As well as providing accommodation for groups engaging in outdoor activities, the Campbell Room is also an excellent base for academic study. Whether you are thinking of bringing a school group to support the National Curriculum or to conduct GCSE or A-level fieldwork, or are looking for accommodation for a university field trip, there are plenty of educational opportunities in the area. Our low costs also help to make residential field trips more affordable for parents and students.
This page provides an outline of the wide variety of topics that can be studied locally. These range from the archaeology, history and geology of the Quantock Hills and the Somerset Levels, through biology, ecology, sustainability and energy policy, to the geomorphology of the nearby Jurassic Coast and the geography of the area. Several of the entries on the activities page may provide additional ideas.
Thoughtful reading of the activities page may already have prompted consideration of several natural ‘local issues’; access to and use of the hills for a variety of potentially conflicting interests – walkers and hunt-followers, ornithologists and mountain bikers, tourists and farmers, for example. Others include any need for management of the various habitats for preservation or natural development; the extent of natural and human soil erosion; and the evaluation of development pressures - for example due to energy production, quarrying, or building.
The effects of the variety of rock types on local soils, natural vegetation, land use and building materials (past and present) are very evident. Projects may range from general considerations of the interplay to detailed examination and analysis of the specific facets. The status, condition and management of a habitat and the effects on it of slope, aspect and height may also be investigated.
With several varied upland habitats within walking distance, investigating, comparing and contrasting the biodiversity of the moorland, the broad-leaved woodland (ancient oak and other species) and conifer plantations is easily undertaken. This theme may be extended to an assessment of habitat management issues and practices, particularly those carried out within the biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Special Area of Conservation. A related area for investigation could be the effects of the introduction and management of deer within the area, together with the ongoing controversy between the stakeholders.
An ecological study of the generally stony-bedded streams of the Quantocks always seems to create interest – even excitement! Relating the creatures found to their particular niche in the habitat and its food web is good detective work. Similar investigations of the algae of the rock pools on the nearby shores are equally fascinating to all age groups. Wessex Water’s Ashford Education Centre, 4 miles away near Cannington, offers further river and pond-dipping opportunities, as well as a range of other environmental activities, exhibitions, and a tour of the reservoir’s water treatment works.
All these activities can be safely and easily undertaken locally at whatever interest level is appropriate. It is, of course, vital to use procedures which are not harmful to plants and animals and to carry out sensible risk assessments.
Formed predominantly from strata laid down in the Devonian period, the Quantocks have been quarried for sandstone and limestone, and mined for copper and iron ores. One of the copper mines, the Duke of Buckingham Mine, was located to the west of Nether Stowey near Dodington. A cave at Holwell, to the north of the Quantocks, is notable as being the only place in Britain where anthodites can be found. The landscape contrast, between the sandstone of the higher northern end of the hills and the slates of the more subdued southern end, are very evident from the Will’s Neck area. The steep and relatively straight fault-bounded western flank is also clear.
The Jurassic coast running east and west from Kilve is part of the Blue Anchor to Lilstock Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest and is recognised as being of international importance for its landforms, rock stratification and fossils. Highlights include one of the best series of intertidal shore platforms in Britain, the Pleistocene fluvio-glacial sediments at Doniford, and coastal erosion and protection measures. There are also fossils of ammonites, bivalves, fish, reptiles and coprolites, as well as an outstanding unbroken sequence from the Triassic through to the lower Lias at St Audries Bay. In addition to its fine Norman architecture, St Andrew’s church at Stogursey also has a fossil of a locally discovered ichthyosaur set into the floor.
Further afield, the Mendip Hills include Cheddar Gorge, Ebbor Gorge and Burrington Combe, caves such as Wookey Hole, a number of dry valleys and other karst features, as well as limestone pavements. In addition to quarrying limestone, the area was mined for lead until the early 20th century, while the deepest shaft in the Somerset coalfield was on the northern flank of the hills at Nettlebridge. Nearby, the quarrying industry, geology and related topics can be studied on a visit to the Somerset Earth Science Centre at Stoke St Michael. A little further away, Tedbury Camp Quarry (90 minutes drive from the Campbell Room) is worth visiting for its remarkable angular unconformity between the Carboniferous limestone beds and the overlying Jurassic strata; teaching resources for key stages 2 to 4 are available.
Between the Quantocks and Mendips lie the extensive wetlands of the Somerset Levels, formed from estuarine clay and peat and still susceptible to winter flooding.
The Taunton Rock Trail takes a different approach to the subject, enabling students to learn about the local geology from the various stones used in the town’s buildings, which could be followed up by visits to some of the sources. Our Great Wood Volcano Walk, which starts at the Campbell Room, may also be of interest.
From the prehistoric causeways on the Somerset Levels, the Saxon herepath on the Quantocks and the development of the M5 motorway, through the rise and decline of the Port of Bridgwater, the River Parrett and Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, to the development and survival of the West Somerset Railway; collectively these provide the basis for an interesting study of communications in the area. There are also a number of forts, camps and castles that were used to monitor and control the communications routes, including Dowsborough Camp, Ruborough Camp, Cannington Camp, Brent Knoll fort, the Isle of Athelney, Stowey Castle, Dunster Castle, and the former castles at Bridgwater and Taunton, extending right through to the construction of the Taunton Stop Line during World War II.
