The Blackdown Hills, located in Somerset, is one of the most beautiful and under-estimated areas in the UK. There are loads of great things to do in Blackdown Hills like visiting Castle Neroche, beautiful walks in East Devon or the South West, and visiting one of the many cute villages in Blackdown Hills Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Due to its location and high altitude the area has some of the best views in the country, with the Mendips and the Welsh mountains clearly visible on a clear day. Blackdown Hills is also home to a number of historic villages and much is still unspoilt.
Although the area is considered to be in Somerset rather than Devon, it is still a part of the county of Devon, and does fall within the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Here are the best things to do in Blackdown Hills.
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Blackdown Hills Things To Do: Wellington Monument
The Duke of Wellington and his triumph at the Battle of Waterloo are commemorated by this stunning monument on the outskirts of the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty.
Wellington Monument is the world’s tallest three-sided obelisk, standing at 175 feet. The foundation stone was placed in 1817, and after more than three decades of construction, it was ultimately completed in 1853. Now it looks out over the windswept spaces of the Blackdown Hills. The statue often features prominently in Aerial Photographs of the region.
The Wellington Monument is located in a more informal countryside setting than previous Duke of Wellington memorials. It is accessible by a route flanked with beech hedgerows and is surrounded by a thriving wildlife meadow. It’s a great spot for a picnic or kite flying. It is a great spot to visit and to teach your kids about 19th century historic England.
Upottery Airfield Heritage Centre Blackdown Hills
Former World War II airfield RAF Upottery (also known as Smeatharpe). The Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Forces, and the United States Navy all utilized it between 1944 and 1948.
The Upottery Heritage Centre commemorates the crucial role played by this historic airport during the D-day landings in June 1944, as well as the valor of the troops who flew from Upottery.
RAF Upottery was primarily utilized as a transport airfield and for anti-submarine patrols during WWII. It was later reverted to agricultural usage. The airstrip served as the base of operations for the original ‘Band of Brothers,’ as depicted in the 2001 television drama series of the same name.
The museum is housed in the officers’ barracks, which includes an actual Nissen hut. Film of the D-day landings, local second-world-war relics, weapons, and even outfits for kids to dress up and experience 20th century historic England are among the exhibits.
There are photographs of the troops literally minutes before they flew to Normandy in a unique photographic archive, which shows pilots being trained and instructed.
The Heritage Centre or the Sidmouth Arms in Upottery, a neighbouring community, both serve refreshments.
The best prehistoric hillfort in Devon is Hembury Hillfort, near Payhembury, with large defensive ramparts. Iron Age and Roman habitation have been discovered during excavations. From the 1st century AD, Brythonic Celts expanded from their homeland in modern Wales and southern Scotland into the rest of Britain. Devon was colonised by the Belgae, who occupied most of the area south of the River Tam ar. This area included the present counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset as well as the Isle of Wight, where they had a settlement. A hillfort was constructed here around 100 BC and this became the site of the main Roman town of Isca Dumnoniorum (Devon), with further forts at Clyst Honiton and Exeter. After the withdrawal of the Roman army in the early 5th century, there were more Saxon raids and settlements. In response to this, a larger number of soldiers were stationed in Devon by Aethelberht of Kent around 500 AD.
Now Hembury is one of the many hill forts in the area looking over the beautiful countryside of the Blackdown Hills. The hillfort was still in us until the medieval period and is one of the finest example of hillforts in Devon & Somerset.
Hembury Hillfort is a fantastic place to take kids to learn about life in the Iron Age.
Dunkeswell Abbey Blackdown Hills
The remains of one of Devon’s great Cistercian monasteries, erected in 1201, can be discovered between the Madford River and the settlement of Dunkeswell. It is an intriguing place, despite its small size.
The abbey was founded by William of Modbury, the husband of the heiress of the de Briouze family who owned much of western Devon. There is a small museum dedicated to Dunkeswell Abbey and the people who lived there.
Please be considerate of local inhabitants when you visit the ruins of Dunkeswell Abbey, which are located on a mix of private and Heritage Trust-owned land with permissive access. The Abbey may be seen from the public sidewalk as well.
Culmstock Beacon is a high elevation on Blackdown Common’s southwest corner. It’s part of a chain of Elizabethan beacons that were lit to warn of approaching attackers, such as the Spanish Armada. There are two lighthouses on the Common: the Culmstock Beacon and Stourhead Beacon. The Culmstock Beacon is directly across the common from the Abbey ruins.
