Sunny days in Somerset
Somerset’s gentle countryside, its parks and outdoor swimming pools are a wonderful place to be when the sunshine hits. Some of England’s most historic lidos are found in the county and one of the most exciting, on the bank of the River Avon in Bath, is about to reopen. Dating from 1815, Britain’s oldest lido – Cleveland Pools – will be sustainably heated by the river and, following a massive restoration project, opens to cold water swimmers this September. The lido will be heated from next spring. Somerset’s other lidos were revitalised in previous years and include the lido at Portishead, which overlooks the coast and is a great place to cool off on a hot day. The 33m heated pool first opened in 1962 and has colourful bleachers and diving boards.
Shepton Mallet’s lido is also heated and has a children’s pool with sprinklers, while Tintinhull’s is a volunteer-run pool that dates back to the 30s. Wiveliscombe’s, which is nicknamed Wivey pool, is 27m long and heated, first opening in 1927 when Sunday morning swims, or swims during church services, weren’t allowed.
Families will also love a dip in the Greenbank Heated Outdoor Pool, which was bequeathed to the village of Street in 1937 because too many men were swimming naked in the River Brue. Luckily that is no longer a problem these days and the pool has a large splash park for little ones, as well as a green lawn for families to play on.
At Clevedon, on the coast, the marine lake attracts serious cold-water swimmers and, for those who can brave an unheated pool, it is a beautiful spot to feel close to the waves as you plough through some lengths. The 200m-long marine lake at Weston-super-Mare is looking better than ever too this summer, as it has been newly dredged to make it a good depth throughout. The “infinity” edge offers views from the lake surface that stretch right out to sea.
It is not only Somerset’s man-made pools that appeal on a hot day, the rivers offer a number of popular swimming spots for cold-water dippers. The village of Farleigh Hungerford is home to the oldest river swimming club in the country. New stone steps make getting in and out of the river here really easy, while the water cleanliness is regularly tested. Over in Exmoor, the historic clapper bridge at Tarr Steps is also a fun place for a paddle, or a swim further along the river. The quarry lake at Vobster meanwhile, provides a peaceful environment for cold-water swimmers to enjoy a few laps.
After all that swimming, there is nothing better on a sunny day than a cold drink in a pub garden. Thankfully Somerset offers plenty of fine beer gardens. Visitors to the picturesque village of Mells, near Frome, are spoilt for choice with hot and cold drinks and light bites available amid the green fronds of the Walled Garden cafe. Alternatively, there is the elevated garden behind The Talbot pub, which has large, sturdy picnic tables and views of mature trees. There are far-reaching views across green fields from the top of Ham Hill, in the garden of the Prince of Wales pub. Or The Inn at Freshford is a leafy spot to end a summer’s walk along the River Avon. On the Somerset Levels and Moors, The Sheppey Inn has a back terrace that runs alongside a river and plenty of seating. Or try The Devonshire Arms, near Langport, which has a terraced garden filled with lavender beds at the back and tables that look onto Long Sutton’s splendid village green. Rising Sun, in Pensford in the Mendip Hills, has a garden that tumbles down to a pretty river where hot children can paddle or, in Exmoor and the medieval town of Dunster, the Luttrell Arms is a pub bursting with period character that has a delightful garden with hidden seating areas and views, in some spots, across to Dunster Castle.
Then there are always Somerset’s parks for a play, a picnic or a sunbathe. Taunton has Vivary Park and the riverside French Weir Park, while, at Wellington, the landscaped Wellington Park is Grade II-listed and an ideal spot to spread a picnic blanket. In Yeovil, the nature trails through Ninesprings Country Park are easily reached from the town centre and pass through cooling woodland glades or along the edge of a lake, home to wildlife such as ducks and swans. Alternatively take to the welcome shade of the ancient wooded combes of Exmoor and the Quantock HIlls.
The many historic gardens of Somerset’s country houses will be a riot of colour in summer, with lively blooms and cafes offering cold refreshments. Some of the best include Hestercombe House, Barrington Court, Montacute House, East Lambrook Manor Gardens and Lytes Cary Manor. Cool down after a stroll around the gardens at Hadspen, which is now country house hotel The Newt, by booking a picnic full of local produce or by sampling the hotel’s own cyder, fresh from the press.
It goes without saying that Somerset’s coast is a big draw during the heat. Weston-super-Mare has miles of sand, donkey rides and a traditional pier, or visitors can find a wilder patch at quieter Sand Bay, just round the headland. Minehead is home to another wide expanse of sand, while the coastal path at Clevedon is particularly scenic, with sea views that shimmer on a summer’s day.