Category Archives: west somerset

Have your say on cycling in West Somerset

Guest post from Sarah Ellwood, The Steam Coast Trail

Terrified of cycling on the A39? Sick of cyclists on the road? Wish your kids could safely cycle to school? Take our very quick ten-question survey.

The government’s recent announcements to invest £2 billion to encourage more cycling and walking is very welcomed. There’s plenty of work going on in urban areas to improve the safety of cyclists and get more people out on their bikes, but way less in rural areas such as West Somerset. We are working to change this.

The phenomenal success of our first two paths prove that people want to cycle in West Somerset: since 2017 we’ve recorded over 180,000 trips, over a third of which are cycle trips.

I know I saw loads more bikes out on the roads during lockdown, especially families. On my rides I’d sometimes see more cyclists than cars so I know lots of you are out there! But the numbers are definitely dipping now restrictions are easing and we want to know why.

Experienced in providing safe places to cycle, the Steam Coast Trail team has a pretty good idea of what these barriers to more cycling may be. But to progress our mission to make more lovely mixed-use paths we need evidence to highlight what’s stopping so many people from using a bike for short journeys in West Somerset.

Whether you’re almost permanently dressed in Lycra or hate the thought of getting on a bike, please take our quick ten-question survey. It’ll just take a minute or two!

Thanks very much,

Sarah Ellwood
Project Officer – Steam Coast Trail


The Regal Theatre’s volunteers have been honoured by being awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK and equivalent to the MBE.

At the Regal Theatre more than 200 volunteers provide all the drive and skills not only to sustain a 90-year old building with 400-seat auditorium as fit for modern purpose, but to run every aspect of its busy calendar of richly varied events.  The theatre is entirely run by volunteers who work a total of 70,000 hours a year – equating to around £200,000 – in pursuit of their ethos ‘For the Community, By the Community’.  Their work enables the Regal to present 150 events to audiences totalling some 25,000 a year, in a varied programme which including theatre, ballet, opera, concerts, films and live screenings.

Volunteers manage, maintain and run the Regal building to meet rigorous security and health and safety standards and operate the advanced technology of a new GDPR compliant ticketing system on the box office.  They administer the Friends of the Regal scheme, with more than 1,500 members, and the Regal Film Society, which is one of the largest film societies in the country with nearly 600 members. They also produce and distribute regular publicity material and newsletters.

Volunteers operate complex light and sound equipment for stage productions and a digital cinema package of the type installed in commercial cinemas for film performances and live screenings and design and build complex stage sets.  On performance nights they provide a highly-trained theatre manager, a front-of-house team and run a full bar.

“The Regal Theatre volunteers are immensely proud to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service,” says Regal Theatre chair Victoria Thomas.  “This really is a great honour and comes at a time when it is most needed.  Under the lockdown the theatre has now been shut for nearly three months and, although we have been doing a lot of work behind the scenes, it will be an immense challenge to find our way back to operating at the level at which we left off.  We will need all the goodwill and support of this special community to help us get back on our feet and the Queen’s Award will undoubtedly give us a terrific boost.”

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by volunteer groups to benefit their local communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2 June, the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation.

In other Regal news, work to improve the fabric and safety of the Theatre has continued apace despite the lockdown in preparation for reopening.

The long-term project to replace the theatre roof has continued throughout closure and the complex scaffolding structure was completed on 22 May.  Work began the following week to remove the existing roofing material and the installation of new roofing material is scheduled to begin on 8 June.

Inside the Regal decoration and maintenance has continued, and the theatre has been awarded a grant of nearly £20,000 to develop the basement area into much-needed additional dressing rooms.

Regal volunteers are looking forward to welcoming audiences back to the Regal when it is safe to do so, and the theatre’s successful re-launch depends hugely on the support of the community.  In the meantime, local residents can support the Regal by joining the mailing list either by telephoning 01643 831343, emailing or visiting the website at


Crafters of all ages are dusting off their sewing machines and seeking out remnants of fabric to make bunting to adorn the medieval village of Dunster this summer. The brainchild of the team at the Dunster Tourism Forum (DTF), the idea is to bring the community together to make this beautiful village even more attractive to visitors once lockdown is over.

