West Somerset and Exmoor: Where to go and what to do
St Pancras Chapel lies on the edge of the spectacular landscape of Exmoor National Park where the woodlands, open heaths and valleys rank among the UK’s finest. Trails shaped by nature since antiquity cross-hatch woods and remote moorlands, giving way to fast flowing rivers, majestic coastal views and cliffs.
West Somerset’s rich vistas have inspired writers such as Charles Kingsley, Richard Blackmoor and Evelyn Waugh; and a generation of Romanticist poets including Shelley, Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge – whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner is commemorated with a statue in nearby Watchet . The area’s rugged tors, neolithic stone circles and protected dark skies continue to inspire the likes of artist Sir Peter Blake, photographer Don McCullin and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes who retreat to this wild, exquisite landscape around St Pancras Chapel.
Where to eat and drink around St Pancras Chapel
St Pancras Chapel offers extensive self-catering facilities, from an oil-fired Aga oven and hob to the microwave; alternatively, St Pancras manager Jane offers home-cooked meals if you would like to take a night off from cooking.
But for those looking to head out and sample exceptional quality food and drink, there is no shortage of venues in the area. Turn right out of St Pancras Chapel for the White Horse , a five-minute walk away. Alternatively, turn left and head up to Roadwater, where the Valiant Soldier offers an extensive menu, cask ales and fine wines.
Further out there is the Bengal Spice restaurant and the Mason’s Arms in Williton; the Royal Oak in Luxborough; and, in Washford, The Dragon House and the Washford Inn, right next to Washford Station on the West Somerset Railway. Click here for an extensive list of reviewed restaurants in the area.
Blow off steam with outdoor recreational activities
If you enjoy the great outdoors and energetic pursuits, you can book a range of outside activities for kids and adults – such as rock-climbing and abseiling; archery and clay-pigeon shooting; horseriding and mountain biking; and sea fishing from Watchet harbour, windsurfing, paddle-boarding and kayaking – with one of a number of local providers.
Click here to see the full range of activities available at St Pancras Chapel.
Broaden your horizons with a walk on the wild side
Walkers are drawn to this unspoilt part of the world for its beautiful scenery and there are opportunities aplenty for rambling in the countryside around St Pancras Chapel. The Brendon Hills comprise a lesser known part of Exmoor and afford an opportunity for quieter strolls around the rivers, rolling hills and wooded valleys of the range.
Alternatively, head for the Bristol Channel for some majestic coastal views along the clifftops of Kilve and East Quantoxhead to Dunster and Minehead. To the area west of St Pancras Chapel lie the Quantock Hills – England’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Alternatively, take the Coleridge Way – the nearest joining point is in Roadwater village – to tackle all these terrains in one go!
The manager of St Pancras Chapel, Jane, has extensive local knowledge and is happy to advise on places to walk – or you can click here to book one of her guided walking routes.
Sample the scrumpy and feed the animals at a cider farm
There are a number of destinations for fun days out within a twenty-minute drive from St Pancras Chapel. Just a stone’s throw from St Pancras Chapel is Torre Cider Farm, which sells a range of scrumpies, apple juice and vinegar – as well as locally produced food and crafts.
You can follow a footpath across the field boundary behind the chapel to the farm, or follow the road to the White Horse pub and turn right. The farm’s tea shop serves drinks, homemade cake and lunch, and visitors are free to stroll around the orchards and feed the resident lambs, piglets, chickens and ducks.
Cleeve Abbey: One of England’s best preserved monasteries
Cleeve Abbey – erstwhile home to the monks who built St Pancras Chapel – is very close at hand in Washford, (follow the road to the White Horse pub and turn left). The Cistercian monastery – maintained by English Heritage – escaped the worst excesses of Henry VIII’s dissolution and many of the original buildings remain unaltered, including the 15th century refectory with its beautifully carved roof, and the 13th century dormitory, built at around the same time as St Pancras Chapel.
Walk among the meerkats, emus and alligators of Somerset
A short drive from St Pancras Chapel at Washford Cross is Tropiquaria, a small tropical house and zoo. Inside the tropical hall is a variety of reptiles – including alligators, turtles, snakes and lizards – and birds; and in the basement there is an aquarium showcasing tropical fish, tarantulas and giant millipedes.
Outside there are a number of animals including ring-tailed lemurs, emus and the ever-popular meerkats. There is an indoor café and, for children, a fort and an outside play area with a zip wire.
Visit the Age of Steam with the West Somerset Railway
Next to the Washford Inn is Washford Station on the West Somerset Railway – where steam locomotives ply the line between Bishop’s Lydeard in the east, Minehead in the west and the ten stations between.
For real steam enthusiasts, there is also the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust museum at Washford Station; the Gauge Museum at Bishops Lydeard; and The Steam Trust museum at Blue Anchor.
Explore the castle, inns and galleries of medieval Dunster
Between Washford and Minehead is the beautifully preserved medieval town of Dunster. The Exmoor town is a popular draw for holiday makers with the National Trust’s Dunster Castle and grounds – complete with folly – as well as the town’s priory, dovecote, yarn market and tithe barn.
There are lots of small, interesting shops for you to explore – including art galleries and an old-fashioned sweet shop – and a number of tea rooms, restaurants and inns.
Kilve beach: Hunt for fossils on Somerset’s Jurassic Coast
The West Somerset coastline boasts a wealth of Jurassic and Triassic rocks, ideal for fossil hunters in search of the remains of ammonites, belemnites and other early life-forms of 400 million years ago. These can be found along the coast from Blue Anchor in the west to Kilve in the east.
For ease of access – as well as the tearooms for a restorative cuppa and local ice cream – head for Kilve Beach, just off the A39, and take the path to the coast.
Weigh anchor at Minehead for pretty gardens and beaches
At the end of the West Somerset Railway line, Minehead offers all the attractions of a typical Edwardian seaside town. The town is the starting point of the South West Coast Path National Trail, the nation’s longest long-distance countryside walking trail.
Minehead boasts sandy beaches, a beautiful municipal park in Blenheim Gardens – and a Butlins holiday park, which sells day or half-day tickets for non-residents. Facilities include a pool complex with wave pool, lazy river and flumes; a food court; and a traditional fairground.
Visit Coleridge Cottage and other National Trust sites
In the 18th century West Somerset was popular with the Romanticist poets, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) in particular is celebrated locally, with a 36-mile walk named after him, a statue in honour of his epic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Watchet and the National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage open to visitors in Nether Stowey.
The National Trust owns a number of other places of interest in the area – click here for a comprehensive list of places to visit and National Trust events.
Walk to King Alfred’s castle and other English Heritage sites
Wessex nobleman King Alfred founded nearby clifftop fortress Daw’s Castle around 878AD, as one of a chain of forts and coastal lookout posts, to ward off Viking attacks.
To visit the scheduled ancient monument, take a trip into Watchet and follow the South West Coast Path to the west for half a mile. Daw’s Castle is owned and run by English Heritage – click here for a full list of places to visit and English Heritage events.
Explore Somerset: Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole and beyond
Of course, this page only touches on a few of the sights to see and things to do in the immediate area of West Somerset and Exmoor around St Pancras Chapel.
Somerset boasts a wide variety of attractions and days out and a slightly longer drive will put you within reach of Cheddar Gorge and its caves, Wookey Hole, the Georgian spa town of Bath and many other places to visit and events in Somerset – click here for a comprehensive list.
Alex F, Billericay, United Kingdom