The Avalon Marshes Centre sits at the heart of Somerset’s Avalon Marshes. Owned and managed by Natural England the centre has visitor information, café, craft shop, replica historic buildings, classroom, meeting room, car park and toilets. It is also an important focus for educational and other events and is the central hub for the management of the Avalon Marshes nature reserves providing a base for the RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Hawk & Owl Trust and Natural England. The replica buildings are in the care of the South West Heritage Trust. The centre provides a good base from which to Explore the area and has undergone significant improvements in recent years with more to come.
A short walk (c400m) along the road is Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR); close by are Ham Wall NNR, Shapwick Moor, Catcott Complex and Westhay Moor NNR. All are within easy cycling distance and have car parking. To find out more go to our Nature Reserve pages.
The Avalon Marshes Centre is linked to Glastonbury by the Bittern Trail. This almost entirely traffic-free cycle route through Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall NNRs links into National Cycle Route 3.
At the Centre you will find two replica buildings under construction. One is a Romano British dining room with a working hypocaust, the other a Saxon longhall based on the 9th century Saxon Royal Palace at Cheddar. These buildings have been constructed by the South West Heritage Trust with their Hands on Heritage volunteers. The buildings were funded by the Heritage Lottery/Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme. They are currently only open to view inside for special events only – keep an eye on our Events page for dates. You can however see them at any time from the garden at the Centre.
In addition, the site also hosts the Bulleid and Gray hut, which formed the base for the archaeological excavations at the Lake Villages. These were undertaken by archaeologists Bulleid and Gray, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The hut display was part of the Peat Moors Centre, which closed in 2009, but is has been relocated next to the two replica buildings.
The attractive gallery and craft shop is operated by Somerset Crafts, a group of local artists and craftsmen. Open seven days a week sells a wide range of original hand-crafted items, many drawing their inspiration from the wildlife and landscape of the Avalon Marshes.
The Centre has an on-site cafe, with outdoor and indoor seating, open 9.30am – 5pm seven days/week. The Marshes Hub Tea Stop serves hot and cold drinks, a range of breakfast options, a varied light lunch menu including freshly made soups, quiches, toasties etc, cream teas, selection of home made cakes and specials of the day. A warm welcome can always be assured by Sally and her team .
Located in the Craft Gallery, our Visitor Information Point has maps and leaflets about the nature reserves, along with a mural and TV showcasing some of our wildlife and heritage. The desk is manned at weekends and some weekdays by staff and volunteers who will endeavour to answer your questions and help you to get the best out of your visit.
In 1963 a local family, the Rogers, bought a small cottage called “The Willows” and its adjoining peat-rich land. Trading as “the Willows Peat Company” the peat was dug, bagged and sold. In 1976 the Rogers opened a garden centre which complemented the growing demand for horticultural peat – the “The Willows Garden Centre”.
Nearby peat was being excavated in huge quantities by peat companies such as Eclipse, Fisons, and Godwins, unearthing a remarkable archaeological record in the process, including the famous Sweet Track. These finds were recorded and rescued where possible by the Somerset Levels Project led by John and Bryony Coles. Seeking somewhere local to tell the archaeological story and display some of the finds, the project worked with Roger Rogers to establish the Peat Moors Centre. In 1992 it was expanded to tell some of the story of the Lake Villages. Two Iron Age round-houses were constructed, and the Bulleid and Gray hut used during the excavation of the Lake Villages was moved to the site. This work was funded by Somerset County Council who took over the running of the heritage part of the site.
In 2006 the site was purchased by English Nature (now Natural England) as an office and work base for the growing Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve and other Somerset reserves. Further developments provided a work space for the RSPB, Somerset Wildlife Trust and others; the Avalon Marshes Centre was born. Sadly the Peat Moors Centre shut its doors to the public in 2009 but it continued to be used as an educational resource and provided a work base for the South West Heritage Trust’s “Hands on Heritage” team.
2017-19 has seen significant investment at the centre by Natural England funded by Defra. The life expired portacabins have been replaced by a modern new office building for staff and volunteers. The Craft Centre has been refurbished and upgraded. The Centre’s carbon footprint is now much reduced: the buildings having insulation to modern standards; LED lighting has been fitted; a large array of solar panels providing free power; and it is planned to have electric car re-charging points. The underground services have been modernised, including a mains sewer which required a new pipe to be laid for almost a mile up the road. Another “hidden” addition is a high speed fibre link which also gives free wi-fi for visitors. The latest changes have been to the external areas with new soft and hard landscaping, improved car parking and paths, and the removal of the old, and life-expired classrooms.
A replacement classroom and education area have now been built funded by the EU’s Leader+ initiative. There is still work to do: new toilets; extend the landscaping and car park upgrading; a café extension; and one day hopefully an off-road direct link to the reserves. Many of these stages have been designed, the challenge of course is the funding.
In case you are struggling to find your way from the Avalon Marshes Centre to the reserve at Shapwick Heath, which is about 400m away, this short video will show you the way…