Our next day we took the train back to Taunton, and got to see it this time in lovely sunshine.
Our plan was to rent bicycles and go out riding on the Somerset Levels, a vast flood plain which is, well, level, making it an attractive place to bicycle.
After an extensive tour of an attractive Taunton suburb, however we found many pleasant walking paths, modern housing developments and no cycle shop. (We later determined that we'd taken a wrong turn and wandered off the map we had with us, accounting for the lack of cycle sightings.)
So instead, we returned to the center of town and took a bus out to Lyng, a wide spot in the road, but within walking distance of our destination. The levels were in fact level- lush fields drained by an intricate network of canals and flood control measures, overflowing with wildflowers and with occasional scenic cows dotting the landscape.
The little clusters of houses we passed had the usual flowery accoutrements.
In due course we arrived at the Willows and Wetlands Center, home of the Coate family business where generations had made a living harvesting willow withies and weaving them into a vast array of products- everything from baskets and garden fences to furniture, carts, even a hearse and coffin.
In the 1960s, the rise of alternative artificial materials reduced the market for willow and the family cast about for another kind of willow product. After some intense research, they found that willow was an ideal material for artist's charcoal (due to its lack of growth rings- willow grows quickly and is harvested every year). And so they also produce Coate's Charcoal.
After viewing the visitor center and learning how willow is processed:
-we looked for a different route to take us back to our bus. We strolled along farm lanes, and by the river, but we found that each lane eventually dead-ended at a farm or waterway.
We eventually found our way back to the road and walked back to Lyng, which despite its small size, featured a very nice pub.
We had some refreshing cider, and then caught our bus back to Taunton and made our way by train to Exeter. On the way back to the hotel, we detoured through the Northernhay gardens, which we hadn't had a chance to see yet.
A very pleasant day, even if we spent a bit more time wandering than we planned. We headed back to our hotel and started packing, because tomorrow we were heading to Dartmoor.