Exmoor National Park and the West Somerset coast are areas I’ve wanted to get to know better ever since we moved to the county. Surprisingly, despite its South West location, Exmoor is Britain’s least visited national park, attracting just 1.4 million visitors a year, compared to the most popular park, the Lake District, and its 16 million annual visitors. So why aren’t as many people coming to lap up the rugged beauty of Somerset’s Exmoor? Perhaps because holiday makers tend to overlook the county skipping over Somerset on their way to Devon and Cornwall, enticed by bluer seas, rolling surf and whiter sands.
But Devon and Cornwall’s thronging beaches and M5 summer traffic jams are Exmoor’s and West Somerset’s gain. With a landscape of vast, barren moors, woodland, rugged coastline, thatched cottages and ancient landmarks, there is a real sense of rural remoteness – a harkening back to quintessential England, and a lot of opportunity for adventure. And it was calling to me.
After happening upon East Quay on Instagram, I’d been desperate to stay in one of their fabulous accommodation pods. With eye-catching shapes, ingenious space-saving interiors, buzzing artsy vibe and West Somerset harbourside location, it looked like the perfect base to get my Exmoor coast exploration on.
East Quay Watchet
Located on Watchet’s harbourside, East Quay’s angular, converted shipping container appearance, framed by bobbing masts and glinting sea, is immediately striking. The venue, realised by a determined collective of local women (known as the Onion Collective, a social enterprise working to tackle social, cultural and environmental injustice in Watchet), is made up of a gallery, artist studios, an alternative education space, restaurant and accommodation pods.
The funky-looking pods which had caught my eye, are juxtaposed with the studios, art spaces and restaurant, with numerous access points, encouraging guests to venture into the exhibitions and get involved with any arty goings-on. On the way to our pod, we passed a ‘Weather Wall’, with watercolour paints and an invite to paint that day’s weather.
Also on the agenda, etched out in coloured chalk were announcements about drop-in, free family-friendly summer holiday workshops, DJ nights and free outdoor theatre.
Arriving at East Quay
There is no designated parking at East Quay (unless you’re using the two accessible spaces opposite the marina offices), so if you’re coming by car, you’ll need to transport your stuff from the nearby long-stay, pay and display public car park.
The nearest to East Quay is the Harbour Road car park, Watchet, Somerset, TA23 0ET. Other car parks in Watchet can be found in Anchor Street, Market Street, Swain Street, and West Pier.
We were only staying for one night, so enlisting the help of the kids, we trekked our bags the short distance, passing a VW Van, that looked as if it had been parked with the sole purpose of matching the East Quay decor.
On arrival, we quickly found reception, based inside a gorgeous artsy shop, stocked with items that reflect the wider ethos of the building; creativity and social good. Think beautiful stationary, art materials, magazines, books, and products by other social enterprises and ethical companies.
Watchet East Quay accommodation pods
There are five beautifully-designed pods to choose between, each with its own concept and story. Three are made for couples – the vintage-flavoured Pod 1 ‘Living Museum’, ‘Romantic Industrial’ Pod 3, with its sea-gazing bathtub and the candy-coloured, battenberg-esque, Pod 5 ‘Immersive Art’.
Then there are two for bigger groups or families – the largest being the harbour-gazing, mezzanine-maximising Pod 2 ‘Stories and Imagination’. As the latter was taken when I wanted to stay with my three kids in the summer, I opted for Pod 4 ‘Playful Architecture’, which can sleep up to four people.
And the name really does sum up the vibe. Aside from the harbour views and gorgeous coastal light up here on the second floor, the pièce de résistance in this compact bolthole – and one I fear my kids may feel all future places we stay in are lacking – is the suspended cargo net nook – complete with TV.
This unique little play den doubles as a ridiculously fun area for youngsters to bed down at night too, thanks to extra cushions, duvets and sleeping bag liners provided. There are camp beds too if they prefer, however I don’t think my children left the netted area during their entire time in the pod. The novelty of being able to sleep on something they normally find in playgrounds was not lost on them.
And knock yourself out if your inner excitable child wants to play too! The cargo net is certified for a combined weight well over that of two adults and two children.
The steep ship-style steps up to the mezzanine level are a tad precarious with toddlers (what life situation isn’t?),and so it could be a little stressful for those with tiny ones. However, as my son was so besotted with the cargo net, he wasn’t up and down the the steps and constantly needing to be chaperoned.
Upstairs, opposite the cargo net, you’ll also find a double bed, which was very comfy, with luxury organic bed linen and an organic wool duvet, on top of a natural mattress. There are some windows up here, which look out over the Bristol Channel, and it’s fascinating to watch the ebb and flow of the tide fill up or empty the harbour.
The pod has one bathroom downstairs, which is incredibly sprightly in its decor – the tiles and door are reminiscent of a sunset/sunrise over the ocean – an ombre of oranges to dark blue. There’s a wet room-style shower, eco-friendly toiletries, a small sink and a toilet.
Walls, made from ply, are covered with a semaphore code – which guests are invited to crack. Adaptive furniture enables the small space to be customised to your needs – the table and chairs are collapsible and the table can hang on the carabiner by the bathroom, and the chairs fit under the stairs.
A small kitchen with an integrated fridge (they’ll give you fresh milk, Brazier coffee and fancy Exmoor tea bags), kettle, toaster, microwave, sink, and induction hobs completes the pod. If you can’t be bothered to cook though, East Quay Kitchen just across the courtyard.
