I spent the night in Porlock so I only have a few minutes walk to the bus stop to start this walk. The weather is warm and wonderfully clear and sunny. I prefer to get the bus journey done first so I can walk back without any time pressures. In this case this makes for a particularly leisurely start, as the first bus is not until after 10am. It also means I’ll be walking west to east on this walk. I head down to the shop to get lunch and have a look around Porlock. I then join the queue at the bus stop for the bus round to Lynmouth.
The bus arrives on time and I’m pleased to see that it is an open-top double decker bus and there is room upstairs, so I get on and pay for a ticket then take a seat upstairs. We soon set off through Porlock and come to the infamous Porlock Hill. It is worth noting for anyone not familiar with this area that the main road in the area, the A39 is not really what you might expect for a 2-digit A-road. It is more akin to a rural B-road with some ferocious hills, hairpin bends and narrow single-track sections, not what you might expect from an A-road. Indeed the first hill out of Porlock, Porlock Hill is, I believe, the steepest hill on an A-road in England. Heading through the village is simple enough but soon we reach the steep Porlock Hill, a road which is not easy to drive up but must be especially so with this large double-decker bus. The driver negotiates the steep hills fairly easily and soon the road straightens out. Although quite a modern bus it appears to be struggling with the hills and it is reduced to little more than walking pace, even once the road has straightened.
We crawl slowly up the hill and are even overtaken by cyclists at one point and I begin to wonder if the bus will make it (I have been on a bus which has overheated going uphill before), but thankfully soon the road levels out and after all that climbing, we are rewarded with wonderful views. It is a great bus route to travel on being an open top double decker I can easily see over the hedgerows to the spectacular coast and scenery of Exmoor.
The bus picks up speed as we reach the top of the hill and the road levels out. We reach Pitcombe Head and continue west to County Gate, where the bus crosses from Somerset to Devon and a couple more people that look like walkers get on. This will mean todays walk will have taken me all along the Somerset coast (with the exception of Bristol to the Severn crossing, which I intend to walk soon).
Soon the bus begins the long descent into Lynmouth, where we get beautiful views over the coast I will be walking later. As we descend further down the first houses come into sight and almost immediately a car park, which the bus pulls into, as this is the end of the route for the bus. Lynmouth is at the bottom of a steep and deep valley making all approaches to it steep and the fresh air has been replaced with the smell of brake dust. I’m not sure if it is coming from the bus or some of the cars coming down the hill, but it is clear this road is a demanding one for vehicles.
I have been to Lynmouth before but on that occasion the weather was cloudy and overcast and the hills obscured by mist. Today things are very different, as the town is basking in the sunshine, and it is very beautiful. The river Lyn runs through the centre of the town, with walls on either side.
Today it is very tranquil, but in 1952 the river suffered a huge flood, sending a torrrent of water down the valley through Lynmouth. It caused huge damage, killing 34 people, and damaging more than 100 buildings, some of which were largely destroyed. It is difficult not to draw parallels with Boscastle which suffered a similarly devastating flood in 2004. These villages in steep river valleys are I suppose always vulnerable to such events and it is hard to believe looking at this shallow tranquil river today that it could cause so much damage. Many people are enjoying a paddle in the shallow waters and it is beautiful, surrounded by flowers and deck chairs alongside.
I head down to the beach here, a shingle beach with a small harbour at the mouth of the river Lyn. The sea front is also very attractive and I can see the steep hills to the east, unfortunatly, with a line of sea mist along the top – I hope it clears!
Lynmouth has a near neighbour, Lynton, which although close by is many metres above Lynmouth, such is the steepness of the valley. They are linked by an unusual (and perhaps unique) water powered cliff railway. The two carriages are connected together, and large tanks of water are underneath the carriages. Water is pumped into tanks underneath the top car, causing it to become heavy enough to pull the bottom carriage up the hill. It is an unusual but effective system, although I’m not going on the railway today (but have been on it on a previous visit).
Although a cliche, as I’ve heard it about a number of coastal towns, Lynton and Lynmouth are sometimes described as “Little Switzerland” but it does seem quite apt today, looking at the steep hills and the houses clinging to the cliff tops.
I can’t put it off any longer though, I have enjoyed a wander around Lynmouth but it is time to begin the walk, and the town is now becoming very crowded with tourists. I cross the little footbridge at the mouth of the river and head along the flat promenade behind the beach.
