The Quantock Hills is a range of hills west of Bridgwater in Somerset, England. The Quantock Hills were Englands first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, being designated in 1956, Natural England have designated the Quantock Hills as national character area 144. They are entirely surrounded by NCA146, the Vale of Taunton, the hills run from the Vale of Taunton Deane in the south, for about 15 miles to the north-west, ending at Kilve and West Quantoxhead on the coast of the Bristol Channel. They form the border of Sedgemoor and the Somerset Levels. The highest point on the Quantocks is Wills Neck, at 1,261 feet, soil types and weather combine to support the hills plants and animals. In 1970 an area of 6,194.5 acres was designated as a Biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, archaeological landscape features include Bronze Age round barrows, extensive ancient field systems and Iron Age hill forts. Evidence from Roman times includes silver coins discovered in West Bagborough, the hills are now a peaceful area popular with walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders and tourists. They explore paths such as the Coleridge Way or visit places of interest in the surrounding villages, the name first appears in Saxon charters in around AD880 as Cantuctun and two centuries later in the Domesday Book as Cantoctona and Cantetone. The name means settlement by a rim or circle of hills, Cantuc is Celtic for a rim or circle, a battle was fought locally at that time. The Quantock Hills are largely formed by rocks of the Devonian period, in the higher north-western areas older Early Devonian rocks known as Hangman Grits predominate and can be seen in the exposed rock at West Quantoxhead quarry, which was worked for road building. The Hangman Grits are described in three divisions, the lowest are the Little Quantock Beds, which are located near Crowcombe, between Triscombe and West Quantoxhead is a layer of the Triscombe Beds which is around 500 metres thick and is made up of green sandstone and mudstones. The uppermost division is the Hodders Combe Beds of sandstone and conglomerate and is approximately 300 metres thick, further south there are newer Middle and Late Devonian rocks, known as Ilfracombe beds and Morte Slates. These include sandstone and limestone, which have been quarried near Aisholt, at Great Holwell, south of Aisholt, is the only limestone cave in the Devonian limestone of North Devon and West Somerset. The lower fringes around the hills are composed of younger New Red Sandstone rocks of the Triassic period and these rocks were laid down in a shallow sea and often contain irregular masses or veins of gypsum, which was mined on the foreshore at Watchet. Several areas have outcrops of slates, younger rocks of the Jurassic period can be found between St Audries and Kilve. This area falls within the Blue Anchor to Lilstock Site of Special Scientific Interest and is considered to be of geological importance. Kilve has the remains of a red-brick retort built in 1924 after the shale in the cliffs was found to be rich in oil, along this coast, the cliffs are layered with compressed strata of oil-bearing shale and blue, yellow and brown Lias embedded with fossils. The Shaline Company was founded in 1924 to exploit these strata but was unable to raise sufficient capital, the companys retort house is thought to be the first structure erected here for the conversion of shale to oil and is all that remains of the anticipated Somerset oil boom
Image: Upland Quantocks
Beach at Quantock's Head. The wave cut platform is visible at low tide below the short "cliff" exposing the rock strata.
Aerial view of the Quantock Hills
The Northern Flank of Beacon Hill (Quantocks). In late summer the northern Quantocks are ablaze with heather and gorse. Minehead can be seen in the distance.