Just behind the pod, the West Somerset Railway occasionally chuffs past (it opens seasonally from March), pulling into Watchet station just a few metres away, much to the delight of our vehicle-obsessed toddler, and we rush to catch a glimpse of it.
Outside, you can potter around a little terrace area surrounding the pod, which has picturesque views in all directions and the light at sundown is something else. Us, the green hills and old English houses, steep jagged cliffs, muddied Bristol Channel, and pretty harbour with its tinkling boats and red lighthouse are bathed in a breathtaking golden orange glow.
Dining at East Quay Kitchen
East Quay Kitchen, on the ground floor, is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon bar snacks and some evening meals (check ahead in low season months). As well as indoor seating, there are benches outside for warmer weather and as a nice little bonus, guests staying in the pods get 10% off the food.
On the menu you’ll find Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired dishes with a push towards vegan and veggie dishes – things like chicken skewers, Turkish and traditional eggs, cakes and pitta pizzas for kids.
Often, there are events, film nights, performances and music of an evening, so do check the ‘what’s on section’ before you visit.
What’s on at East Quay
Watchet’s East Quay Arts Centre regularly hosts free and paid, bookable creative workshops and activities for all ages of children as well as adults, often relating to their current exhibition. From leaf printing, to spring collagraphs, plaster sculptures, folk banner-making, and 3D casting to name but a few.
Getting to East Quay
By public transport
The nearest mainline rail station is Taunton, which works with Buses of Somerset route 28 to pick up and drop off at the station itself. Watchet’s bus stop is located on Harbour Road, close to East Quay. Do check train and bus timetables for compatible journey connections before you travel.
East Quay promote sustainable travel, but for families especially, car is the easiest and quickest way to get here. To reach Watchet, leave the M5 at junction 25 (Taunton) and follow signs for Minehead. Alternatively, if approaching from the north, you can leave the M5 at Junction 24 (Bridgwater) and follow the A39 towards Minehead and then Watchet.
You can get to Watchet by bike via a network of off-road and on-road routes. please check Somerset walking and cycling maps and Steam Coast Trail for safety tips, maps and more. At East Quay there are Sheffield cycle stands for 13 bikes.
Things to do in Watchet
I’m going to turn this into a more in-depth post, but here are some ideas for things to do during your stay:
- Take a wander around the harbour, and along the coast, walking parallel to the steam railway line.
- Visit the nearby children’s playground for a run around and sea cliff views.
- Check out the Boat Museum (designed probably by Brunel, built by his sons in 1862 and restored by the Onion Collective), home of the ‘flatner’, a local boat used on the shores of the Bristol Channel where the tides go out a great distance, exposing mud flats.
- Hop on the West Somerset Railway, (check timetable beforehand as it doesn’t run all year or every day) a 20-mile scenic journey skirting the Quantocks, before reaching the Bristol Channel at Blue Anchor Bay and then tracing the coastline to its terminus at Minehead.
- Brave the Victorian tidal pool at low tide, found on West Street Beach, at the bottom of the short slipway. Each summer the Watchet Conservation Society cleans the pool ready for visitors to enjoy. Alternatively, buy a wooden boat from the Visitor Centre and take it for a sail on the tidal pool.
- Pick up a bucket and net and have a fun afternoon rock pooling on Watchet’s rocky, fossil-filled shoreline.
- Head to Helwell Bay (Fossil Beach) to see the story of Watchet’s geology and some of the earliest ammonite fossils recorded in Britain.
- Walk the old West Somerset Mineral Line, which starts in Watchet. Make your way on foot to Washford and then catch the steam train back (be aware the train doesn’t start running until March) or the more adventurous can hike the 7-mile circular.
- Paint your own pottery at The Serendipity Creative Cafe.
- Visit Watchet Market House Museum to discover more about Watchet and its maritime history, through fossils, Roman, Saxon and Viking relics found locally. A star attraction within the display is a near complete lchthyosaur.
- If your kids are into LEGO, pop into the Marina Emporium on the harbourside. Upstairs inside this unassuming building you’ll find a LEGO room with pre-loved Lego bricks, brand new LEGO boxes, hundreds of mini figures and a vintage 1962 LEGO street scene. They also serve great ice cream out of their hatch.
- Sink a pint of cider in the atmospheric Pebbles Tavern, CAMRA Somerset Cider Pub of the Year for many years running.
Final thoughts on East Quay, Watchet
If you love boutique, quirky accommodation with a sustainable conscience and a great location, you’ll love East Quay Watchet. The views from the pods are utterly mesmerising and I could sit for hours watching the water changes in the harbour, the gorgeous light gilding the sea and silhouetting the dramatic cliffs.
The location is fantastic – it’s just a short, flat walk into town, where you’ll find charming independent shops, cafes and the odd pub, plus picturesque buildings. Or, you can venture further afield and go on long walks which start just outside the door. I’m desperate to go back and spend longer in the area.
If you’re staying longer than a week and have kids in tow, you might start to feel a little hemmed in (although I am yet to try the biggest pod, so may retract that statement), but for short stays it’s an incredible little base from which to explore Watchet and surrounding Exmoor.
I’d definitely recommend it as one of the best places to stay in Watchet.
Looking for more places to stay in the county? Try glamping at Yeabridge Farm in South Somerset.
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