Countryside

 

The Somerset Levels and Moors
 

The Somerset Levels and Moors consist of marine clay "levels" along the coast, and the inland (often peat based) "moors". Discussions are taking place concerning the possibility of obtaining World Heritage Site status for the Somerset Levels and Moors as a "cultural landscape".

As a result of the wetland nature of the Moors and Levels, the area contains a rich biodiversity of national and international importance. It supports a vast variety of plant species, including common plants such as marsh marigold, meadowsweet and ragged robin. The area is an important feeding ground for birds including Berwick’s swan, Eurasian curlew, Common redshank, skylark, Common snipe, Common teal, widgeon and whimbrel, as well as birds of prey including the marsh harrier and peregrine falcon.

The Levels and Moors are a largely flat area in which there are some slightly raised parts, called "burtles" as well as higher ridges and hills. Formations that protrude to form what would once have been islands—such as Athelney, Brent Knoll, Burrow Mump and Glastonbury Tor.


Isle of Athelney

The Isle of Athelney is best known for once being the fortress hiding place of King Alfred the Great, from where he went on to defeat the Danes at the Battle of Ethandun in May 878. Archaeological excavations and written evidence indicate that at the time of Alfred the island was linked by a causeway to East Lyng, with either end protected by a semi-circular stockade and ditch. The ditch on the island is now known to date from the Iron Age. It is therefore presumed that the Isle was known by Alfred to have been an ancient fort, and that its existing defences were strengthened by him. Evidence of metalworking on the site suggests that he also used the island to equip his army.

Brent Knoll

Knoll Farm is situated at the foot of Brent Knoll, the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort - see "VILLAGE"

Burrow Mump

Burrow Mump is an ancient earthwork and historic site overlooking Southlake Moor in the village of Burrowbridge in Taunton Deane. It probably served as a natural outwork to the defended royal island of Athelney at the end of the 9th century.

Excavations have shown evidence of a 12th century masonry building on the top of the hill. A medieval church dedicated to St Michael, belonging to the Athelney Abbey, dates from at least the mid 15th century and formed a sanctuary for royalist troops in 1642 and 1645 during the English Civil War, and a detachment of the king's army occupied it in 1685 during the course of the Monmouth Rebellion.

Glastonbury Tor

In early-medieval times there was a small monks' retreat on top of the Tor, founded probably in the time of St Patrick in the mid-400s. This was followed in the early 1100s by a chapel, St Michael de Torre. This was destroyed in a powerful earthquake in 1275 and rebuilt in the early 1300s. The tower is all that remains today.

In recent years there has been discussion about the significance of the terracing of the Tor. It was proposed that the terracing on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor is the remains of a great three-dimensional neolithic labyrinth, a ceremonial way dedicated to the ancient British Goddess.
Whether it will ever be proved that the labyrinth was constructed in the Neolithic era or not is a matter for future archaeology, but since it was first suggested many thousands of people have walked it in a sacred manner. And this is no mean feat since it takes from 4-6 hours and some physical exertion and inner focus to walk in and out of the labyrinth. It provides the perfect setting for a present day ceremonial journey, whether it was so or not in the past.

The levels themselves can be enjoyed at:


THE WILLOW WETLAND CENTRE
www.englishwillowbaskets.co.uk

Visitors are invited to learn about the history and art of willow growing and basket making. Visitors can take a gentle walk through traditional Somerset withy beds, or a longer circular walk along the River Tone and up to the viewpoint on the top of Windmill Hill where they can enjoy views across the Somerset Levels and Moors.
            
SHAPWICK HEATH NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
www.naturalengland.org.uk

The Shapwick Heath NNR boasts a wide variety of habitats, including traditionally managed herb-rich grassland, ferny wet woodland, fen, scrub, and ditches rich in aquatic plants and invertebrates. Otters, as well as many insects, plants and birds, populate the whole area. Small pockets of sphagnum moss, which once covered the whole valley floor, can also be found. The best time to visit the reserve for the local flora is in the spring; for birds the site can be visited all year round.
            
