The Quantock Hills are not well known nationally, but they sit on the skyline for anyone looking north from Taunton or west from Bridgwater. Passers-by heading south on the M5 can mistake them for a first glimpse of Exmoor. But to those who know them, they are well loved.
The Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty encompasses a long, irregular ridge, steep sided to the west and shallower, with incised wooded combes, on the east. To the north it meets the sea at the Bristol Channel, a geologically significant part of the Jurassic coastline. From Hestercombe in the southeast to West Quantoxhead in the northwest is only about twelve miles, and the Quantock Hills proper are barely three miles wide. There’s huge variety packed into such a small area.
Surrounding the hill is a girdle of villages which are proud of their Quantock identity – they are linked by history, economy, and their own sense of place to the open land above them. The Quantock Landscape Partnership Scheme encompasses this wider Quantock area, at 194.9sq km roughly twice the 99 sq km of the designated landscape. Gorgeous Somerset countryside, with woodlands, streams, and pasture crossed by sunken lanes and hedge banked tracks, this surrounding area is less known as a place to visit than the hills are, but just as rewarding.
For those with eyes to see, the Quantocks are a layered landscape with prehistoric, medieval, and Georgian influences. They are the birthplace of the Romantic poetry movement without which we might have no AONBs or National Parks. The manorial character of the area has lasted a thousand years or more and still binds the different landscape elements together as a unified whole.
Extensive heathland summits and the native woodlands are highlights, but the hedge-bound slopes and commercial plantations attract visitors too. They are a place to walk or ride, to climb up for a view to Wales, to spot red deer or cool by a woodland stream. A place too where some earn a living and so maintain the rest for everyone else to enjoy.
The Hills have a timeless quality, but this is an illusion. Change is coming more rapidly now than it has for at least 200 years. The old manorial estates are starting to break up, the impact of more industrialised agriculture is increasing, and visitor pressure is rising inexorably. Climate change looms over all, and it is already impacting the natural world. The Quantock Landscape Partnership Scheme was created to address these challenges, to better manage the unwelcome impacts and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.
If you’d like to know more about the area, its geology, history, farming, wildlife, historic buildings, and socio-economy setting please download a copy of the Landscape Conservation Action Plan here.