Over the October half term break we visited Butlins in Somerset for three nights. We were really keen to try and explore some of the area whilst we were down there. In reality though we got caught up in the Butlins bubble and didn’t leave the resort at all for three days.
On the way home we decided we wanted to venture into the Exmoor National Park for the day. I had read about Dunster Castle which I knew we pretty much passed on the way home so we were excited to visit.
Dunster is a historic township on the edge of the Exmoor National Park. The town dates from the 11th century and was mentioned in the Doomsday book. At the heart of the town is the magnificent Dunster Castle, which is a National Trust property.
We left Butlins and drove the 2.5 miles to Dunster. There are several places to park. We were very unorganised and didn’t have change so we couldn’t park in the main castle carpark. We took a chance in the town centre and found a space there. It’s two hours free parking so if your only visiting quickly try the centre. I was really pleased we did because the town centre is a really lovely. The high street is lined with independent shops and local producers.
In the heart of the centre is the amazing Yarn Market with dates from the 17th century. We spent a little while exploring the shops, we bought some awesome Christmas decorations. We then made our way along the cute little streets to the Priory Church of St George.
Dating from the 12th century the priory is a fantastic piece of local history. We spent some time wandering around the grounds before heading up towards the castle.
It’s a fairly gradual incline up the paths to the castle. If you walk from the priory you will come to the castle gardens first. The Dream Garden is a walled garden managed by the National Trust.
Even though it was Autumn the flowers were still in full blown and it was a really beautiful garden to explore. It was a little bit boggy thanks to the crazy wet and windy weather that hit the area whilst we were visiting. L loved dodging the muddly puddles, which is unusual because he’s usually right in the thick of it!
We decided to skip the shop that is next to the garden and head for the castle entry. Unfortunately it was at this point that L decided that basically the world was ending and life couldn’t get any harder for a six year old. I’m talking full on meltdown! I think Butlins was catching up with him.
We decided to call it a day and head home. I’m so disappointed that we didn’t get to visit the castle. I’m sure we’ll be back in the area one day.
We headed back to the car and out of Dunster. It was at this point that we went the wrong way. Graham was sure that the road looped around the village and back to the main road. It didn’t!
We were heading right into the Exmoor National Park. Around five minutes passed and we realised we were not going in the wrong direction. Just as we were about to double back we noticed a sign that read “England’s tallest tree- 1 mile”. Our interest spiked we forgot the grumpy child and followed sign.
Located within the vast Dunster Estate is the Tall Tree Trail which is managed by the Forestry Commission. Several dozen Douglas Fir trees were planted in the Nutcombe Bottom valley in 1876. Many of these magnificent trees now stand at over 60 metres in height! One even holds the record as being the tallest tree in England.
We parked in the free carpark at Croydon Hill. By this stage L had calmed down and was ready to get his wellies on for some exploring. The trail begins at the carpark and is around 600m in length. It is a flat easy walk and if the ground is dry I would say it would suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
L bolted down the path and into the first puddle. We were just happy that the foul mood had passed. Maybe he needed a bit of nature.
“Look up at the sky, you’ll never find rainbows if you’re looking down”
Until you have seen the grandure of a Douglas Fir tree it is hard to describe just how beautiful and simply enormous they are. The trail meanders amongst the trees and amazing foliage that grows in the valley. L was really in his element here. Sprinting off in front and wading in the stream that runs through the valley.
Along the way we were treated to some amazing wood sculptures and interactive activities. L loved learning about just how big the trees are. Eventually we came across the tallest tree in England. Measuring 60.05m in 2009, apparently it’s now nearly 61m!
The trail is a really easy walk and is a full loop. We spent around an hour exploring, we could easily have spent the entire day there. Conscious that we had a three hour drive ahead we made our way back to the car. There is a great picnic area and toilets next the carpark which means you can really spend a full day getting to know the fir trees.
I am so pleased that we took that wrong turn. Spending an hour in nature was exactly what L needed. He was super chipper the whole way home.
We had a mostly great day exploring Dunster and the Tall Tree Trail. Since returning home I’ve discovered that there is a fantastic walk you can do that takes in Dunster and the Tall Tree Trail.
We can’t wait to visit the area again. Fingers crossed we get to see the castle next time!
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