Activities in Somerset & Exmoor

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Somerset & Exmoor, Jackie King picks out a selection of arts and crafts, wildlife watching and outdoor activities.

Indoors and outdoors, day and night, sunny days and rainy days... there's something for everyone all year round in Somerset and Exmoor. We've selected a few of the highlights, including where to go birdwatching, cycling, climbing, fishing, horse riding and walking, as well as tips on local craft and culture, falconry and watersports and wild swimming. And don't forget, Exmoor is Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve and a fantastic place to go stargazing.

Don Bishop Photography

Don is a professional photographer who organises photographic workshops on both landscape and steam railway themes for those that are either new to photography wishing to get the most out of their cameras, or for more experienced photographers wishing to extend their knowledge of photography. His steam railway workshops are designed to teach the special techniques required for photographing a range of locomotives in the landscape. donbishop.co.uk

Somerset Art Works

SAW, an artist-led organisation, brings together the very best of comtemporary art in Somerset. It seeks to engage local communities in the arts through festivals, art projects and education in schools and communities that have little contact with the arts. The Arts Week Festival is an annual Somerset-wide festival featuring exhibitions, visual arts activities and other projects at over 100 venues across the region. somersetartworks.org.uk

Exmoor Photography Courses

Jack and his team offer jam-packed days of photography instruction, at a variety of beautiful spots across Exmoor. The standard course runs throughout the year, with the itinerary tailored to the season and weather. If you want to combine a photography course with a safari, try the red deer rut special in October. There are no more than three students per group, so there's plenty of individual attention from skilled photographer Jack, a lifelong Exmoor resident. A delicious lunch is included in the price. exmoorphotography.co.uk

Exmoor 4 All

Exmoor 4 All, a website promoting tourism in Exmoor, runs an annual photography competition, with a different theme each year. Local judges select the winners, whose entries are published in the next year's calendar. exmoor4all.com

Foot Trails

Bath-based walking holidays company that provides tailormade off-the-beaten track walking holidays - either bespoke independent itineraries or guided tours - in Somerset (as well as the Cotswolds and Wiltshire). foottrails.co.uk

Encounter Walking Holidays

A self-guided walking holiday company covering southwest England and Wales. encounterwalkingholidays.com

Exmoor Pony Centre

The Exmoor pony, a hardy, muscular breed, thrived on the moor for centuries, but changes in management, war and other factors caused the population of pure-bred animals to plummet to just a handful at the end of the Second World War. The Moorland Mousie Trust, based at the Exmoor Pony Centre, works to conserve and promote the Exmoor breed. Visitors are welcome at the centre to learn more about the breed and its history, meet a small community of animals, and even head out onto the moor on a trekking experience. exmoorponycentre.org.uk

Somerset Wildlife Trust

Somerset Wildlife Trust manages 72 nature reserves across Somerset. Some are very large and link to adjacent sites to create a complex, while others are a cluster of fields or woodlands. somersetwildlife.org

Quince Honey Farm

Established in 1949 with just two hives, Quince Honey Farm is now home to the world's largest collection of the humble honey bee. Unique interactive displays allow visitors to get intimate views of the hives and the bees at work, whilst viewing galleries cleverly transport you through the honey making process, from extraction to bottling. There's a fantastic soft play area for kids, a cafe, shop and a tiny museum with fascinating collections of old beekeeping equipment. The farm also runs beekeeping courses and events throughout the year. quincehoneyfarm.co.uk

Avalon Marshes

The Avalon Marshes is a spectacular lowland wetland area in the heart of Somerset framed by the Mendip Hills to the north and the Poldens ridge to the south. Somerset in general is one of the best places in Britain to go birdwatching as there is a a wide range of habitats - from intertidal and wetland to woodland and moor. The Avalon Marshes is a focal point for birdwatches keen to see the resident species as well as thousands of migratory birds, and especially for the starlings (there's even a hotline for the murmuration - tel: 07866 554142). avalonmarshes.org

