Our guest blogger Sam Napthine finds out what makes The Old Sweet Shop the best of winter weekend getaways UK style.
A clear, cool December stillness on Dunster beach
A flock of oystercatchers glide underneath the silver-grey sky on Dunster beach along the Exmoor coast. The year is drawing to a close. A powerful breeze pushes me along to the sound of crashing sea waves. Clouds of steamy breath hang in the frosty air. And then, a nod from the elements. Knowing that I am on the last leg of my coastal walk, rays of late-afternoon sunlight spill out onto the choppy waters. The oystercatchers I’ve been studying now dance, illuminated.
This is the quiet season in Exmoor. The ruins of sandcastles moulded by children enjoying their summer holidays are now long eroded by the sea. Tourists leave before migrating wading birds have taken their place. With waders, curlews, dunlins and oystercatchers making Somerset their cold weather retreat, following the South West Coast Path in the colder months is a delight for any rambler.
Exmoor may get overlooked compared to its more boastful counterparts. However, in the cooler months its modesty is perhaps one of the reasons it is so delightful. Indeed, thanks to the Gulf Stream its surprisingly mild temperature averages around 9-11 degrees.
A cosy, warm cottage
The cottage I am staying in is The Old Sweet Shop. It sits in Minehead’s old town. A picturesque enclave that is just a short walk to the pubs and restaurants of the High Street, it nonetheless remains quiet and village-like. It is decoraged with knitted sweets and candy canes as Christmas ornaments. My home-from-home is crammed with drops of nostalgic and vintage charm that instantly conjure memories of childhood holidays. It is indeed the very best of winter weekend getaways UK style.
The beautifully restored interior of this quintessential thatched cottage leaves every room with a bespoke design. For instance, the furniture is both elegant and homely. Indeed it is a pleasure to relax in front of a roaring log fire with a mug of hot chocolate after a brisk, fresh walk. Each of the four bedrooms, with top quality beds and deliciously named after our favourite childhood sweets, are delightful to snuggle down in at the end of the day.
With the cottage sited on the edge of Exmoor, there is no shortage of long walks. The next morning, I stroll through Dunkery Beacon where the ancient oaks peer over both me and the carpet of lime green lichen I walk across. At a clearing, I take advantage of the bare trees exposing Exmoor’s vast landscapes. Here you can stand atop the peaks of the moor and study the park’s famous statuesque beast, the red deer. If you are lucky, you may also spot the famous Exmoor pony gathering. This is an event which evokes images of a medieval market as owners check new-born foals and remove any of the older or sick mares off the moor.
A belly-warming meal and local brew
Any country walk, especially in this cooler time of year, is not complete without a roaring fire and a local pub. These are abundant in Exmoor’s villages, and any visit would not be complete without sampling a pint of the finest local cider. However, it is not just the cider that will leave you impressed. Exmoor’s pubs have undergone something of a gastronomic revolution in recent years. As a result, there is no shortage of award-winning food and drink to enjoy.
On the final day of my cool-climed retreat, I visit the medieval village of Dunster. This has much to offer, from independent shops filled with Christmas decorations and presents, to the fairy-tale fort of the castle which peers over the cobbled streets. Every year in December, hundreds line up these tight streets for a spectacle of lights for Dunster by Candlelight.
However, this afternoon the streets are peaceful. As a result, I take advantage of the West Somerset Railway back to Minehead. With fewer crowds around I enjoy the sights of skeletal trees and wide-open skies, twisting through the scenery. Approaching Minehead, the spires of Butlin pavilion begin to poke through the town’s picturesque skyline. You can still feel the residue of Exmoor’s summer months even as the year draws to a close. In this corner of Somerset, the seaside holiday doesn’t seem to end, except right now I have it all to myself.
As spectacular as it is, don’t limit yourself to visiting just to the cold! Discover other reasons that make Exmoor Character Cottages beautiful to explore in any season.