Flint was used to construct the beehive-shaped Culmstock Beacon. Following the collapse of the previous one in 1870, it was rebuilt. In the 1880s, the lighthouse was converted to acetylene gas but this was unsatisfactory and soon switched back to coal oil.
Culmstock Beacon is a wildlife haven with breathtaking vistas, especially in the late summer when the bell-heather blossoms. Access is available via a public bridleway.
Dunkeswell Airfield Heritage Centre Blackdown Hills
At the Dunkeswell Airfield Heritage Centre, learn about the history of RAF Dunkeswell during WWII. Find out about the paratroopers who trained here, as well as stories of Dunkeswell’s hard-working people. Beechwood Hall and Gardens Beechwood Hall is a traditional country house that is now a bed and breakfast.
Take a trip down memory lane with artifacts and memorabilia, mission tales, and replica uniforms, as well as more than 400 images and archive film that chronicle the history of Dunkeswell Airfield. As you walk through the darkened museum, listen to actual air traffic communications and vintage music from Dunkeswell Airfield’s WWII era dance hall. The Museum is suitable for all ages and offers interesting and educational resources for both kids and adults.
While you’re there, get a bite to eat at The Aviator Coffee Bar & Restaurant and keep an eye on the planes and parachutists who still utilize the airfield.
Dunkeswell Airfield was built by George Wimpey & Co and was inhabited by the USAAF 479th Anti-Submarine Squadron and afterwards the US Navy after it was completed in 1943. Dunkeswell was the only US Navy outpost in Europe until March 1944.
Between Easter and September, Hemyock Castle is a privately owned residential site that is open to the public on Bank Holiday Mondays. It consists of the ruins of a remarkable late 14th-century moated castle encircling a much older manor house.
The Parliamentarians garrisoned Hemyock Castle during England’s civil war. It served as a prison and a tax collection center to help pay Parliamentary forces. The Royalists launched two attacks on the Castle, eventually besieging and seizing it. Hemyock Castle was demolished once Charles II was restored to the throne. Following that, the land became a farm and, eventually, a private residence.
Despite its location in the center of Hemyock hamlet, the Castle is surprisingly obscured from the road by trees and walls. On open days, visitors can see the towers, walls, moat, and grounds of Hemyock Castle, as well as the information centre with displays of pottery sherds, archaeology, and history.
Things to do Blackdown Hills: Coldharbour Mill
The mill was formerly owned by Fox Brothers, a world-renowned textile company that turned fleece into yarn, cloth, and textiles. It was in a resource-rich area, with a plentiful supply of sheep and hence fleeces, as well as easy access to the River Culm for a steady supply of water.
The mill was originally powered by a waterwheel, but a new one was erected in 1821. The factory’s machineries were then powered by steam engines, which were built in 1865 to keep up with production needs. The mill’s steam-powered machinery is still operational and is fired up many times a year during special “steam up” days.
Loughwood Meeting House
Loughwood Baptist Church, now owned by the National Trust, is one of the UK’s oldest surviving Baptist churches. It was founded in secret during a time when non-conformists were persecuted heavily, and it has remained essentially intact since the 18th century.
Loughwood’s history is shrouded in secrecy and persecution. The chapel was first mentioned in 1653, when a local Baptist congregation was looking for a quiet location to worship. It was intended that parishioners would be able to meet in safety at Loughwood, which was purposefully nestled into the hillside and surrounded by woodland. Today, Loughwood’s position provides it a fantastic base for exploring the Blackdown Hills AONB.
The structure is made of colorful stone rubble and features huge buttresses and a thatched roof. Simple pine pews and a pulpit can be found within. Underneath the floor is a baptismal pool. The body of one of Loughwood’s pastors is kept within the chapel, which is unique. On the church wall is a wall tablet memorial (an indoor gravestone) to the much-loved Reverend Isaac Hann.
The Otterhead Local Nature Reserve is centered around two lakes that were once part of Otterhead House’s beautiful gardens (1817-1952). The estate was built during the Victorian era, and by 1890, it had grown to approximately 1700 acres.
The reserve is made up of a variety of semi-natural ecosystems, including wet woodland, dry deciduous woodland, grassland, and freshwater streams and ditches.
The woodland is home to dormice, badgers, and bat species. Birds such as the kingfisher, dipper, and wagtail can be found in the lakes.
Lieze Neven is a globetrotting travel writer and expat currently based in Nepal. With a passion for exploration, she has lived in Dubai, the UK, and Belgium, alongside her international teacher husband. Her parents live in France and she tries to visit Paris at least once a year. Together, they travel the world looking for the best hotels, experiences and food locations have to offer!