The DTF has been amazed by the response to their call for willing crafters to help sew their way to a pretty display of hand-made bunting this summer. People up and down the village – as well as Exmoor locals who love Dunster – have answered the call to create bunting flags from old curtains and duvet covers, scraps of dressmaking material and unwanted clothing. The plan is to decorate the village from the Visitor Centre, down through the High Street, up Church Street, West Street and to the GP Surgery at the end of the village. The wonderful beach chalet community are also coming together to create bunting across the iconic waterfront.

Andy Rice, Chairman of the DTF, says: “It’s been heart-warming to see the massive response to what was just one Facebook post asking for volunteers to help decorate our village this summer as we look forward to the end of lockdown.

“Even though we can’t be together in person at the moment, this community effort has been a great way of our villagers keeping in touch with one another, and maintaining our ‘can-do’ spirit. Plus, with so many people getting involved, we’ve got our eye on the Guinness World Record for the longest hand-made bunting in the UK – but we’ll need a lot more volunteers to achieve that.”

Villager Susan Ashton (pictured) is leading the volunteers, and hopes many more people will come forward to create bunting flags in their spare hours during this extended lockdown period. While strictly exercising social distancing, crafters are following a pattern and ‘how to’ videos posted on the community’s Facebook page, and delivering them to Susan who will bring them all together.

Susan says: “The bunting is easy to make, so stitchers of all levels of expertise can get involved. It’s a great way to spend time during lockdown, and to use up scraps of fabric and material, which has the added benefit of making it a sustainable activity. I’ve been posting videos on Facebook to show how to cut the template and construct the bunting, and I’m enjoying that so much that we have a Zoom chat planned where we can show each other what we’ve created.”

If you’d like to be part of this community effort, and help achieve that Guinness World Record,  please contact to get involved. You don’t need to live or work in Dunster, and all contributors will be mentioned on their Facebook page and entered into a prize draw to win one of four vouchers worth £15 to spend in the village.

For those of you on Facebook, full information, templates and a helpful video can be found at:

Photos by Nina Dodd.


Grants of up to £1,000 are available for local charities, voluntary or community groups, sports clubs, or social enterprises based within the area covered by Somerset West and Taunton Council and the deadline to apply is Friday 20 March.

The Local Community Fund, administered by Somerset Community Foundation on behalf of Somerset West and Taunton Council, was set up in 2017 to support community projects in the local area by distributing money from the Somerset West Lottery ( The Lottery raises money within the community for the community, enabling people to support the causes they care most about, while also helping good causes to connect with their supporters.

A ticket for the Somerset West Lottery costs £1 per week, 60p of which goes directly to good causes – more than double what the National Lottery gives. Players can choose to support a named local good cause, or they can decide to award their contribution to the Local Community Fund. Grants are awarded from the fund by a panel of District Councillors.

The Local Community Fund awarded 14 grants, totalling £12,000 to community groups and sports clubs across Somerset West and Taunton over the last year. The groups to receive grants were:

  • 1st Wellington Scouts – £1,000 towards new energy-efficient lighting for their hall
  • Blackbrook Friendship Club – £500 for outings for isolated older people
  • Carry Me Kate – £1,000 for parenting advice sessions
  • Kingston St Mary Youth Group – £1,000 towards the ongoing costs of a youth club
  • Minehead Eye – £1,000 for family activity sessions
  • North Taunton Partnership – £850 towards the ongoing costs of Priorswood Community Centre
  • Positive Aims – £1,000 for community activities for adults with learning disabilities
  • Reminiscence Learning – £1,000 to provide support for family carers of people with dementia.
  • Somerset Wyverns American Football Club – £1,000 for coaching qualifications
  • St Petrock’s Timberscombe – £1000 towards an accessible toilet and servery
  • Taunton Welcomes Refugees – £300 for arts and crafts materials for children of recently arrived Syrian families
  • Bluebirds Theatre Company – £1,000 towards pop-up opera performances
  • The West Somerset Intercultural Friendship Group – £500 for a community event in Watchet
  • West Buckland Friendship Club – £850 for activities for isolated older people

Groups wishing to apply for funding should visit: or call Somerset Community Foundation on 01749 344949 for more information.

