Somerset Walks & Spas
A new year has begun and ideas for 2023 need mulling over. In our opinion, the best way to ease yourself into the year is by booking into a spa or by going on a good walk.
Somerset has some wonderful spas for a contemplative soak. The spa at The Newt hotel, just outside of Wincanton is one of the best. Guests checking into this Ham stone manor house can relax in the indoor-outdoor pool which is housed in a brick-built barn and enjoy a treatment, such as a couple’s mud massage, or even a full body soap down in the hammam. There are all the usual saunas and steam rooms to try too. Treatments use products from The Organic Pharmacy.
Another good hotel spa is the one at Charlton House Hotel, outside Shepton Mallet, which is run by Bannatyne’s health clubs. Elemis products are used in the treatment rooms or drift between the saunas, steam rooms, manicure and pedicure stations. The outdoor, covered hot tub is a special treat.
Somerset also has day spas that can be enjoyed without having to check into a hotel. Not far from Glastonbury, the Elements Boutique Spa has calming views across the Somerset Levels and Moors. The spa uses its own brand of Elements products, it has a thermal suite, a pool with big windows opening onto the countryside and a country restaurant for lunch. Then there are the natural thermal waters found in Bath, in north Somerset. The Thermae Bath Spa (closed from Jan 16 -27) has a steaming, rooftop pool of thermal water that offers views over the city’s rooftops, as well as another thermal pool and whirlpool inside, a UV-light sauna, steam rooms and treatment rooms. The Cross Baths is a historic, smaller pool of thermal water just up the road that can be hired privately for groups of up to ten people.
Or perhaps all those cheese boards at Christmas have given you the urge to get out and do something active? A bracing walk might be just what you need. Clear your head with a hike into countryside you don’t often see or get the conversation flowing on a group stroll. The sounds of nature are amplified in the quiet of January and route options are limitless. Somerset Council has a searchable online map of all the county’s public footpaths, or if you want to make walking a more regular thing (a New Year’s resolution, why not), the app Outdoor Active uses sat-nav to show where you are on a footpath, as well as letting you plot your own routes.
The following Somerset favourites offer both fresh air and satisfying views.
The pier at Weston-Super-Mare might be the more famous landmark but the peninsula at Brean Down is where walkers can surprise themselves with beauty, history and tranquility. The National Trust owns these cliffs, so park at their car park. At the top, there was once a Roman temple and a Bronze Age burial mound. Follow the ridge to explore a ruined fort at the tip, built to defend the country against a possible Napoleonic invasion.
1 hour 10 minutes.
The challenging, circular walk around the top of Cheddar Gorge is a steep climb in places but affords views along these weathered crags to Cheddar Reservoir, glinting in the sun. There are small parking bays along the gorge road, or park in Cheddar village and walk up. Expect wildlife too, from the curly-horned Soay sheep to peregrine falcons. Wrap up warm, as some parts are quite exposed.
One of Somerset’s most famous sights is easily visited, though parking can be a struggle. An easy loop can be walked, taking in the underground water channels of the temple of the White Spring, before starting up the steps at the western end of the tor. On top is St Michael’s Tower and miles of wonderful views across the sheep-speckled Somerset Levels. Come down the steps on the far side of the tower, then take a further footpath off Wellhouse Lane to arrive at Glastonbury Abbey.
This AONB is characterised by heathland and ancient oaks. It offers views across the Bristol Channel and is packed with great walks. For a varied loop, try a route that heads through some of the loveliest bits, including wooded Hodder’s Combe, an old drover’s road and some hilltop walking. Start at the Hodder’s Combe car park, near the village of Holford, and go west through woodland, skirting Lady’s Edge, and ascend to Bicknoller Post. Then head south-east, passing Hurley Beacon, before striking north at Black Hill, along Higher Hare Knap, then coming back down to the car park.