Ham Wall

A newly created wetland that's home for many rare species including water voles and otters. In spring the reedbeds are alive with birdsong and in autumn you can see kingfishers. Bitterns are seen regularly all year round. There is disabled access to this reserve by RADAR key. Events are held throughout the year for families and for those who want to learn more about wildlife. rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/ham-wall/

Great Crane Project

Cranes were once a common sight in the UK, but by the beginning of the 17th century numbers had dropped significantly. In an attempt to restore numbers of this iconic wetland bird, the Great Crane Project reintroduced just under 100 birds to the Somerset Levels and Moors between 2010 and 2015. Crane chicks were carefully hand reared and monitored at a crane 'school' at Slimbridge Wetland Centre. If you would like to help the project, there are various volunteering opportunities available; Visit the Great Crane Project website for more details. thegreatcraneproject.org.uk

Countryside Mobility

A not for profit mobility equipment hire scheme working to improve access to the countryside for people with limited mobility living in and visiting the South West region. Its wheelyboat is available at the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal and also at Wimbleball and Trampers at Hunters Inn, Glen Lyn gorge. countrysidemobility.org

Calvert Trust

The Calvert Truste "enables people with physical, learning, behavioural and sensory disabilities to experience exciting, challenging and enjoyable outdoor activities." From its centre at the edge of the Exmoor National Park, it runs Activity Holidays, School Residentials, Themed Breaks & Specialist Courses, Carers Breaks and Horse Experience Weekends. calvertexmoor.org.uk

Pony Access

Pony-powered ferry service for wheelchair users. Exeter based, but owner also works in Brecon and Sussex, and says "to be honest, anywhere people want me. Always happy to discuss possibilities." ponyaccess.com

Exmoor Adventures

There are few activities that sound quite as daft as coasteering: don wetsuit and helmet; leap into crashing surf; climb high onto rocks above sea; leap into waves; repeat. Yet it’s not only one of the most exhilarating adventures to be had along Exmoor’s shores, it also offers a unique perspective on arguably England’s most craggy, dramatic stretches of coastline, a weirdly addictive blend of bodysurfing, rock climbing and geology. Coasteering is among a comprehensive array of activities organised by Exmoor Adventures, including kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, abseiling and raft building – all of which emphasise the diverse nature of the Exmoor landscape. exmooradventures.co.uk

Willows and Wetlands Centre

The Coate family have been cultivating willow here on the Somerset Levels, the UK's most important wetland, for nearly 200 years. Come to learn about the history of basketmaking and why the family are keeping this traditional craft alive on a guided tour, in the museum, the exhibition or the video room. The centre runs a number of workshops, from Christmas decorating in December to willow deer sculpture days. The shops sell a range of unusual and decorative baskets, and there's a cafe for refreshments. coatesenglishwillow.co.uk

Musgrove Willows

Somerset-based growers and producers of willow. It was founded by Arthur 'Sam' Musgrove who started by cutting tree sticks for furniture back in the 1930s. Products include: Living Willow Kits • Ready-made Baskets • Garden Furniture Living Willow Rods • Domes • Willow Gifts • Willow Hurdles Willow Panels • Craft Kits • Coffins. They also run one- and two-day courses to help you to learn more about using willow, from hurdles to living sculptures. musgrovewillows.co.uk

Dunster Water Mill

The River Avill powers the region’s finest working water mill, alongside Exmoor National Park and just steps from Dunster Castle. Watch flour being milled as it was for hundreds of years, the wheat grain fed down to huge grinding stones. The attached museum features a fascinating collection of ancient agricultural machinery, once again demonstrating the efforts of farming and food production in years gone by. As well as selling the mill’s own stone-ground wholemeal flour, the Mill Shop is also stocked with home-made muesli and other local treats, and you can settle in for an indulgent cream tea in the adjacent tea room or riverside garden. nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle-and-watermill

Hestercombe Gardens Watermill

Lose yourself in fifty acres of temple-strewn gardens, marvel at the newly-opened house and gallery (open to the public for the first time in 200 years), flick through novels in the secondhand bookshop, or indulge yourself in the holistic Lavender Rooms...you are spoilt for choice for things to see and do at Hestercombe. There's also the renovated watermill, vintage tearoom and shop selling a tempting array of gifts and treats. Fun for all the family. hestercombe.com

