Great British Drives: Somerset

Plenty of views to be had whether it's inland or at the coast. This is Porlock. (Picture © ENPA)

Plenty of views to be had whether it’s inland or at the coast. This is Porlock. (Picture © ENPA)

Where? Somerset

When to drive it? Summer/Autumn

Essential stop? Tropiquaria

Perfect Stay: The Langbury, Blue Anchor Bay, Minehead

Being an island makes Britain unique among its European siblings in many ways. One of them is that it’s possible to drive from coast to coast with ease in multiple parts of the country. For a combination of things to do and beauty head to the south west and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. However, few drives in Somerset have the all-round family appeal of one that actually starts in Dorset, at the seaside resort of Lyme Regis. 

Famous for its fossils, Lyme Regis is in many ways a quintessentially British seaside town: beaches, watersports, fish and chips and plenty for the kids to do. If you can tear yourself away, head north for the A35 towards Axminster in Somerset. You probably won’t be surprised to learn the town museum is dedicated to the carpet industry. If you can contain the urge to visit, take the A358 and head north for Chard.

This is the highest town in Somerset and the road leading to it actually follows the ‘Taunton Stop’ line. This a range of pillboxes and other defences erected in World War Two in order to prevent a German invasion of the south west spreading east. Many have withstood the ravages of time and are visual testament to a time when being an island was a very good thing indeed.

Continue along the A358 and you’ll eventually cross the M5 and enter Taunton. This is the county town of Somerset and contains plenty of attractions such as museums for subjects as diverse as the military and cricket, along with the 12th Century Taunton Castle. The downside to Taunton is it can be very busy so you call follow the A358 around the edge and head off in the direction of Minehead.

If you’ve had enough of driving for a little bit, let the train take the strain, turn off the A358 and follow the signs for Halse and the West Somerset Railway. Bishops Lydeard station is its starting point and it runs all the way to Minehead. If you want to continue the drive there’s plenty to keep all ages amused, particularly if you elect to visit Tropiquaria.

Just after the A358 has become the A39, and once you’ve driven through Williton you’ll see some radio transmitters on the outskirts of the village of Washford. Tropiquaria used to house a BBC transmitter hall in its 1930s art deco building. It’s now a small aquarium, tropical house and zoo. Various indoor and outdoor play areas will keep younger family members occupied while the oldies will find the Washford Radio Museum interesting.

Winter beauty in Larkbarrow, Somerset. (Picture © ENPA)

Winter beauty in Larkbarrow, Somerset. (Picture © ENPA)

Rejoin the A39 and you’ll be driving through the picturesque Exmoor National Park and approaching Minehead. Located on the entrance to the Bristol Channel, Minehead has one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world. It’s a popular holiday destination, meaning this drive, particularly in busy peak summer season, won’t be to everyone’s taste. However, in the autumn when it takes on a bleak beauty all of its own it can be just as appealing.

Minehead is known for its relatively mild climate and being home to one of only three Butlins holiday camps left in the UK. But if that’s not your scene, you can always turn round and go back the way you came: Lyme Regis is only 50 miles and about an hour and a half away! Alternatively, continue along the A39 and the beauty of Exmoor, Porlock Weir and Lynmouth awaits.

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