To Somerset, and a walking weekend in the Quantock Hills. An annual get together for five of us who attempted the Three Peaks Challenge a few years ago, we have over the years gradually swapped route marches up Ben Nevis for rambles through nice scenery and the pursuit of the perfect flapjack.
The Quantock Hills were an unfamiliar area to most of us, but we were all converts by the end of the weekend – stunning sea views from heather-covered moorland one minute, then quiet footpaths in dappled shade through ancient woodlands the next. Bliss.
The weekends usually follow the same pattern: a long walk in glorious scenery (in which we invariably get lost at least once), followed by a massive feast in a pub and a sampling of local beers. In days past we would stay at a Youth Hostel, but as our bones got older the lure of soft bedding and en-suite facilities proved irresistible and we now look around for a nice bed and breakfast establishment.
This year’s choice – Merrywood Bed & Breakfast in the picture-postcard village of Nether Stowey – was one of our better decisions. For the princely sum of £70 a night for a double room and £45 for double room/single occupancy, we enjoyed helpful and friendly hosts, large bedrooms (by ‘large’ I mean ‘huge’ – our room could have accommodated a football team), spotless bathrooms, wi-fi, and a sitting room for our exclusive use. A bonus was the tea/coffee making facilities with access to fresh milk (my hatred of those little plastic UHT cartons beloved of hotels is right up there with my loathing of Piers Morgan). After a long walk followed by an hour’s messing about on the beach at Watchet, during which it was proved beyond doubt that I will never, ever, learn to skim a stone properly, Merrywood was just what we needed.
Close proximity to not one but three pubs, and a stone’s throw from the one-time home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, visitors are able to nourish both their cultural soul and their empty stomachs courtesy of the National Trust and Rose & Crown respectively.
Day two saw more wandering through ancient woodlands, more hills climbed, more views admired, and – of course – more losing our way followed by a period of ineffectual bumbling before getting back on track……still, ‘enough of the walk talk’ I hear you cry; we want to hear more about the B&B. What were the vases like? Did they have nice lamps?
Jenny, the owner of Merrywood, likes a knick-knack. Now I usually favour a more minimalist approach – primarily because I am not a big fan of dusting – but the smattering of china dogs and driftwood stag heads in the public area of the B&B worked really well. The village could easily be used as the backdrop for a period drama – there is hardly a modern house to be seen – and Merrywood fits in nicely. The bedrooms were generally ornament free, but the breakfast area had lots of quirky touches that raised a smile and (momentarily) distracted us from the gargantuan breakfast, which included eggs from their own hens and plates piled high with almost entirely local produce. If Snowbunting ever bizarrely starts an ‘elasticated walking trousers’ department, you’ll know I'll have returned for another visit.......