South Somerset’s hedge-lined network of quiet rural lanes provide the perfect terrain for those of you who wish to explore the county on two wheels. Rachel Mead follows the way-markers on her trusty touring bike

It’s time to don your padded shorts and load up your panniers! With better weather on the way, a bike-packing trip around the southern part of our county will not only take you on a journey through King Arthur’s Camelot but will also call into some of our most picturesque towns and villages. Heritage homes, ancestral landmarks and fine agricultural vistas are all synonymous within this particular landscape of Somerset. A feast for the eyes (as well as the bellies), this cycling adventure will not only reward you with views (after an uphill climb or two!) but it also gifts ample opportunities to call into our plentiful local artisan food and drink providers too!

Along for the ride

The South Somerset 80-mile Cycleway is a way-marked route which takes you along quiet rural lanes as it loops its way around our county. Don’t be put off by the distance! With countless opportunities to break your journey at one of Somerset’s many hotels, B&B’s or indeed campsites, this cycle trail can be completed at relative speed over a weekend, or at the more leisurely rate of a few days so you can truly soak up the West Country hospitality and sights.

Panniers are packed!

We began our trip at Yeovil Junction train station. Making your holiday as eco-friendly as possible by taking the train is a great option, after all it’s easy to bring your bike on the train and then there’s no hassle with leaving a car somewhere. (It’s worth checking whether you need to make a reservation for your two wheels beforehand, folding bicycles are allowed on all trains but full-size bicycles are sometimes restricted on some peak-time services.) Taking the train can also give you added flexibility to your bike-packing adventure, extending or shortening your route by encompassing other rail stations in the locality, namely Crewkerne, Bruton and Castle Cary in this particular patch of Somerset.


The route-guidance follows an anti-clockwise direction so with Yeovil Junction in our wake, we head off towards Dorset! Somewhat bizarrely, despite this cycle route being called the South Somerset Cycleway, the initial section nips over the border and heads towards Sherborne. This is of course no hardship, and a whizz along lanes through Bradford Abbas and into the abbey town of Sherborne is always going to be welcomed. With its wealth of independent shops, two castles and plenty of eateries this minor ‘diversion’ kick-starts your trip off well. It feels too early along our journey for a pit stop though so we decided to push on and tackle section two of the route guidance which sets Castle Cary within our sights!

Rolling hills

In order to prepare you, I do believe I need to be honest, and this section is hilly! Afterall, we’re in Dorset and the county is renowned for its rolling hills. The one thing to bear in mind is of course that what goes up, must come down, and the free-wheeling along the county border lanes is great fun. The lanes which quietly weave their way through Sandford Orcas and Corton Denham are blissfully peaceful. The road is pretty much yours and you’ll be able to soak up the countryside at your own speed. Some of the rural properties are stand-out stunning and you’ll be wanting to pull over countless times to take photographs. Village life along these lanes feels sleepy and with just the sound of your wheels humming along, the climbs are worth it as you head northwards towards North and South Cadbury and then on past the splendid Manor House of Galhampton.

Handlebars behind bars

Castle Cary is the ideal brunch or lunch spot; we had superb coffee and breakfast baps at ‘Home’. Lean your bike against the hamstone walls of Pithers Yard and enjoy al-fresco dining in the courtyard. Home’s lunch menu regularly features vegetarian goodness as well as home baked quiche, healthy meals for hard-working cyclists who need a re-fuel! Whilst you’re in town, I’d also suggest swinging by the Round House. Primarily intended for the temporary incarceration of drunkards or misbehaving children over the age of seven, the lock up was commissioned in 1779 at the grand sum of £23. Nowadays, the ancient prison can be hired as a unique wedding ceremonial venue!

Great British Life: Take a break in Somerton. Photo: Rachel MeadTake a break in Somerton. Photo: Rachel Mead

The county town of Somerset (in the 14th century)

With 14 miles between Castle Cary and Somerton, you’ll be tracking a similar route as the River Cary which thankfully means a relatively flat stretch! You’ll be passing many farms as you cycle through the villages of North Barrow, Foddington, Keinton Mandeville and Charlton Mackrell. Note how the stonework has changed colour as you approach Somerton, where many properties are now built from blue lias. Somerton to me is one of those towns which always omits an aura of calm. As you enter the central area where the Old Town Hall and Buttercross enjoy prominent positions, the café culture spills out onto the concourse and the wide streets feel, well, regal. Perhaps this majesty heralds back to the ninth century when it was under West Saxon royal control. It is believed that the county name of Somerset stems from ‘Sumertone’ when Somerton was known as such, and subsequently extended its name to the area it controlled – the wider catchment of our county, ‘Somerset’. It’s a worthy stop along the journey, rooms are available, a wine shop, bakery and many eateries including The White Hart tick the box for cyclist sustenance. If you need a little time out of the saddle, then there’s also a great art gallery here which features work from many talented local creatives.

