Getting Naturally Healthy in Blackdown Hills AONB
In the UK we’re lucky enough to have some fantastic and very accessible countryside locations – many of them a stone’s throw from where we live. These natural open spaces provide us opportunities to get exercise, breathe fresh air, relax and unwind from the stresses of life, enjoy the uplifting sights and sounds of wildlife, and experience the calming effects of the natural world.
The Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is right on the doorstep of Taunton, Wellington, Honiton, Axminster and Chard – so it’s easy to get out and explore and reap the health benefits too!
To get you started, here are some suggestions of great places you could visit to help you get (and stay) naturally healthy:
Staple Hill Easy Access Trail – great if you have limited mobility
This is the highest point in the Blackdown Hills and only a short drive from Taunton. From here you can see spectacular views across the Vale of Taunton – on a clear day you can see all the way to Wales!
As the name suggests, Staple Hill Easy Access Trail allows everyone, including those with limited mobility, to enjoy some of the beautiful countryside area has to offer. There is plenty of parking, the kissing gates are big enough for wheelchairs and pushchairs, there is a wide, compacted pathway with no steep gradients and the viewpoints have picnic benches and seating.
Wellington Monument – a great spot for kite flying, walks and picnics
At 175 feet, Wellington Monument is the tallest three-sided obelisk in the world! Cared for by the National Trust, the Monument pays tribute the Duke of Wellington and his victory at the Battle of Waterloo.
From the car park to the Monument and back is around about one mile, along the level pathway lined with beech hedgerows. For a slightly more challenging walk of around two miles, continue down the steps to the right of the Monument, loop round anti-clockwise through the woods, and climb the steep slope back up.
You could even leave the car behind and walk from Wellington town centre to the Monument (approximately 5 miles or 8km there and back). Do take great care while crossing the A38 as you leave town, there’s also a long foot tunnel under the motorway, but after that you’ll be on beautiful footpaths all the way.
Blackdown Hills AONB recently helped fund enhancements to the footpath through Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Wellington Castle Fields, so the track close to the Monument is now much improved.
A short hop from Honiton – Conquer a hill fort!
If you live in, or close to, the south of the Blackdown Hills, you might like to take a yomp up one of the area’s historic hill forts.
Dumpdon Hillfort sits on one of the largest and most striking hills in the beautiful Otter Valley. The climb up to the fort is well worth the effort. You’ll be rewarded with breath-taking panoramas of the surrounding area and a wide grassy area. The plateau at the top is great for picnics too.
A few miles west, Hembury Hillfort has magnificent woodland, earthworks which are simply huge, and spectacular views out to sea.
Castle Neroche – woodland wonderland
The woodland at Castle Neroche is great fun to explore and only a short drive from Taunton and Chard. These days you won’t find a castle at Castle Neroche; instead a majestic forest with the earthen ramparts where an Iron-Age hillfort and a Norman Castle once stood. Enjoy the ambience of this wonderful woodland and peep through the trees for spectacular views.
Castle Neroche is looked after by Forestry England – read our latest guest blog from Rob, Forestry England’s community ranger in the Blackdown Hills to find out what’s happening in the woods.
Otterhead Lakes – drink in the lakeside scenery
Take time out at the beautiful Otterhead Lakes nature reserve on the site of a former Victorian estate. The lakes and woodland, once part of a formal garden, now provide a range of habitats for wild birds, animals and plants. Take a moment to listen to the sound of wild birdsong, drink in the view across the tranquil lakes, enjoy the vibrant woodland bluebells… and feel the stress melt away.
And there’s more…
We hope that Naturally Healthy May will just be the start of you getting more active in nature. On our website you’ll find all sorts of ideas for walks, rides and places to visit throughout the Blackdown Hills.
Places to visit
Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one of eight protected landscapes (AONBs and National Parks) in Devon and Somerset. So, there is plenty more for you to explore!
Our thanks to the group from Green Days, Taunton who helped recce some of these locations, providing us with really useful feedback. This is already helping us to provide better information to people wishing to visit and to work with local land managers to improve access and the environment so that as many people as possible can enjoy these special places.