WESTHAY NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
www.somersetwildlife.org

Designated as a National Nature Reserve, Westhay Moor was a pioneering project by Somerset Wildlife Trust, in the early 1980s. Since the site’s restoration it has become internationally recognised as one of the top bird watching locations in Britain and often features in documentaries, including the BBC’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch series.
            
WEST SEDGMOOR RSPB RESERVE
www.rspb.org.uk

West Sedgemoor is among England's largest remaining wet meadow systems. Many lapwings, snipe and redshanks breed here and winter floods attract teals, widgeons, lapwings and golden plovers in big flocks. Part of Swell Wood, on the southern edge of the reserve, is ancient woodland. It has nature trails, a hide and one of the UK's largest heronries, which is best visited between March and June.

 

THE MENDIP HILLS
 

Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Mendip Hills can be a most relaxing yet exciting experience. Locked away within the landscape are thousands of years of history where those who have gone before us shaped the countryside that we all hold so dear today.


The Mendip Hills are characterised by three main types of semi-natural habitat. Ash-Maple woodland, Calcareous Grassland and Mesotrphic Grassland. The diversity of these habitats adds interest to any encounter.

There are many places within the Mendips worthy of a visit; we have collected a few of our favourites here.


CHEDDAR GORGE
www.cheddarcaves.co.uk

At almost 400 feet deep and three miles long, CHEDDAR GORGE is England’s largest gorge, and with its weathered crags and pinnacles, one of our most spectacular natural sights. It plays host to a varied community of specialised plants and wildlife, many of which you’ll get the chance to spot on this exhilarating circular walk.
 
EBBOR GORGE
www.naturalengland.org.uk

EBBOR GORGE lies on the south west facing slope of the Mendip Hills and consists of a steep sided ravine cut into Carboniferous Limestone. A stream issuing to the west of the site runs down the tributary valley of Hope Wood before joining the main gorge.
            
CROOK PEAK     
 

CROOK PEAK comprises a wide range of habitats which includes ancient and secondary semi-natural broadleaved woodland, unimproved calcareous grassland and a complex mosaic of calcareous grassland and acidic dry dwarf-shrub heath.
            
CHEW VALLEY LAKE     
 

The Bristol Water-owned reservoir is rich with wildlife and has been designated a SSSI, a Special Protection Area, and is one of Britain's most important sites for wintering wildfowl. The lake is also a popular water sports venue, hosting windsurfing and sailing in addition to housing a nature reserve, several public picnic areas, woodland walks and a restaurant at Woodford Lodge.
            
BLAGDON LAKE     
 

Blagdon Lake attracts large numbers of birds throughout the year. . In summer the broods of ducks, swans and coots grow fast on the plentiful weed in the lake and in the autumn a variety of wading birds come to dig their long bills into the soft mud at the waters edge to feed on worms and small snails. There is also a Visitor Centre which includes science and environment exhibits as well as hands-on displays

Knoll Farm Cottages
Somerset Levels
Knoll Farm Cottages
Isle of Athelney
Knoll Farm Cottages
Brent Knoll
Knoll Farm Cottages
Burrow Mump
Knoll Farm Cottages
Glastonbury Tor
Knoll Farm Cottages
THE WILLOW WETLAND CENTRE
Knoll Farm Cottages
SHAPWICK HEATH NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
Knoll Farm Cottages
WESTHAY NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
Knoll Farm Cottages
WEST SEDGMOOR RSPB RESERVE
Knoll Farm Cottages
THE MENDIP HILLS
Knoll Farm Cottages
CHEDDAR GORGE
Knoll Farm Cottages
EBBOR GORGE
Knoll Farm Cottages
CROOK PEAK
Knoll Farm Cottages
CHEW VALLEY LAKE
Knoll Farm Cottages
BLAGDON LAKE