The hill that gives

Just before you reach the lowlands of the county, I would love to recommend a slight detour to High Ham. Full disclaimer, it involves one almighty hill but I promise you it’s worth it, even if you alight your bicycle and push (hands up!) I absolutely love the fact that Somerset has a windmill, and such a pretty one at that. It’s cared for by the National Trust, and sadly it is currently closed for conservation reasons but just sighting it over the gateway is definitely worth the effort of the climb. Stembridge Tower Mill is the last remaining thatch windmill in the whole of the UK and a landmark which I absolutely adore.

Flat cycling

Wheee! Enjoy the coasting down the decline as you head for Langport, in years gone by the local ‘port’ of the River Parrett. You can choose to call in to Low Ham Church, known locally as the ‘Church in the Field’. You approach it down a farm track and it can make for an interesting photo stop if the farmer has parked his baler nearby or has cattle or sheep keeping the grass down. Langport is another key destination for food and water replenishment and since its regeneration of the riverbank it now plays host to many independent cafes and creative art shops. The route takes you along the River Parrett cycle path where the track gives your tyres their first taste of coarse gravel. It’s a rural track and should be diverted around if you’re sporting race tyres. The neighbouring village of Muchelney is home to English Heritage’s Muchelney Abbey and also the stoneware pottery of John Leach, both recommended stops along your way before you head south. For those of you attempting the South Somerset Cycleway over two days, this area is about half way. We camped at Thorney Lakes and were very impressed with the clean facilities and spacious fields.

Apple orchards and stately homes

And now we head to cider country! As you cycle between Kingsbury Episcopi and Stembridge you can freely cycle side by side along lanes hugged by apple orchards. You’re heading towards South Petherton and within this vicinity are the very popular East Lambrook Gardens and Barrington Court before the route takes the most amazing twist and turns down a driveway and into the estate lands of Dillington House. An absolute highlight of the journey. We couldn’t resist taking a photo in front of the main house, can you imagine cycling home to a house with quite so many spectacular chimneys?!

Great British Life: Views from Ham Hill Country Park. Photo: Rachel MeadViews from Ham Hill Country Park. Photo: Rachel Mead

Stunning villages

As you leave Dillington via a trip through the woodland to Blackdown View, the route takes a left turn to Dowlish Wake with Perry’s cider mills and 17th century packhorse stone bridge. Be mindful that you can turn right and take a mini detour into Ilminster where fashionistas can call into the world of Temperley Somerset.

This section of the cycle route features many hamstone villages, all of which are worthy contenders for a picnic stop. Hinton St George, Chiselborough and Norton Sub Hamdon lead you on towards Ham Hill Country Park which of course gives you a clue that an incline is on its way. It initially looks daunting but the long climb is achievable and the views from the summit(!) are rewarded by the ice cream van which is always there on a sunny day. You can look back over the lands to which you have already cycled and feel proud of your achievements thus far – what an adventure!

Back in the saddle

The final leg of your 80-mile tour of South Somerset completes your taste of the West Country with a cycle along the ridgeline above Hardington Moor, the home to a National Nature Reserve and the perfect place to get out the thermos and enjoy a cup of tea with yet another stunning view to rest your eyes upon. You are almost back to your starting position so with East Coker on the map as your penultimate stop, I would recommend calling ahead and booking a table at the Helyar Arms for a well-earned feast. With local produce provided by neighbouring farmers you can complete your Somerset tour in a 15th century inn before looping your way back through Barwick and hopping on the early evening train.

Find out more

Somerset’s hedge-lined network of quiet rural lanes provides the perfect terrain for those of you who wish to explore the county on two wheels. For more information head to and click on the Active Life tab, where you can download the route as a GPX file and find helpful route guidance to follow whilst cycling. A lot of the cycleway follows Sustrans National Cycle Network Routes but some of it doesn't so it's definitely handy to have the maps with you. Oh, and my top tip for the route? Don’t overpack those panniers – you’ll need room for those food and drink souvenirs along the way!