Autumn days out in Somerset
Now the leaves are changing colour and you find yourself reaching for a jacket whenever you leave the house, it might seem an odd time to head to the beach. This autumn, however, a brand new attraction has washed up on the shore at Weston-super-Mare. The See Monster is a hulking great art installation built on top of a decommissioned oil rig. One of the largest pieces of conceptual art in the UK, its aim is to combine science and engineering with art in order to make people think about renewable energy.
Artists and engineers have been working on the project all summer and the Monster finally opened to the public on September 24. The structure, clearly visible on the horizon, is a sight to behold. A 10m-high waterfall cascades off the front and the rig’s four, rusty levels dwarf the old Tropicana building, on Weston’s seafront, below it.
The attraction is free to visit this autumn before it is dismantled again on November 5th. Visitors can watch the weather being harnessed to power various installations on board. A solar tree and wind turbine sculptures create energy for the waterfall and irrigate wild gardens that have been planted. There are far-reaching views across the coast available from the top level, plus there is also a curly slide to take the young and the young-at-heart down again. Once the structure is taken down, plants from the rig will be transferred to a garden on Weston’s promenade.
Away from the coast, Somerset will be celebrating the arrival of autumn and there are many lovely spots in which to witness the season’s blaze of colour. Autumn’s golden light and bountiful fields herald the enactment of harvest traditions in the countryside. At this time of year, Somerset’s farm cafes and restaurants are bursting with fresh local produce. Active days out could see visitors making their own cider or going foraging for wild food.
It is possible to hunt for mushrooms at Hestercombe House and Gardens, between Taunton and North Petherton. The property’s Fungal Foray takes place on October 29, meanwhile there are spooky activities planned for families during half-term (October 22 – 30). Brave children can also learn about spiders and bugs at a Creepy Critters event held on October 30th, in conjunction with Exmoor Zoo.
At Barrington Court, near Ilminster, gardeners will be harvesting the kitchen plot, while Allhallowtide is being celebrated over half-term. According to the National Trust, this is a time of “mystery and magic”, involving characters including an apple tree man and strange hinky punk spirits. Activities available at different times include bushcraft, apple collecting, den building and bird box-making.
Apple Day at Sheppy’s Cider Farm on October 16th, outside Taunton, should not be missed. Families are invited to play apple-themed outdoor games, to follow a trail, try some crafts and to have a go at using the traditional cider press. Of course there are cider tastings planned for adults too.
Keep an eye on what is being put outside the tea room at Tintinhull Garden, near Ilchester, as surplus crops will be available for visitors to take home. At Montacute House, near Yeovil, meanwhile, sweet chestnuts and conkers can be gathered in the grounds.
Any country walk should also involve the chance to pick blackberries from the bushes, while at medieval Lytes Cary Manor, near Somerton, the orchard will be brimming with apples, pears, meddlers, quince and crab apples.
In the centre of Wells, The Bishop’s Palace has lots on to suit families. A Treasure Hunt Trail is running through the gardens over half-term (from October 21st – 30th), with a small prize on completion. There are also family crafting and family storytelling sessions planned, the latter hosted by Michael Loader, who will introduce children to tales of Bishops and beasts in Wells.
Bird-lovers will want to check in with wildlife at RSPB Greylake, on the Somerset Levels, not far from Glastonbury. Kingfishers can be seen in autumn and when the reserve floods in late autumn, there will be large flocks of wigeons, teals and lapwings. Waders such as green sandpipers, snipe and greenshanks are also present.
The best places to witness autumn colour are in Somerset’s woods. In the Exmoor National Park, families can enjoy an easy walk along the river at Tarr Steps. A colourful palette is expected along the wooded banks, with the red leaves of beech trees a highlight here. Alternatively, head to the Quantock Hills, from North Petherton, where there are many ancient combes to explore and you can immerse yourself in a world of russet, gold and bronze.