chippenham
We stopped at the Allington Farm Shop near Chippenham on the way to stock up with supplies for our self catering accommodation. The shop supplies home and locally produced food and also has a lovely cafe and garden centre. I had to resist buying too much as it all looked so delicious!!
The George Inn at Lacock Near Chippenham
After this we headed for Lacock which is another very pretty village totally unspoilt by any modernisation. It is about 3 miles from Chippenham and is almost entirely owned by the National Trust. The village of Lacock is mentioned in the Domesday Book. We had a meal at the George Inn which was to be highly recommended. This village has been used in numerous television programmes and films.
From Lacock we headed into Bath city centre to indulge ourselves at the Thermae Bath Spa which was a fabulous millenium project. We had been to this spa before and would never pass up on the opportunity for another visit. Where else are you going to be able to enjoy thermal springs in the centre of a wonderful city. You look at the building from the outside just minutes walk from the Roman Baths and you can’t even image what awaits you. The spa is amazing. I suggest you start off in the downstairs pool, the Minerva Bath. The thermal jets around the side of the bath are wonderful. Progress next to the open air roof top pool. You can literally swim around in the middle of winter and look over the city of Bath and the surrounding hills – the view is incredible. After this, head for the aroma steam rooms. Each of these rooms are infused with a different scent, eg eucalyptus, frankincense etc and in the middle of the room there is a massive waterfall shower that at least 10 people could stand under – It goes on and off on a timed basis. Lastly, you can always opt for a treatment (we didn’t) or while a way some time in their lovely cafe. I think this millenium project is out of this world and you will discover that many private spas are not nearly as amazing as this public one!!
Lower Lakes Log Cabin near Bridgwater, Somerset
Our self catering accommodation was based at Lower Lakes Log Cabins in Chilton Trinity near Bridgwater. This place is a dream. Our open-plan log cabin, Meadowside Lodge, overlooked a lake (some of the occupants of other cabins went fishing). It’s such a peaceful place and is an excellent base for touring Somerset. Our log cabin was wonderfully airy and every detail was thought of. We stayed here in November and were really warm inside the cabin. It’s very spacious inside – a real treat.
Our next day’s adventures took us to Longleat, near Warminster, one of the few stately homes open in winter. The sheer scale of this house and the 900 acre estate is breathtaking so take your time going around this place. The house was finished as far back as 1580 and is now the home of the Marquis of Bath. It’s absolutely packed with antiques and portraits and you even get to see some of the artwork done by the Marquis himself. I think it tells us a bit of his character. We had a really informative guided tour of this vast place. Afterwards we had tea downstairs in the cellars which was also to be recommended.
On our way back from Longleat, we stopped at Sheppys Cider Museum just outside Taunton but were a bit disappointed.
Our next day’s trip was to the city of Wells and then on to the Cheddar Gorge. Wells is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is truly a medieval gem with a fascinating cathedral. We arrived on market day (Wednesday) so there was a real buzz of activity in the town centre. The cathedral itself is in the heart of the city.
From Wells we headed up into the Cheddar Gorge which is a limestone gorge in the Mendip hills just outside the village of Cheddar. It is well worth a visit. We stopped in Cheddar village and did a tour of the cheese making facility. The village looks like it might be a bit trippery in season but in November, it was fine! The rock formations in the gorge incredible so allow time to get out of the car and explore.
On the next day we headed to Minehead and Dunster and on to Porlock and through Exmoor. There were many stunning views from various points on our tour of this area. The Exmoor national park is spread over a wide area. the largest towns being Porlock, Dulverton, Lynton and Lynmouth. You could easily spend days in this area particularly if you are a keen hiker.
Bridgwater Carnival Road Train
Another highlight of our visit to Somerset was the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival. This is a massive illuminated night time procession of road trains all laden down with beaming lights and all kinds of displays. We were amazed how easy it was to get in and out of Bridgwater to view the carnival. Definitely visit this if you happen to be in this part of the world for Guy Fawkes. Wrap up well as this procession lasts for a good while. I was amazed at how many road trains were involved. They just kept coming.
On our last night we stayed at Pennard House Bed and Breakfast which is situated near Shepton Mallet. This is a lovely old house brimming with character.
1 Royal Crescent in Bath
Our final stop before returning to Bristol Airport for a short plane trip back to Cork was to visit 1 Royal Crescent in Bath. The house is maintained by the Bath Preservation Society and is a wonderful example of a 1700s town house. It was the first house to be built in the crescent and originally provided luxury accommodation for aristocrats who came to Bath in the old days to take the waters. Stroll through the sitting room, bedrooms, kitchen and get an idea of how the gentry in Bath really lived.
We loved our short trip to Somerset and highly recommend this part of the world. There are many fascinating places in the area that were not open in winter so we’ll be back at some stage for a summer visit.