Avalon Marshes Centre
The Avalon Marshes Centre
The refurbished Centre sits at the heart of Somerset’s Avalon Marshes. Owned and managed by Natural England, it has visitor information, café, craft shop, classroom/meeting room, car park and accessible toilets. It is an important focus, not just for visitors, but also for local community events, volunteering and 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 Centre also hosts Avalon Archaeology – a set of historic replica buildings in the care of the South West Heritage Trust – see next section below.
A short walk (c400m) along the road is Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR); about 2 miles away 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 provides a good starting point to explore the immediate area and 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.
More information here about getting to the Avalon Marshes.
For opening times and admission prices visit the Avalon Archaeology website. Please note Avalon Archaeology is not open every day of the week.
Avalon Archaeology is a place to discover local heritage alongside the natural environment in a beautiful rural location. History is brought to life through archaeological reconstructions of buildings from different time periods, which are complemented by an array of furniture and art that allows rich insight into the past.
On your visit you can explore:
- Saxon longhall with open fire based on the palace excavated at nearby Cheddar decorated with carved woodwork and murals
- The dining room of a typical Roman villa in Somerset with a magnificent mosaic floor and murals, heated by a hypocaust
- Viking trading vessel with mast and rigging based on the Skuldelev 3 wreck
- Iron Age Roundhouse based on those in the Glastonbury Lake Village (under construction in 2023)
- The world’s oldest excavation hut and a cinema showing short films on local archaeology
The Avalon Archaeology site has been created as a labour of love by a team of volunteers working one day a week since 2015, with only a short, enforced break due to Covid. It began as a small part of the (Award Winning) Heritage Lottery-funded Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership Project and was intended to give volunteers practical hands-on experience of traditional building techniques by building archaeological reconstructions. Over 110 volunteers have contributed their time and expertise to create this amazing space.
Find Out More: Avalon Archaeology
The attractive gallery and craft shop is operated by Somerset Crafts, a group of local artists and craftsmen. Open seven days a week, it sells a wide range of original hand-crafted items, many drawing their inspiration from the wildlife and landscape of the Avalon Marshes.
Artwork: George Foweraker / Viv White / Val & Al
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, a mural showcasing some of our wildlife and heritage, and a digital touchscreen providing in-depth related information, including latest wildlife sightings. 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. You can also download some of our maps here.
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”. You can read more about the peat industry here.
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 until 2014, when the last of the roundhouses (pictured) collapsed.
Since 2017 there has been significant investment at the Centre by Natural England/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. A replacement classroom and meeting room have been built funded by the EU’s Leader+ initiative, and further works to upgrade the car park, cafe/courtyard area with more covered seating, install new toilets, improve landscaping and the wildlife pond were all completed in April 2023.
How to get from the Centre to the Shapwick Heath nature reserve
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…
Post code BA6 9TT (takes you to within half a mile); Grid ref. ST 425 414; what3words: cave.logbook.icon
9am to 9pm seven days a week. Parking by voluntary donation via mobile phone: One hour: £1.50, all day: £3; or cash via donation boxes in the cafe or gallery. There is no height barrier, but please note we do not currently have spaces for motorhomes, or designated parking for coaches – please email us well in advance if you are planning a coach trip to the Avalon Marshes Centre.
Avalon Archaeology – Not open every day – for full details, please refer to their website
Somerset Crafts Gallery
10am to 5pm seven days a week except at Christmas. (Christmas Eve 10am – 3pm; Christmas Day – closed; Boxing Day and New Year’s Day 10am – 3pm)
Marshes Hub Tea Stop
9.30am to 5pm seven days a week except at Christmas. (Christmas hours as per Gallery above)
Generally open 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. Closed over Christmas period.
Dogs are welcome at the Centre but please keep them on a short lead at all times, and take your dog waste home. Please note that dogs (except registered assistance dogs) are not allowed at Avalon Archaeology, or in the main area of Shapwick Heath NNR, which is the closest nature reserve to the Centre.
Potential future upgrades to the site
Plans to provide more parking at the old Peat Moors Centre site are under consideration. An off-road link to Shapwick Heath NNR remains an aspiration.
If you have any questions, please contact Natural England on 01458 860120 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org