The contrast between the development of Bridgwater and Taunton, the former as a market town, important port and industrial centre, the latter as a market town and administrative centre, much of whose trade – until the arrival of the railways – had to pass through Bridgwater, is also a potential topic for study.
Once an almost impassable swamp, scattered with islands such as Glastonbury Tor, Westonzoyland and Athelney, the Somerset Levels were not fully protected from sea flooding until the early 20th century. As drainage, communications and technology developed, so the land use changed. Now largely used for dairy cattle, the coppicing of willow was once widespread. The management of the River Parrett catchment area and drainage system remains an important factor in both land use and biodiversity.
The Campbell Room is close to the Saxon military road or herepath that passed through neighbouring Over Stowey and along the ridge of the Quantock Hills. Nearby is the iron age fort known as Dowsborough Camp, enclosing an area of some 3 hectares, which may have been used as a lookout post to warn of ships passing up the Bristol Channel. At the southern end of the Quantocks there is another smaller but exceptionally well preserved iron age military enclosure, Ruborough Camp, near Broomfield. Of similar age, the earthworks at Plainsfield Camp and Trendle Ring may have been animal enclosures rather than forts.
The Quantocks are also dotted with over 100 bronze age burial barrows and cairns, 54 of them Scheduled Ancient Monuments, with a particular concentration forming a 1 mile long ‘cemetery’ stretching from Dead Woman’s Ditch to Hurley Beacon.
Out on the Somerset Levels, the remains of Neolithic wooden tracks have been found. The tracks, some of the world’s oldest known engineered roadways, were once used to cross the marshland. In the same area, the Glastonbury Lake Village, discovered in 1892, is the best example of a preserved prehistoric village in the country. Many artifacts from the site can be found at the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum in Glastonbury and at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
Relatively more recent are the remains of Roman villas discovered near Kingston St Mary and Spaxton, and a large hoard of Roman silver coins and other objects found near West Bagborough. The record-breaking Frome Hoard of 52,503 coins, discovered in 2010 and the largest hoard ever found from the Roman Empire in a single container (and the second largest in one location), is on display in the Museum of Somerset, as is the third largest, the Shapwick Hoard of 9,238 silver denarii, found on the Somerset Levels. The nearby Mendip Hills were mined for lead and silver before, during and after Roman times, and the Charterhouse lead works are a scheduled ancient monument. A number of mounds from the Roman salt works are also visible on the Levels.
The ruined motte and bailey Stowey Castle, dating from the aftermath of the Norman invasion is also worth climbing up; the view from the top over the surrounding countryside and the Bristol Channel clearly explains the choice of location.
A little further away in time and distance, Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, known as ‘Cheddar Man’ and dating from 7150 BC, was found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar. A replica, together with exhibitions and demonstrations of stone-age technology, can be seen at the Museum of Prehistory at Cheddar Caves.
There are a number of locations of historical interest or importance within easy reach of the Campbell Room for those with transport.
Prior to the Roman occupation, the nearby River Parrett is thought to have formed the frontier between the kingdoms of Dumnonia to the west and Wessex to the east. After a later eastward expansion the Parrett became the frontier once again following the Battle of Peonnum in 660.
In 878, the Battle of Cynwit, at which the West Saxons under Ealdorman Odda of Devon won a notable victory over the Danes, is thought to have taken place at Cannington Camp near the former port of Combwich. More famously, and as part of the same campaign, King Alfred the Great reputedly burnt the cakes while camped at what is now thought to have been a fort on the Isle of Athelney near North Petherton; at the time it was only approachable by boat. A stylus, bearing the words ‘Alfred had me made’ was found nearby.
The former Athelney Abbey, founded by Alfred in thanks for his victory against the Danes, was destroyed following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Glastonbury Abbey, once one of the oldest, richest and most powerful abbeys in the country, suffered the same fate. Although the abbey at Cleeve was also dissolved, it remains one of the best preserved monastic sites in Britain and very suitable for role-play.
The towns of Bridgwater and Taunton both feature in the history of the English Civil War, during which both towns were virtually destroyed. Taunton Castle, under the command of Bridgwater born Robert Blake, held out against the Royalists for a year during the Siege of Taunton. Despite the devastation, the burgage plots of medieval Bridgwater and Taunton are still visible in the town centres.
During the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion the last pitched battle on English soil took place near Bridgwater. After crowning himself King of England at Taunton, the Duke of Monmouth was beaten by the the Royalist troops of King James II at the Battle of Sedgemoor. In the aftermath some 1,400 rebels were found guilty by Judge Jeffries during the Bloody Assizes at Taunton, and you can visit one of their cells at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle. The battlefield is easily accessible, well documented and has an interpretation trail that starts at Westonzoyland church.