If you run a local community project and would like to find out about other funding opportunities, please call Somerset Community Foundation on: 01749 344949, email: or visit:


‘Operation Poppy’ earlier this month saw a 197-million-year-old ichthyosaur from Stolford delivered to the Somerset Heritage Centre ahead of conservation work. The specimen was successfully extracted on 27 December by experts working against the clock in the intertidal zone of Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve.

Despite the skull not being preserved the five-and-a-half-foot-long ichthyosaur is otherwise remarkably complete.

The prehistoric fossil was discovered by amateur fossil hunter Jon Gopsill when he was out walking his dogs on 14 December. The five-and-a-half-foot-long marine reptile had been exposed by recent storms. It has now been dubbed ‘Poppy’ after one of Jon’s dogs who helped make the discovery.

The rescue mission took place at the first opportunity allowed by the tides after the unexpected discovery was made. The fossil was at risk of being washed away by the strong seasonal tides. A team of geological specialists from Geckoella had a four-hour window within which they could extract the specimen from the Blue Lias rock. They used rock saws, hammers, chisels and crow bars to cut out a single block of stone containing the fossil. The block weighs about 160 kg and is 175 cm long, 85 cm wide and 9 cm deep.

Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve is owned by the Environment Agency and managed by Natural England, who assisted with the excavation along with archaeologists from the South West Heritage Trust. They were joined by the finder Jon, together with his dogs Poppy and Sam.

Dr Andy King, Co-Director and Palaeontologist with Geckoella, led the extraction. He said: “It was very exciting to have the chance to rescue such an impressive fossil ichthyosaur as ‘Poppy’. Given the tidal conditions at Stolford and very shaley nature of the rock, this particular extraction was certainly more challenging than others we’ve been involved with. Though the skull is not preserved, ‘Poppy’ is otherwise remarkably complete.

“It’s not uncommon to find pieces of fossil ichthyosaur ribs or vertebrae, but such complete specimens are relatively rare. Slightly older ichthyosaurs have been collected from West Somerset, but it’s still quite a feeling to realise that this marine reptile was swimming in the Jurassic seas covering Somerset nearly 200 million years ago at the same time that dinosaurs were walking around on the land and pterosaurs were flying in the skies.  We’re really delighted that this fossil was collected safely and responsibly, and that it will be preserved by the South West Heritage Trust.”

The Environment Agency transferred ownership of ‘Poppy’ to the Somerset Heritage Centre, near Taunton, on 17 January ahead of conservation work to be undertaken by the Heritage Trust.

Sam Astill, Head of Museums from the Trust, said: “We’re grateful to Jon and our partners at Geckoella, Natural England and the Environment Agency for their collaboration in successfully rescuing this remarkable specimen. We will now undertake the conservation work required to preserve the fossil. This involves three basic steps – cleaning, including de-salination and drying, consolidation and stabilisation, to avoid splitting, and preparation for display. We look forward to displaying ‘Poppy’ at the Museum of Somerset where visitors can discover more about the county’s Jurassic past.”

David Evans, a geologist from Natural England who assisted with the extraction, said: “Natural England and the National Nature Reserve team were really pleased to be able to ensure that this valuable fossil and important piece of Somerset’s heritage was safely and responsibly extracted,  and will be going to the county museum to be conserved and then to be seen by the public.”

Jon Gopsill said: “I’ve been interested in fossils all my life. I started fossil hunting on Watchet beach when I was just six-years-old. The scale of this find, at 197-million-years-old, is incredible. When I saw it I thought, ‘I’ve been looking for this my whole life!’

“The whole experience has been amazing. You see ichthyosaurs in museums and think they’re amazing, but to actually find a ‘wild’ one in it’s natural environment is totally mind blowing! Somerset is my home so I’m delighted that this specimen will be staying in the county for other people to enjoy.”

Top: The extraction team, with the fossil on a pallet, following its successful extraction.


