Cycling Somerset’s Cider Trail
There are a few things to know about Somerset;
- It has the best cider in the world (no point arguing that, it’s true….!) which is still often made in the coolest, traditional cider barns
- It’s got some incredible cycle routes
- Sometimes it doesn’t rain!
So, on a sunny weekend there’s nothing better than cycling along the beautiful, quiet lanes of the Somerset Levels and visiting the numerous cider orchards and barns that are scattered across the region.
The Somerset Levels
Cider or none, the levels are perfect for family cycling. Miles and miles of completely flat, quiet country lanes surrounded by beautiful meadows, swans swimming along the watery dykes, and cows peacefully chewing the cud. There’s also a network of nature reserves including Shapwick Heath, Ham Wall and Westhay Moor which welcome cyclists to explore the tracks running through them. Take a packed lunch and listen for booming bitterns or singing frogs (they really sing). These wetland reserves are teeming with wildlife and offer some of the best scenery in the county.
Touring through the levels on a sunny day gives a good insight into how Somerset earned the name ‘land of the summer people’.
Somerset’s Cider History
As well as beautiful scenery, Somerset is celebrated for cider. Its cider-making heritage harks back to the 11th century when cider was seen as a health supplement, beneficial for the skin as well as being enjoyed as an alcoholic drink… well nothing’s changed there right?
The industry has continued to flourish and many of the cider making processes haven’t changed in centuries.
There are a number of huge industry giants here, such as Thatcher’s, but also many smaller independent producers that are still going strong. Using apples from their own orchards and producing cider on their own farms, they welcome people to come and visit and sample their homebrew.
Though some of the cider producers of the area run slick commercial tourist operations, most maintain a rustic, occasionally eccentric, setup. You may feel like you’ve wandered into someone’s back garden….. and more often than not, you have! But you’re always welcome and so are the kids, dogs, and whoever else happens to comes along.
From meeting Jim at Jim’s Shack to Roger at Wilkins cider, these are famers and producers whose families have often been making cider on the same sight for centuries. Whether you’re local or have travelled from the other side of the world to be there (as many do), you’re invited to enjoy a tipple of local cider while sitting in the shade of an apple tree. Happy days.
Cycling the Cider Trail
For research purposes only, I was forced to spend a sunny Saturday with friends, cycling a 25 mile route to test run the local lanes and cider houses…. It was tough work, but someone’s got to do it.
There’s no defined cider-cycle ‘route’ across the Somerset Levels but with such a myriad of cider barns connected by miles of quiet lanes, it’s easy to make up your own. Our route, plus a list of local recommended cider houses, are listed below.
*Cycling and alcohol don’t mix well (it’s against the law to cycle over the legal drinking limit), so before I go on it’s worth noting that most cider barns do a very small taster sample (about the size of half a shot) which can be washed down with a delicious glass of local apple juice. Cider can be purchased to take home of course. What you do when you reach the cider barn at the end of your cycle route is entirely up to you!
The Somerset Cycle route
Jim’s Cider Shack
We had a leisurely start beginning at Jim’s Cider Shack, Bere Aller and sampled their Gold Rush cider. This is made using apples from Jim’s own orchards and matured in beautiful wooden casks.
From 2021, Jim has also opened a café alongside the cider shack selling teas, coffees and cakes.
We then set off on our cycle ride heading North towards Shapwick Heath. We stuck to the quieter lanes which are straight and flat with very little traffic so made for really enjoyable cycling. Arriving at Shapwick Heath, we found a spot halfway along the reserve for a picnic.
Our journey continued over the River Brue, great for a quick wild swim!
Our next stop was one of the best pubs in Somerset, The Sheppey in Lower Godney. They have a beautiful terrace over-looking a dyke with views stretching out across the levels. Sipping our drinks, we could enjoy the view of buttercup meadows as dragonflies buzzed around the water below.
Onwards we went to my all-time favourite Cider Barn, Wilkins Cider in Mudgley. Roger and his merry band of locals are always there to welcome you and chat about all things cider. The cider is kept in huge casks and in Autumn you can see the cider apples being processed and the whole cider-making business underway! Sit up in the orchard and enjoy a taste of Roger’s fantastic cider/ apple juice and maybe even a taste of local cheese.
Take cash. Roger doesn’t do cards.
Draycott Cider Barn
Onwards to our final stop, Draycott Cider Barn. There is a hill climb involved here and some slightly busier roads to be aware of. The barn is a real eclectic mix of locals and tourists with a bit of classic film memorabilia thrown in. There are many ciders to sample here, hence it being our final stop… there’s often live music going on and a good knees-up atmosphere.
If you’re not cycling, there’s a brilliant local walk above the cider barn at Draycott Sleights. Head up there for incredible views and the chance to see Peregrine Falcons during the summer. Find out more here.
We managed to arrange a local mini bus to collect us and our bikes and take us home after a brilliant day!
Somerset’s Cider Barns:
- Wilkins Cider, Mudgley
- Burrow Hill, Kinsbury Episcopi
- Thatchers Cider, Churchill
- Perry’s Somerset Cider, Ilminster
- Bridge Farm Cider, Yeovil
- Hecks Cider, Street
- Sheppey’s, Bradford-on-Tone
- Jim’s Cider Shack, Bere Aller
- Ham Hill Cider, Crewkerne
- Rich’s Cider Shack, Highbridge
- West Croft Cider, Highbridge
- West Bradley Orchards, Glastonbury
- Torre Cider Farm, Washford