Get yourself moving
Wrap up warm and cure that winter cabin fever with an invigorating walk. Take family, friends and the dog out on an exploration at Montacute, where the village is ringed by National Trust land that is free for anyone to enjoy.
It’s hard not to be drawn out into the parkland by the sweeping ornamental avenue of lime trees, which marks the original approach to the house.
There are acres of parkland to explore, including Mill Copse where Welhams Brook flows; see if you can find the remains of a water mill and plunge pool in the wooded area bordering the stream. The water is now managed, with the help of ‘leaky dams’, riffles and backwaters, to flow slowly and so help prevent flooding – it also helps create a habitat for aquatic flora and fauna.
In the parkland look out for veteran trees, including oaks and sweet chestnuts that were already old when Montacute House was built; you may spot a Little owl ruffling its feathers against the cold. For the young and the young at heart, seek out the tree swings in the parkland – there’s nothing like a swing to create rosy cheeks.
Some of the best views of the village of Montacute are from Ladies’ Walk, a delightful path that runs up though the beech woods that circle the village. You’ll spot the first promise of spring with bulbs starting to poke through (make a note to come back in a couple of months when the wood anemones flower, followed by English bluebells) and catkins dancing in the slightest breeze.
There’s a circular walk that leads you back down through the village past the mediaeval Abbey Gatehouse, dovecote and fishpond – look back to spot the Gothic arch marking the spring and wellhead. Ask at reception for a walking trail map.
St Michael's Hill
Montacute village got its name from this hill, originally called ‘Mons Acutus’ (which means ‘sharp hill’ in Latin). The Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle on top, with a chapel dedicated to St Michael; all that now remains are the footings, on which the Phelips family built a tower in the 18th century, but the name lingers on.
Circling round the south-eastern side along Hedge Cock Lane, you’ll be walking along a probable Iron Age ditch, that may also be a Roman boundary. Pause to admire the work of the National Trust’s volunteer dry stone wallers – it’s a job for those with patience, but their work will be there for many years to come!
It’s a steep pull to the summit but the reward is magnificent views in all directions across Somerset. Climb Prospect Tower’s spiral staircase to see even further.
You can buy a leaflet at reception that gives details of local walks – and don't forget to drop into the cafe for a warming cuppa afterwards.