Somerset Levels great drive

Dunster Beach is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle

Dunster Beach is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle - Credit: sub

Mark G Whitchurch chooses a sunny day with a bright blue sky to explore Somerset’s coast to Levels

The Willow and Wetland Centre was founded in 1819

The Willow and Wetland Centre was founded in 1819 - Credit: sub


From coast to Levels via Exmoor and the Quantock Hills, the great drive takes the scenic route with extensive views across the Bristol Channel. Choose a sunny day with a few fluffy clouds punctuating a bright blue sky and a walk along Dunster Beach is just idyllic. Away from the crowds in Minehead, Dunster Beach feels like a peaceful place, only interrupted with the distant sounds of a steam train as it negotiates the West Somerset Railway. With a bit of imagination you could easily be back in the 1930s.

With the car parked on the grassland facing out to sea, take a walk along the sand and shingle beach, lined with traditional wooden breaker walls. Better still take a kite to show off to the kids.

Leave Dunster Beach via the network of lanes back to the A39, where it’s left and immediately right to join the A396, which ambles through the beautiful village of Dunster with its majestic castle looking down from a natural vantage point in the landscape.

Enjoy this winding tree-lined road as it weaves its way to Wheddon Cross and Bridgetown continuing on to Exebridge. Shortly after the turning for Exebridge, join the B3227 to journey to Bampton, Waterrow and over Heydon Hill to Wiveliscombe, another one of my favourite Somerset roads. Continue on the B3227 into the Vale of Taunton Dean and join the A358 at Norton Fitzwarren.

Negotiate the historic market town of Taunton, following signposts for the M5. Travel under junction 25 of the M5 motorway to pick up the A358 again, turning left at the traffic lights in Thornfalcon to join the A378 with a bearing on Langport.

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Shortly after joining the A378 turn left on to the network of lanes with signposts for North Curry and Stoke St Gregory. Cruise along these quiet lanes with high hedgerows giving you the occasional glimpse of the pastures beyond.

Travel through North Curry and continue to follow the directions for Stoke St Gregory. Pass through this charming country village where the Willows and Wetlands Centre is located approximately half a mile into the countryside.Founded by willow grower and merchant Robert Coate in 1819, and still run by the Coate family, the Willows and Wetlands Centre today is an enlightening place to explore.Considered to be the most important wetland in England, the Somerset Levels continue to offer perfect conditions for willow growing and it is now the only area left in the country producing the specific willow for making baskets, furniture and garden items.Explore the fascinating museum and peruse the shop before exploring the farmland around, where bunches of willow can be found drying. My daughters particularly liked the willow crocodile and giant fish!

Porsche 911 ready to be taken for a spin

Porsche 911 ready to be taken for a spin - Credit: sub

The car:

The latest incarnation of Porsche’s enduring legacy, the 911 has received a number of enhancements for 2016 to ensure it remains the benchmark sports car for all other manufacturers to compare themselves.

Confusingly coded as the 991 this latest variant of the 911 retains that iconic silhouette that neatly ties it back to the original model launched in 1964. Whilst growing in all dimensions over the years, the 911 remains a nimble and engaging machine to experience.

This latest variant is all about sharpening up the 911, with enhanced interior features and new engines to boost performance and economy, the latter deriving more friendly CO2 emissions. Whereas a turbocharged 911 traditionally sat at the pinnacle of the range, now all models boast turbos to produce breath taking performance whilst using less fuel. Reduced in capacity from 3.8 litres to 3.0 litres the classic flat six-cylinder motor gains 20bhp and 60 Nm of torque and the 911’s mid range punch feels even more ferocious, with 60mph from rest covered in 3.9 seconds. Porsche’s boffins have created a masterpiece of mechanical engineering, with the turbos complimenting the traditional flat torque curve rather than over powering this classic 911 trait. Whilst the rasp from the exhaust has been robbed of a few decibels, due to those turbos, the overall experience remained aligned to the 911 legacy.

I opted for the seven-speed manual gearbox, a rarity in modern sports cars but one that ensured the experience remained pure. This transmission now boasts a twin-plate clutch design that makes the pedal lighter and therefore more usable in traffic. With a short throw gearlever combined with a typically precise Porsche feel, snicking up and down the box was a delight.

Porsche has also increased this car’s breadth of ability by fitting its PASM Porsche Adaptive Suspension Management adjustable dampers as standard. This means the car sits 10mm lower than before, but don’t think that it means the ride is back breaking. Within Normal mode, the suspension remains supple enough to soak up the British potholes, whilst Sports mode reveals characteristics which remind you why the Porsche 911 is held in such high esteem!

Within the cabin the 991 successfully includes classic 911 features such as the prominent rev counter in the centre of the driver’s binnacle as well as integrating modern world technology. For this revised model there is an updated PCM Porsche Communication Management system. This includes a new seven-inch touch screen that recognises swipe gestures just like a Smartphone, so you can swish side to side from menu to menu. Real-time traffic info and online navigation also now come as standard.

It often surprises people to learn that the 911 has always been a 2+2 with a pair of small seats in the back suitable for the kids. These can fold flat to create a larger luggage area that, combined with the 145-litre boot space in the car’s nose, helps to make the 911 a rather practical car. Well, that’s what I keep telling my wife!

With prices starting at £76,412, which gets you more kit than you might imagine and with servicing every two years or 20,000 miles, 911 ownership isn’t as expensive as you might think. I guess you can tell that I’m a bit of a fan!

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