View from the Battlements of Dunster Castle, Somerset

A mini-break in Somerset Part 1.

It was a superb autumn last year and we were lucky enough to have a few days away in Somerset before the second Lockdown. We decided to stay in the area of The Quantocks as most people go further west to Exmoor or Dartmoor.

Once again we were lucky on our second mini-break as the weather was warm and sunny throughout the three days we were away. The evenings were chilly but the sunsets were wonderful.

Sunset taken from the car park of ‘The Carew Arms’.

Driving down to Somerset we had been recommended a place for lunch and it couldn’t haven’t been better –The Kitchen at Quantock Lakes was an excellent stop. The home-made soup was very filling and was so huge, I had to cancel my toasted tea cake, I just couldn’t manage anything else! We would throughly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever near that part of the world.

Suitably replete we drove onto the Quantocks to start our circular walk and what better place to park than somewhere called ‘Dead Woman’s Ditch’?! It’s a large open clearing by a shallow stream and during the summer is a popular place to bbq and you could probably go for a paddle too.

The Quantock Hills, Somerset
Ramscombe Circular Walk from Dead Woman’s Ditch on The Quantocks.

The Ramscombe Circular Walk is about 4.5 miles, mostly flat at the beginning but after you have descended into Ramscombe it is a steady climb back to the top. You walk across the moorland first of all, between the bracken and gorse hedges and then into the woods. We hadn’t expected to come across the wild ponies which live on The Quantocks but there on the open land were a group of five. Although they are found on The Quantocks they are actually Exmoor ponies who migrated across to Somerset years ago and never went back. These ponies may not have been the wild ones as they seemed fairly undisturbed by us but we were delighted to see them all the same.

Ponies on the heath and the woodland walk.

Walking through woods in the autumn is definitely my favourite time and as you can see, this wood was magical. We didn’t see a soul all the time we were walking along – no traffic noise, just the sound of birds singing. When you come out at the bottom there is a path which takes you to a minor road, past the Christian Study Centre then up onto the heath and back along to the car park.

Not a soul in sight! (Shot on the r.h.s. was taken with the lens of my sunglasses over the camera lens!).

If you would like details of the Ramscombe Walk, copy this link to print off the details. https://www.quantockonline.co.uk/tourism_leisure/activities/walks/circularwalks/ramscombe01.pdf

Village of Crowcombe, Somerset
Church of the Holy Ghost, Crowcombe with the 16th century Church House. (On r.h.s.), view of the pub garden from our room.

Arriving back at the car it was time to drive down off the hills to Crowcombe where we were staying for three nights. The village itself is very old dating back to 854 and is mentioned in The Domesday Book. The village cross dates from the 14th century as does Church House. The tower of the Church of the Holy Ghost dates back to the same time although most of the imposing church was built in the 15th century. We popped inside to have a look inside the church and peep through the windows of the rather splendid Church House before going back to The Carew Arms to check out their beer.

Like all pubs, 2020 was a tough year for this small hotel/village pub. Functions cancelled including the regular skittles matches and event nights. This current year hasn’t been any kinder so far and you can only wonder whether a place like this and dozens more similar pubs and small hotels will survive.

Despite lean times, the staff at the pub were great; so friendly, we couldn’t have been looked after better. The beer was well kept and the home-made food was excellent. A huge breakfast is included in the price and sets you up for the day and as for the curry …I couldn’t do better myself. We spent our evenings in the ‘snug’ sat on the old settle by the wood-burning stove. No need for a TV or live music – the customers kept us entertained.

Unfortunately the first thing that you notice when you arrive is the look of the place from the outside. You have to bear in mind that the main building is very old and to be truthful both the outside and interior need a great deal of money spending on it. Our bedroom was in the accommodation block which joins the main building. Whilst our room was clean, the only heating was from a free-standing electric fire … with no double-glazing at the windows, it was hard to get it warm. The bathroom was an ice box! I don’t want to be anymore disparaging than that as it must be hard these days to afford to update guest bedrooms but 21st century they are not. Whether all the rooms lacked central heating, I don’t know. All I do know is that as I write this on a freezing cold day in February I would not want to spend a night at The Carew Arms! Having said all that …if you are looking for a decent pint, good home-cooked food and a very warm welcome don’t drive past, you will be well looked after.

I mentioned the village church earlier on as it’s well worth a look. Along the nave the carved bench ends have unusual carvings which depict such pagan subjects as the Green Man and the legend of the men of Crowcombe fighting a two-headed dragon. Across the road is the Church House; one of only two in the country still in use as was first intended. It is believed it was built in the early 1500’s as a single storey building. Originally it was used for parish functions and later to house the poor of the village on the lower floor and a school on the upper. It has now returned to community use and a venue for functions with the ground floor used as a village hall and the upstairs room to house exhibitions.

Dunster Castle including a shot of the downstairs sitting room.

Day two of our trip and we drove over to Dunster. We obviously came to it on the right road as the view of this medieval castle on top of the Tor is very impressive and definitely worth pulling over in a lay-by to take a picture. The castle itself is owned by the National Trust. We arrived just after opening time so had the house to ourselves. All the guides were very friendly and happy to tell us more of the castle’s history. We were lucky the house which was formerly owned by the Luttrell family who lived there for 600 years was open although there wasn’t a great amount to see. The castle grounds and gardens are very interesting with stunning views from the top terrace together with the formal gardens. There seemed to be several terraces snaking around the gardens each offering a variety of shrubs and plants. along the borders. Our favourite area was down by the river; it’s a wild, wooded area, a little like ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ but on a smaller scale. The river Anvil runs through the garden, alongside the working watermill and under an 18th century double-arched stone bridge. This was built by the Luttrell family to replace a mediaeval mill bridge. I love the way a small waterfall has been created just down stream. This area is so peaceful and a perfect place to have a cup of tea at the tea rooms. Sadly both the watermill and tea rooms were closed. No problem …there are plenty of tea shops in Dunster which is where we went next.

Grounds of Dunster Castle, Somerset
Lovers Bridge (top picture) and castle gardens.
Mill Gardens at Dunster Castle, Somerset
Mill Gardens with the River Avill flowing through.
Grounds of Dunster Castle, Somerset
Grounds of Dunster Castle with stunning views.
The medieval town of Dunster with its iconic octagonal Yarn Market.

We left our car in the castle car park and walked down the back street into the village. Dunster feels more like a small town but as it claims to be the most intact medieval village in England, I am not going to argue with that. I have fond memories of Dunster and it’s fine church as I photographed a wedding there about twelve years ago and remember that day with great fondness. I was pleased to be back and also to be able to pop into one of the shops in the High Street to say hello to ‘my’ groom. At least he remembered me which was nice.

After taking a picture of the iconic Yarn Market and checking out a few local shops we were ready for a warm drink and a piece of home-made cake. Spoilt for choice we opted for a tea-shop where we could sit outside on the pavement and enjoy the autumn sunshine. It felt great to be able to do that in mid-October and yes, we did feel like tourists …and we were!

I am going to finish the first part of our three-day trip in The Quantocks as there’s more pictures and narrative to come. I hope my account so far of our visit will tempt you to read Part 2 which will be coming soon.

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