Nettlecombe Court – a Real Family Holiday
Last summer I went on a Real Family Holiday with both my children. We had so much fun that we booked another. This time we went to the Field Study Centre in Nettlecombe Court, Somerset. We also went in the first week of the Easter holidays, and it was rather chillier than I’d hoped last week. Despite the cold weather we still all had a lot of fun. We also ate rather a lot of cream teas!
FSC Nettlecombe Court
The centre at Nettlecombe Court is much larger than the one we went to in Start Bay last year. It’s a late Elizabethan mansion, completed in 1599. It’s the sort of house that the National Trust tend to look after. This one is still owned by the Trevelyan family, and has been rented to FSC since the late 60s.
Nettlecombe Court is a few miles inland from the sea, set in some rolling pastures and woodlands. It’s not far from Watchet, about a ten minute drive. Minehead is about half an hour or so away, and the closest place big enough to have a supermarket. There’s no mobile phone signal, despite the whacking great masts on the way into Watchet, too many hills for that.
Nettlecombe Court’s facilities
When full it takes 117 people, although most rooms are 4-8 using bunk beds. Ours had ensuite toilet and shower, a step up from Start Bay. Facilities were similar, hot food for breakfast and dinner with packed lunch materials provided. There was a second pantry with a filter coffee machine and cake in it too. The student common room had a pool table, a couple of ancient arcade games and a selection of board games. We played chess and Scrabble with the kids. Pool was interesting as the table had a list.
There’s also a very civilised Teachers’ Lounge upstairs, where the grown-ups can hide from the kids. We used this a little, it had a TV and another filter coffee machine. With its wood panelling and leather sofas it reminded me a bit of the library in the Glasgow University Union. Although they’ve replaced the armchairs since I studied there in the very early nineties.
Outside there was a large area of parkland. This was prepared for various nature observations. There were reptile traps (for observation), areas of different soils, a couple of ponds and many streams. Lots of woodland, including veteran trees, one of which is believed to be over 700 years old.
Nettlecombe Court Activities
Like our previous foray with Real Family Holidays there were activities every morning. These were included in the booking, and there were some extra ones for an additional cost. We spent the afternoons doing our own exploring of the local area.
Our first full day was Tuesday, we went pond dipping. We then repeated the activity in a stream to compare static v running water. The tutor (Huw) was very knowledgeable and great with both kids and adults. He gave us all the kit, talked about what we were doing and then encouraged us through it. Lucy in particular enjoyed the pond dipping and finding creatures in the water. We all went for a run down the stream, in our borrowed wellies. I forgot to mention that if you haven’t got the waterproofs or wellies then they’ll lend them to you. It’s been a while since I ran down a stream. I plan to find somewhere near here so that I can do it again with the cub pack.
On the Wednesday we played a load of outdoor team games on the lawn. One of these was the tennis ball and drainpipe collaboration game we did at Start Bay. Another was Moth & Bat, which was really fun to watch. Two members of the group were blindfolded and were inside a circle formed by the rest of the group. The Bat had to say ‘Bat’ before it moved, and the Moth had to reply ‘Moth’. If either got too close to the edge the people nearest said ‘tree’. It’s a good game and one I’m going to try with cubs. We also played pirates & coastguard (which was similar to the smugglers game I played with cubs). All in all it was good fun and got us to know some of the other people on a Real Family Holiday.
Thursday was a minibeast hunt, and we started with a moth trap on the back lawn. Most of the moths that we found were ‘Hebrew Character‘ moths. After getting a good look we put them safely back in a large nearby bush. The minibeast hunt continued by following another stream into the woods. In we went looking for signs of wildlife, and we found plenty. There were the usual woodland insects, woodlice, ants, and we also saw signs of mice, squirrels and snakes. One of the more interesting bit were the piles of nibbled cherry stones. The local mice and squirrels collect them for over-winter food. You can tell the difference between a mouse and a squirrel by how they’ve been eaten!
The forest was an old one. There were a lot of young trees in it, but also some that were centuries old. The FSC manage it, and don’t cut the trees except when necessary because of wind damage. None of the cut wood is moved, so it provides a habitat for animals. The whole ethos is minimally managed nature, and an avoidance of intervention. It made for a great walk in the woods, and we saw a lot of wildlife.
We didn’t spend all our time in Nettlecombe Court. There are many other things to do nearby, and we used our afternoons to explore. We went to Dunster Castle and the village. It’s a good day out if you are nearby, especially if you are already a National Trust member. The kids enjoyed the Cadbury sponsored Easter Trail.
We had a few hours in Minehead, where we played on the 2p slots by the sea and had a cream tea. If the weather had been nicer we might also have played on the beach. There was a great sandy beach over the road from the amusements and an arcade.
Another afternoon was spent in Watchet. It’s a lovely historic harbour with several tea rooms and interesting shops. We passed almost an hour in a junk shop in the main street. We also found a shop doing pick and mix Lego on the harbour front. Lastly we also saw a steam train from the West Somerset Steam Railway that runs from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard.
We’ll be going on more Real Family Holidays, there’s a friendliness to them across sites, and the nature activities are great. The food is more than sufficient and they are flexible with the menu. When we told them that we didn’t think Lucy would eat either lasagne or veg chilli they added plain pasta and sauce. This wasn’t just a one-off for us, it became a general third menu option and lots of people chose it.