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Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset

There are four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset. A pretty impressive number when you consider that England, Wales and Northern Ireland has a combined total of 46. Where are the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset? The Blackdown Hills, Cranborne Chase, the Mendip Hills and the Quantock Hills are the crème de la crème of the Somerset countryside.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset

View from Ebbor Gorge

What is an area of outstanding natural beauty?

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are often described as the jewels of the landscape. Their value is placed on a par with National Parks. An area has to meet a number of different ‘natural beauty criterion’ before it can be proposed as an AONB by Natural England. (It’s a bit like a beauty pageant for land!) An area has to rate highly in aspects such as;

Cultural heritage, natural heritage features, quality of landscape, scenic quality, tranquillity and wildness.

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty only account for around 15% of the English landscape. The largest is in the Cotswolds while the smallest is on the Isles of Scilly.

Once designated as an AONB, the land is protected to a certain degree. Natural England advises on any development proposals and works within an AONB. The idea is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of an area while taking into account the needs of rural industries (e.g. agriculture and forestry) and the demand for recreation. People have to be able to enjoy the landscape.


Somerset can lay claim to having the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. It was awarded over 65 years ago. Let’s begin with that.

  1. The Quantock Hills

    The Quantock Hills were designated as an AONB back in 1956. This area encompasses ancient parkland, heaths, oak woodlands, Jurassic coastline and pretty villages. There are plenty of panoramic views to enjoy. It’s also a lovely area to exercise in. Much of the land is open access and there are paths and tracks for walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

  2. Cranborne Chase

    Somerset can’t claim Cranborne Chase exclusively as the sixth largest AONB in the country overlaps Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire. It’s an area of great ecological and historical importance. The area contains ancient woodland which includes the former Royal Forests of Selwood and Gillingham and rare chalk grasslands. Explore on foot, bike or horseback.

  3. The Blackdown Hills

    Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1991, the Blackdown Hills lie on the border of Somerset and Devon. The geology of the area allows rare bird, mammal, plant and insect species to flourish. One of England’s earliest gold coins was found here. (Please don’t go armed with a metal detector as special permissions need to be granted.) There are various cycling, walking and horse-riding routes to enjoy.

  4. The Mendip Hills

    The landscape includes incredible gorges and stunning valleys. You can take in ancient monuments, rich grasslands and beautiful woodland. It’s a place close to my heart and very close to my B&B! The Mendip Hills exhibit 12 qualities which make it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Among these are; Ancient woodland, caves, diverse and visible geology, drystone walls (best guess is over 260 miles worth!), flower-rich limestone grasslands, a landscape made for adventure and getting in touch with nature and views. Oh, the views. On the Mendip Hills you can cave, climb, cycle, horse ride, walk and bird watch. 

    Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

    The Jurassic coast


Britain is unique in awarding Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – no other country has them. According to Landscapes for Life, 66% of people live within 30 minutes of an AONB. Getting outdoors is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. How lovely to know that beauty really is on our doorstep. If you aren’t fortunate enough to live close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty come and see at least one in Somerset. I know just the place to stay…

Love the great outdoors? Find out more about; Birdwatching in Somerset, Chew Valley Lake and Ebbor Gorge


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