Bridgwater also features in the nation’s maritime and industrial history. By 1500 it had become the leading port in Somerset, growing over the following centuries to become at one point the fifth largest port in England. Although it had long had a shipbuilding industry, with the development of the Industrial Revolution it also became an important centre for brick and tile manufacturing, remembered at the local Somerset Brick and Tile Museum. In the strikes of 1896 the town also made history when the Riot Act was used for the first time in an industrial dispute.
The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, linking the two towns, remains not only an interesting piece of transport history, but also formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, built during World War II to hold back the expected invasion.
The coastal resort of Minehead was once three separate towns, High Town on the hill, Quay Town around the port, and Lower Town, which was rebuilt after a catastrophic fire in 1791, around the local mill. With the rise of mass tourism and aided by the arrival of the railway, the town developed during the Victorian period into a popular holiday destination. The ancient port of Watchet, on the railway line to Minehead, is also notable as having been one of the few permitted to mint coins in Saxon times, attracting the attention of the Vikings who raided and plundered the town.
In addition to the historical themes outlined above, a number of people linked to the local area provide further opportunities for exploration.
During 1797 and 1798 Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey, where he wrote some of his best known works, including Kubla Khan and The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Coleridge Cottage, where he lived, is now open to the public. He is commemorated in the name of the Coleridge Way long distance footpath, which starts in the village, and by the statue of the Ancient Mariner at Watchet. The Quantocks also provided the background to the film Pandemonium, focused around the collaboration between Coleridge and William Wordsworth, another local resident. Both poets are identified for study in the National Curriculum for English.
Robert Parsons, a Jesuit priest, was born in Nether Stowey in 1546. It was alleged that he was sympathetic to the planned invasion by the Spanish Armada and that he may have been one of those who inspired the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. The failure of the Plot continues to be celebrated in the annual Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival.
Born in what is now the Blake Museum in Bridgwater, in 1599, Admiral Robert Blake became one of the country’s most famous military commanders as a result of his exploits and reforms during the Commonwealth of England. After holding Taunton during the siege of the town and subsequently being appointed General at Sea (Admiral), he played a major role in securing Ireland for the Parliamentarians and transforming the Royal Navy into a powerful force, so marking the start of Britain’s role as one of the World’s Great Powers. Blake also played important roles in the First Anglo-Dutch War and the 1654 Anglo-Spanish War, where his daring victory at Santa Cruz impressed Lord Nelson even 140 years after the event.
Fyne Court, now the headquarters of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was once the home and laboratory of Andrew Crosse, a contemporary of Sir Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday. Known locally as ‘the thunder and lighting man’, from the 1820s he undertook cutting edge research into atmospheric electricity and electrocrystallisation, as well as creating some of the world’s largest voltaic piles. His work offers links to the National Curriculum for science.
There are a number of opportunities to explore energy production in Somerset. Two nuclear reactors are located at Hinkley Point and educational visits can be arranged. The site was also identified in 2007 as the most favoured location for one of the proposed new generation of nuclear power stations (while permission to build a wind farm at Hinkley was refused in 2005) and preparatory works are underway, though an opposition campaign by Stop Hinkley continues.
More recently, licenses have been issued to explore for shale gas in an area covering part of the Mendip Hills the and former Somerset Coalfield, a development opposed by groups such as Frack Free Somerset.
Brean Down, on the coast near Burnham on Sea, is one of the possible locations for the southern end of a future Severn Barrage. A barrage was first seriously considered in 1925 and most recently rejected in 2010. The Bristol Channel is also a potential location for tidal stream turbines, which could be built as an alternative to a barrage. Another potential form of alternative energy is the burning of locally grown willow as a power station fuel. Once a widespread crop on the Somerset Levels, willow cultivation is now relegated to a few small areas, largely for use in basket making.
Bishops Lydeard Mill and the Dunster Working Watermill provide a reminder of the days when renewable energy provided most of the power, as does the Ashton Windmill 3 miles north west of Wedmore, now the only mechanically functional windmill in Somerset. One of the few alternatives to wind and water was the burning of peat, and the Peat Moors Centre near Glastonbury recounts the history of peat digging in the Somerset Levels. A number of companies continue to dig peat for horticulture, however it is now recognised as an important carbon sink and wildlife habitat and its use may be phased out by 2030.
Steam power is also represented at the Westonzoyland Pumping Station, and by the West Somerset Railway, Britain’s longest Heritage Railway. In the early days of oil, attempts were made to extract oil from the shale on the coast near Kilve. Although the project did not prove economically viable, the brick retort house used in the trials can be seen at the beach car park.
Also of note is Fyne Court, at the southern end of the Quantocks. Now in the care of the National Trust, the estate was once the home and laboratory of electrical pioneer Andrew Crosse, mentioned in the biography section (above).
Educational packs are available for a number of the locations mentioned in these pages; see their web sites for details.
The following additional resources may also be useful:
The further information and resources section of the activites page may also be useful.
© 2008-2016 The Campbell Room Management Committee.
The Campbell Room: Self catering accommodation for groups in Somerset’s Quantock Hills.