Butlin's Minehead - a family resort with fun on site and Somerset and Devon beyond

Sun and sand are within reach in the West Country

Quince Honey Farm Pic: G Munro
Quince Honey Farm Pic: G Munro

Like many people we were desperate for a holiday this summer. A proper break for us all with sunshine and a change of scene was what we craved. But with airport chaos and covid still rife, we didn’t feel ready to go abroad. So we opted for a trip to Exmoor in the West Country, far away enough to feel a bit exotic but reachable by car with minimal hassle.

As a family with an eight and six-year old we love Butlin’s and booked a week at the Minehead resort on the coast of west Somerset. Having had fabulous holidays in Skegness and Bognor Regis, we were excited to check in to the largest of their resorts. It’s a long drive from Edinburgh (around nine hours) so we split the journey with an overnight stay in Stafford, about half way.

Butlin’s offers holidays to suit most budgets and we opted for a top-end package, staying in a two-bedroom lakeside lodge with unlimited premium breakfast and dinner buffets. The lodge was spacious and the friendly housekeeping team came in three times in the week. Breakfast and dinner is served in a choice of two vast buffet restaurants, offering a huge range to suit even the fussiest eaters. The live cooking stations were a big hit and we ate like kings.

The Exmoor Pony Centre. G Munro

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The reason we love Butlin’s is there is so much to do in the resort, much of which is included in the holiday price such as the on-site fun fair, swimming pool, Splash pool and dozens of daily shows for all ages, with a small additional charge for premium activities such as the aerial adventure, crazy golf and ten pin bowling. The swimming pool with flumes, lazy river and wave pool was a huge hit with our son Reuben, while our daughter Sarah preferred the outdoor splash pool and thrill-seeking rides. A highlight for me was the pirate-themed adventure golf while my wife claims she particularly enjoyed the look on my face while I did the terrifying zip wire. We all enjoyed the early evening entertainment, in one of four huge hangar-style venues, now with extra space between tables, air con and a drinks app for table service. It all felt very covid-safe while we enjoyed shows including Jay & Joss magicians, an Ed Sheerin tribute act, family friendly DJ Club night and Musicals Rock concert. What separates Butlin’s from other holiday camps is the attention to detail such as the beautiful floral displays, nods to its war-time roots and the helpfulness of the staff with swarms of ‘redcoats’ making sure your holiday is perfect.

When we fancied a change of pace, we headed out to explore the beautiful surroundings of Exmoor National Park, which span parts of Somerset and Devon. The hedgerow-lined country lanes are not for the faint-hearted with hairpin bends and clutch-grinding inclines but the scenery makes it worthwhile. Breathtaking views across Exmoor and sweeping vistas of cliffs and sea were ten a penny, not to mention the chocolate-box villages with thatched cottages, hanging baskets and gorgeous olde worlde churches and pubs.

On one outing we crossed the border into Devon and visited Quince Honey Farm and bee sanctuary, the UK’s only specially designed bee garden, and spent three hours learning all about honey, bees and nature conservation through a series of fun activities interspersed with time to explore the stunning bee-gardens and play areas. We did honey tasting, candle making and potting of bee-friendly seeds to take home, bee spotting and identification (we even saw a very rare swarm of 50,000 bees) and a fascinating bee-keeping masterclass with expert Dave. The time buzzed by.

Kentisbury Grange is an award-winning four-star hotel with luxury lodges in the countryside near Barnstaple and we decided to treat ourselves to an opulent fine-dining experience at their Coach House restaurant. Starters of crispy duck leg with apple and walnut jam and the Godminster cheddar tart with pickled cauliflower and dehydrated pineapple were spectacular and while the children enjoyed a bespoke burger and fish and chips – the best batter I have ever tasted - we feasted on a gigantic Exmoor beef burger and ballotine of west country chicken with pickled mushrooms, sweetcorn and fondant potatoes. After a melt-in-the-mouth salted caramel tart and sticky toffee pudding we headed back across the border into Somerset just in time to catch the Strictly Latino show at Butlin’s.

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The Exmoor Pony Centre

A trip to Exmoor wouldn’t be complete without meeting some iconic Exmoor ponies. At the charitable Exmoor Pony Centre, which rescues and rehabilitates wild ponies the children had a lesson in the manage (indoor arena) where they learned basic commands and had lots of fun with Borage. I even had a quick shot on the pony, my first ever time on horseback!

My tipple is a nice cold pint of cider so we visited Torre Cider Farm for a tour of the production area and some cider tasting, with apple juice for the children. Strolling through the orchards we were surrounded by art installations while a play area next to the café entertained the children while we tried the house special pulled pork and apple chutney pizza. If you want to try Torre cider you’ll have to visit as it doesn’t distribute its delicious (and extremely potent) scrumpy anywhere else.

On yet another sunny day we ventured back into Devon to the historic coastal villages of Lynton and Lynmouth. Separated by a towering cliff, Lynmouth is a quaint fishing village while Elegant Lynton is perched high on the cliff-top, with a stunning vista over the Bristol Channel. The two villages are connected by the world’s first water-powered funicular railway, built in 1890, which still runs up and down the cliff every few minutes. Geoff the Railway’s manager explained that the cliff tracks are so steep the train’s break pads need replaced every day. After being reassured that the breaks were working, we took a ride up to Lynton where we treated ourselves to a real Devon cream tea in the Railway’s cliff-top café.

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There is so much to do in and around the Butlin’s resort that it wasn’t until our last day we made it to the famous Minehead beach, and what a beach it is with expansive golden sand and gentle warm(ish) waves. We will definitely be back.

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. Pic: G Munro

2022 family breaks from £18 per personButlin’s offers a four-night Spooktober Midweek break featuring Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and Thomas staying in a two bedroom Silver Room from £72 on 10 October 2022. Price based on family of four sharing and includes live shows and activities with free flow access to the pool and unlimited fairground rides. Dining packages start from £22.75 per adult, per day and £11.40 per child, per day. To find out more or to book go to butlins.com.

2023 family breaks from £13.50 per personButlin’s offers a four-night Winter Showtime Midweek break staying in a two bedroom Silver Room from £54 on 6 February 2023. Price is based on family of four sharing and includes live shows and activities with free flow access to the pool and unlimited fairground rides. Dining packages start from £22.75 per adult, per day and £11.40 per child, per day. To find out more or to book go to butlins.com.

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Quince Honey Farm, daily 9.30am-5pm (quincehoneyfarm.co.uk); Kentisbury Grange Hotel, Kentisbury, Barnstaple, EX31 4NL (kentisburygrange.com); The Exmoor Pony Centre, 10am-4pm daily, closed Tues & Sat (www.moorlandmousietrust.org.uk), Torre Cider Farm, Sun-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-8pm (torrecider.farm); Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (lynton-rail.co.uk)

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Pic: G Munro