On 31 October Fusion Young Performers Choir from Minehead joined with singers from the Centre For Young Musicians Taunton to perform at ‘An Evening of hit songs with Sir Tim Rice’ at Temple Methodist Church in Taunton.

It was part of the new Tyca Festival (Taunton Youth Culture and Arts) and was presented by Arts Taunton.

The combined choirs (conducted by Sarah-Jane Cross and accompanied by Frances Webb on the piano) sang a selection of songs with lyrics written by Sir Tim such as ‘Hakuna Matata’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’, ‘I Know Him So Well’, ‘Anthem’, ‘Jacob and Sons’, ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, ‘Any Dream Will Do’, ‘A Whole New World’, ‘One Jump Ahead’, ‘Evermore’ and ‘Fight the Fight’.

In between the songs Charlie Taylor from BBC Somerset conducted an informal interview with Sir Tim Rice talking about his life and work which was very informative and entertaining.

Having had only six and a half weeks of rehearsal time, the singers performed brilliantly and received a standing ovation at the end of the evening. As well as the full choir numbers there were some great solos and duets by performers from both groups. From Fusion – Daniel Boulton, James Boulton, Natalie Woodward, Laura Stephens, Alfie and Alisha Yates, Beth Porter, Leo Ahern,  Ryan Boulton, Jazmyn Phillips, Lennie Stanford and Grace Mclaren. Soloists from CYMT included Kira Kelly, Celandine Hickman, Drew Kehoe, Esme Knight, Melissa Coles, Korben Drew and Ernie Shorten.

Afterwards Sir Tim took the time to have his photo taken with the performers and to sign autographs.

All in all it was a fantastic event for the young people to be involved in and a real honour to sing the songs with the lyricist sitting on the stage with them.

Fusion Young Performers are going straight into rehearsals  for their next show, Sister Act, which they will be performing at the Regal during Easter week next year. To get in touch with Fusion Young Performers which is run by Lorraine Ahern and Sarah-Jane Cross please visit

To find out more about Centre For Young Musicians Taunton, a division of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, please visit


Exmoor-based craftsmen West Country Blacksmiths are to feature on Channel 4’s Grand Designs House of the Year 2019. The four-part series showcases the finalists of the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects House of the Year.

Among the finalists for the award is a truly unique and amazing property built within the Sartfell Nature Reserve on the Isle of Man. The building was designed by London-based architects Foster Lomas, a company which was founded by William Foster and Greg Lomas who both grew up in Somerset.

Central features of the house, which has already won multiple national and regional awards, include a set of bespoke metal staircases, walkways and library book shelving. The metalwork, which totals over eight tonnes, was all made and installed by West Country Blacksmiths and has received industry recognition by being award the AJ specification Staircase of the Year award 2019.

The blacksmiths welcomed a team from Grand Designs to Allerford Forge to interview Kyle Roberts of West Country Blacksmiths and CAD designer John Hesp to learn more about the work involved in producing the metalwork. The blacksmiths were also filmed at work in the forge.

The series starts on Wedneday 23 of October, with the episode featuring West Country Blacksmiths due to be aired on Wednesday 30 October at 9pm.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Edmund Sumner.


It will soon be possible to walk in the footsteps of  nineteenth-century computer pioneer Ada Lovelace when visiting Exmoor National Park, as work has begun this month to restore and reveal parts of the historic carriage routes, viewpoints and other features that formed part of her former Porlock estate.

It is while walking the terraces of these once ornate gardens that Ada and the famous mathematician Charles Babbage were reputed to have come up with the principles behind the ‘Difference Engine’ – a forerunner to the computer.

The National Park Authority now plans to restore parts of the old carriage ways and other surviving features in Culbone wood, granting walkers on the South West Coast Path a taste of the sense of awe that must have been felt upon emerging from historic tunnels into breathtaking views out to sea, framed by groves of giant redwoods and firs.

The effect was created by Ada Lovelace and her husband, William King, as part of a Picturesque designed landscape inspired by the fashion at the time to try and capture the beauty of nature by design. Exmoor National Park Authority are also undertaking a detailed survey to identify if any of the original trees planted by Ada and William survive.

