Discovering the area along Somerset’s Coast Path

By | Category: Travel destinations


For dog owners going on holiday, being able to take your dog with you is always good news.

The Jurassic Coast seems to cover a large proportion of Southern England’s coastline. The rocky beach of Kilve, well-known for its fossils and Jurassic geology falls into this category. The different cliff formations are amazing with its different colours as is the waterfall cascading down. Great stretches of beach stretch out to the sea, which appears to be miles away. Chris Sidaway, my guide has a wealth of knowledge, and is the ideal person for anyone wishing to learn about the area’s geology. A bonus is the nearby pretty Chantry Tea Gardens that has a dovecote, and where homemade food includes scones served with thick clotted cream and strawberry jam.


I love discovering pretty villages and the medieval village of Dunster, with its 200 listed buildings, within Exmoor National Park falls into this category. On a hill and dominating the high street is the Norman fortress of Dunster Castle with its parkland and gardens, now a National Trust property. Over time the castle has been turned into a Victorian home with a nearby working watermill, now a tearoom, where it is possible to buy the mill’s stone-ground flour. If you are visiting on 19 August there is a theatrical performance of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice in the Castle’s grounds. It is advisable to book in advance. A timber-framed octagonal Yarn Market used for the sale of local ‘broadcloth and homespuns’  in the days when there was a flourishing cloth trade stands across the road from the 18th century dog-friendly, Luttrell Arms Hotel which is named after the former owners of the castle.

Cleeve Abbey. Image © English Heritage

According to English Heritage who look after the building, Cleve Abbey has the most complete and unaltered set of monastic cloister buildings in England with the great dormitory one of the finest in the country. Sited in its own purpose-built shelter, the  large-scale decorated medieval monastic refectory floor has heraldic tiles dating to 1270. The royal and baronial heraldry signifies the abbey’s wealthy patrons. An exhibition and touch-screen virtual tour tells the story of abbey life. Both grown-ups and children can dress up in monastic garments, as did one of the people I went with. With his bald head he looked very much the part! Dogs on leads are allowed in the grounds.

Ladies from pontins await the passengers on the West Somerset Railway

being greeted by the girls from Pontins at the West Somerset Railway

A really fun way to get around the area is by steam railway. There are ten stops on the West Somerset Railway, which has a selection of steam and diesel trains in its collection. Poppy and I were greeted on the train’s platform by two pretty lady representatives from nearby Pontins, even though we weren’t staying there. We boarded a train hauled by a 102 year old engine built for the old Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, 53809 (owned by The 53809 Preservation Society) which was originally designed to haul goods trains but often pulled passenger ones as well. I was given an old fashion cardboard ticket that the conductor, one of the volunteers that help man the trains, came round and clipped. Poppy was allowed to travel on the train with me. The train stations themselves are a delight, maintained as they used to be with such touches as flowerboxes and two of them, those at Minehead and Dunster,  are Grade II listed. The stop at Doniford on the path of the coast walk is a request halt so anyone wanting to board has to put out their hand to stop the train.

the Bakelite Museum

At Williton, one of the stops is the quirky Bakelite Museum, which claims to have the world’s largest collection of vintage plastics from the 1850s to the 1950s. Housed in a seventh century watermill, the place is jam-packed with everyday items that were made from Bakelite – telephones, radios, televisions even a car. This is the personal collection of artist, collector and author Patrick Cook who is a member of the Dull Men’s Club.

Brean Down, a National Trust expanse on the Severn Estuary is strategically at the tip of the Mendips, cut off by the River Axe. I climbed what seemed like hundreds of steep steps to the top for a breathtaking view across Somerset, Exmoor and South Wales. At the top is a two kilometre stretch of grass which retains some remnants of WWII machine gun emplacements and, stretching even further into history, Ice Age links. I was warned not to let Poppy off her lead as it is also a haven for wildlife which could tempt her to chase them. Not only is the warning to protect wildlife it is also to protect you dog as there is a sheer drop below. The area is covered with wild flowers and shrubs whilst also being a habitat for birds and butterflies. Fortunately there is also a winding path down with an enormous expanse of beach at its base but be warned.  The sea can come in very quickly, often too quickly for some owners who have parked here!

Brean Down. Image © National Trust


On the Severn Estuary the Steart Peninsula is home to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and Natural England’s Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve. The area is rich in mud flats, saltmarsh, shingle ridges, islands, hedgerows and trees, and is particularly important for the significant number of migratory birds it attracts. These include the Golden Plover, Dunlin and Redshank that arrive after nesting in such far away places as Scandinavia and Siberia. It is also an important breeding site for Shelducks. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a lead. The best time to visit is the winter.

A word of warning if travelling by car, it’s better not to rely purely on a satellite navigation system. Driving through valleys it is very likely that you will lose your signal. Out of season, you may find that there is no-one around to ask the way so it’s best to invest in a local map of the area, just in case!

For more about Natasha’s trip to Somerset, click here or go to



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