Simonsbath Sawmill

Although no longer in operation, this historic, 19th-century water-powered sawmill is maintained in working order; once a month the waterwheel is set in motion once again for visitors and educational visits. The mill was restored in 2003 and sawing was stopped on a regular basis in 2010. Today a small team of volunteers care for the mill and lead tours around the site. simonsbathsawmill.org.uk

Thorney Lakes

This has to be one of Somerset's most tranquil fishing spots. Surrounded by miles of nature trails, with the Levels and RSPB reserve close by, the family-run Thorney Lakes campsite is home to four acres of fishing lakes, stocked with a huge diversity of fish, including bream, carp, perch and tench. It's also a great place for wildlife watching; the lakes attract otters, deer and 70 species of bird. For just £7 a day, anglers can kick back on the banks of the lakes and enjoy the peace and quiet. thorneylakes.co.uk

Bellbrook Fishery

Whether you're a seasoned angler or have never cast a rod in your life, Bellbrook Valley is the place to be if you want to fish! The fishery is set in its own 40-acre valley in the beautiful North Devon countryside, with six fishing lakes and endless walking routes on the doorstep. The friendly team runs corporate and team building events and fishing tutorial courses, with overnight B&B and self-catering accommodation provided on site. bellbrookfishery.co.uk

Blakewell Fishery

With a well-stocked five-acre lake of crystal-clear water nestling in a stunning hillside setting, Blakewell Fishery's claim to be Devon's premiere fly fishing venue is well founded. The carefully tended lakes are home to some of the biggest still water trout in the country, whilst the Water Garden Centre attracts garden lovers from across the UK. There's an on site farm shop for stocking up on local goodies, too. blakewell.co.uk

Nick Hart Fly Fishing

Qualified instructor Nick Hart runs various fly casting and fishing courses in breathtaking locations across Devon and Somerset, from one-day taster courses to multi-day adventures designed for the experienced and improver angler; the River to Rock adventure course takes you from the Exmoor Hills to the lowlands of Devon to the coastline in search of bass, pike and perch. Above all is Nick's philosophy that fishing should be fun - and accessible to all. nickhartflyfishing.com

North Devon Halk Walks

Get up close to birds of prey on this practical falconry experience. The hour-long sessions, enjoyed out on beautiful Exmoor, give you a real insight into the world of hawks. Don't expect to stand back and watch - these courses are refreshingly hands-on and the knowledgable team will provide lots of guidance and instruction as you fly the birds. For those with a bit more experience, the three-hour Hawk Walk Plus teaches you how to look after the birds. And if it's one-to-one instruction you're after, consider the five-day hawk training experience. northdevonhawkwalks.co.uk

Divoky Riding School

Set around a beautiful courtyard in the stunning Somerset countryside, this riding school has fantastic facilities, an excellent team and a great selection of horses to chose from. Amble along leafy lanes and quiet bridleways, tackle the all-weather exercise track, or head out for a hack in the hills - however you wish to spend your time in the saddle, Pat and her team will be able to accommodate you. Family-run but utterly professional, these stables have facilities for the serious competitor and beginner alike. divoky.co.uk

Ebborlands Riding Centre

This small, family-run centre is located on a 120-acre farm just outside Wells on the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills. Lessons cater for all ages and abilities, or you can book a private lesson for some one-to-one tuition. There's a popular weekly Children's Club during school holidays, and year-round off-road hacking through neighbouring farmland with views of Glastonbury Tor and the Somerset Levels. Staff are also able to offer longer courses ranging from half a day to five days. There's a 6-berth caravan available for holiday lets, too. ebborlandsridingcentre.co.uk

Shipam Riding

Plumb in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Shipam Riding Stables focusses on fun, structured lessons led by an experienced team. Hacks venture out into the surrounding countryside - stop halfway for a pub lunch and spot wild deer along the way. There's an all-weather floodlit arena, and for those that wish to extend the stay or enjoy several days of riding, there's self-catering accommodation above the stables. shiphamriding.co.uk


For more information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby visitor attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Somerset & Exmoor


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