Graeme McVittie, Exmoor National Park’s Senior Woodland Officer, said: “Woodland walks carefully planted with native and exotic species to maximise dramatic effect, long, mysterious tunnels set to build anticipation ahead of awe-inspiring views and the remnants of meandering old carriage ways designed to show off the best of the coastal views are all part of this estate’s forgotten legacy.

“The principles of the early-nineteenth-century Picturesque movement were to create views or pictures into the natural world. And now we are simply trying to create a picture into their world, and the passions and inspirations that lay behind Ada’s genius.”

On 5 October Porlock will also be holding their annual “Cream Tea with Inspirational Women” in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, held annually in honour of the achievements of women in science all over the world. The ticketed event held at Porlock Village Hall sees five women, from the worlds of art, travel, film, education and theatre, share their passions, achievements and inspirations, with this year’s speakers billed as Molly Rooke, Hilary Bradt, Lynn Pearson, Jane Keeley and Sarah Peterkin. Information and tickets are available from Porlock Village Hall (01643 863117).

Rosalinde Haw, who is organising the event, said: “We celebrate Ada for her connection to the landscape and the inspiration she brought to all women, at a time when the very idea of a female mathematician was often viewed as distasteful. Join us this October to hear from today’s inspirational women and how their passions have helped drive them to success.”


Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, has been awarded a grant of £39,000 from the Hinkley Point C Community Fund (HPC Community Fund). The grant will support ‘Our Somerset Stories’, an exciting new project to be run within four rural Somerset communities; these include Stogursey, Spaxton and Williton, with a fourth to be confirmed.

The project will see schools working with writers and artists to create new work inspired by their community – past, present and future, leading to publications, exhibitions, creative archives and new folk traditions. This will run alongside creative workshops for the wider community, and celebration events for everyone to enjoy.

Creative Lead Alice Maddicott will co-ordinate the project for Halsway Manor. She says, “We’ll be creating new opportunities for people to discover and be inspired by their folk history and heritage, and celebrate what makes their community special to them.”

Crispian Cook, Chief Executive of Halsway Manor Society, commented: “Halsway is an important resource which enriches lives of people both locally and nationally. We are grateful to HPC Community Fund for their support, which allows us to continue to develop our provision and make a difference to people living within our immediate vicinity.”

HPC Community Fund is managed by Somerset Community Foundation to help local communities mitigate the impacts of Hinkley Point C and maximise the opportunities that arise from the development for the communities (in Somerset) through schemes, measures and projects which promote the economic, social or environmental well-being of those communities and enhance their quality of life.

Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts provides a permanent home for the enjoyment, study and development of folk music, dance and culture in England. Established as a charity in 1966 and unique in the UK, it hosts over 340 days of residential and outreach activity every year, for all ages, and covering all facets of the folk arts from instrumental music, song and dance to traditional storytelling, crafts and instrument making. For more information visit


St Margaret’s Hospice is offering the chance to remember a loved one while enjoying some stunning Somerset scenery.

Entries are now open for the charity’s Great Somerset Memory Walk, which will see participants covering 12.4 or 25 miles of the West Somerset Coast Path on Sunday 15 September.

The sponsored walk starts at Butlins in Minehead, with the choice of finishing in West Quantoxhead or completing the full route to Steart Marshes. Buses back to the start are included in the entry price of £15 for adults and £10 for children under 16.

Participants are encouraged to raise sponsorship to help St Margaret’s Hospice continue providing care and support to 3,800 people across Somerset each year who are facing a life-limiting illness.

Sonia Bateman, events fundraiser at the Somerset charity, said: “Many of our sponsored walkers will be celebrating the life of a loved one, as we will be offering everyone a Great Somerset Memory Walk bib to decorate with their own personal dedication message. People are equally welcome to take part if they just want to enjoy the coastal walk and do their bit to help us care for people in our community.”

Walkers will set off between 8am and 9am, and the last groups are expected to reach the finish line before 6pm.

To find out more and book your place, visit and search ‘Memory Walk’.

PHOTO: West Somerset coast near Kilve