Watchet lies in the foothills of one of the most outrageously, marvellously beautiful places in the whole country. The Quantock Hills are An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. (Note the capital letters, seriously beautiful AND protected in law). I’ve known the Quantocks now for over a decade, and it’s a love affair that won’t quit. At the slightest excuse I will bundle the kids into coats, grab a flask of hot chocolate and a packet of biscuits and head for the hills, and autumn is my favourite time. Everywhere you look there’s weird and wonderful fungi, chestnuts falling from the trees, moss, heather and the most breath taking and happiness inducing views.
Using Watchet as a base, these are some of my favourite bits:
1. The Red Deer Rut
There’s deer in them there hills, gert big red deer too. Late autumn is when stags bellow and fight to defend their harem and mate. The sound of the bellowing echoes through the wooded combes. Dawn or dusk is the best time to hear (and if you’re lucky) see the show. Start from one of the main car parks; Staple Plain in the northern end (nearest Watchet) Crowcombe Park Gate is mid Quantock, and Triscombe Stone is the southern end, nearer Taunton.
2. Great Wood
Owned by Forestry Commission, Great Wood is the perfect family autumn visit. The colours are spectacular and drive through to Ramscombe, and you will find toilets a bbq area and shallow stream for playing in. Perfect for cooking a hotdog and toasted marshmallows after a long walk. (But take your own bbq with you). It also has loads of ‘easy access trails’ which make walking with a pushchair nice and easy. Follow the ‘Red Route’.
To get there drive along the A39 from Watchet to Nether Stowey, turn right into the village and from the top end follow signs to Ramscombe.
3. Beech trees
The Quantocks are famous for its glorious beech hedgebanks, which turn flame copper in October. The hedgebanks often have twisted exposed roots, which covered in moss and fallen leaves look like a kind of pixie city straight out middle earth, or from a Victorian children’s book illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
To find some stunning examples head to Holford on the A39, park in the village car park (Holford is famous for being one of the locations in Bryan Adam’s music video for ‘Everything I do I do it for you – oh yeah you Bryan fans out there) and walk up any of the combes there.
4. Gruesome stories, great walks
Halloween is on its way and as the mist rolls in and the leaves fall, why not take a spooky walk to explore the story of handsome Johnny Walford, whose body swung for a year and a day at the place now known as Walford’s Gibbet . He was publically executed for murdering his new pregnant wife Jane Shorney in 1780s. Find out more about the story from the interpretation panel at Dead Woman’s Ditch car park (Yes that is its real name!)
There are of course a million other reasons why the Quantocks is fabulous in autumn, so be sure to tell us why you love them, and which bits, and when. But if you are new to them you will need: an Ordnance Survey Explorer map 140, don’t rely on mobile phones, the signal is patchy. Take binoculars and fungi field guides. As with any open country the weather can close in fast so be sure always to take wet weather gear and sturdy walking boots.
To find out more about the Quantock Hills, where to go and things to do go to www.quantockhills.com