The flat walking doesn’t last for long though, and I’m soon turning briefly inland to reach the path which runs more or less parallel to the A39, as both routes climb steeply out of the Lynmouth. The path continues to climb but soon offers wonderful views around east to Foreland Point, and wild flowers line the path.
Soon the gradient eases out and there is a sea overlooking the bay. After about a mile the road, which has been running parallel to the path soon forks away as I near Contisbury, although the coast path does not go through the village (or hamlet really). After all that climbing I’m pretty hot, as it’s a warm day but thankfully the graident soon eases and I cool down. There are wonderful views back to Lynmouth now and the houses along the cliffs at Lynton too although most of the town is now hidden behind a hill.
The beach at Sillery Sands is now far below and deserted. There is a steep footpath down to it, but I decide to miss this out as I don’t want to climb all the way back up again.
I follow the coast path around the edge of Butter Hill (having already passed Wind Hill – I love these names). The official route of the coast path misses out Foreland Point. There is however a footpath here although it has a warning sign about it being steep etc. I decided to take this route anyway and it’s lovely, although there is loose scree in places. There is a Lighthouse at the end of the headland and access to it can’t have been easy, it must have been a remote place to live when Lighthouses were manned.
This does however mean I’ve lost quite a bit of height, but soon gain it to climb back up the track from the Lighthouse back to the coast path. The coast path then undulates, steeply at times, around the valleys of Coddow Combe and Kipscombe Combe. There is a little sea mist at times along this coast, but thankfully it mostly clears and what is left is just a few patches, so it doesn’t spoil the views too much.
The path then enters what looks to be an ancient wood that covers the cliff top. Although not tall, the trees are twisted and knarled, probably becuase of the severe weather they have to cope with. The woodland is cool on this warm day though and is welcome. I get glimpses through the trees of Contisbury Cove far below and views back to The Foreland, although I don’t think there is access to the beaches here.
The names marked on the Ordnance Survey map here are amusing, there is a house called “Desolate” marked and another little headland called Desolation Point, a valley called Dogsworthy Combe and even a point on the bay marked as Sir Roberts Chair! The path descends right back down to near sea level at Wingate Combe and then back up again, but it does make for spectacular views.
Soon I enter woodland again at Glenthorne Plantations to round another valley. Around here I briefly emerge from woodland and can see the A39 and car park at County Gate, where I’m crossing the border from Devon to Somerset. This means I have now completed the first county, although I’ll end up walking through Devon twice, because it has both a north and south coast.
The next few miles are now almost entirely through woodland, but this is lovely on a warm day like today. The path is crossed by numerous streams, often with little waterfalls and I have to step over them, although in most cases there are enough rocks to climb over that I don’t get wet feet, but it might be different in the winter. It feels like a secret world in here, with very little access out of the woodland, although there is an alternative coast path a bit further inland but ouf of the wood. The walk is also tough, as most of the valleys involve a steep descent followed, of course, by a steep ascent.
After around 4 miles mostly through woodland the path descends to the valley at Culbone, where there is a tiny church. Indeed it it is said to be the smallest Church in England, so today has been a day of records with the steepest road and the smallest church. It is beautiful and very peaceful though, located in this steep wooded valley. I look inside the church and although tiny and remote it is beautifully kept and very tranquil (and cool) inside.
It is a lovely place to rest for a while and I stop for a rest and a drink here. The walk then continues along a track through the woodland, climbing back out of the valley again, through Yearnor Wood to the small village of Worthy, reached by footpath or a private toll road from the A39. This marks the end of the woodland and from here the path is flat as I go the ¼ of a mile distance on to Porlock Weir, and it is a reliefy to have a flat path after all the hills.
I soon reach picturesque Porlock Weir.
But what is this I see? New York, Paris and Porlock – it can only mean Del Boy retired here!
I ended the walk here yesterday and could catch the bus from here to Porlock, but as it’s not frequent and I have a while to wait, so despite the distance walked I decide to walk on to Porlock, the walk is after all flat from here, and I know the route having walked it yesterday.
I am tired after this walk, but not as much as I thought I might have been and glad I coped with it without too many problems. The coast today has been stunning and I have very much enjoyed this walk through spectacular Exmoor. Although views of the coast have been limited in places I don’t mind, as walking through woodland has made it cooler and the little streams and valleys are very tranquil. Near perfect weather conditions probably helped, but this is a stunning bit of a coastline and I have really enjoyed the walk along it. It’s been a wonderful day and although long (14 miles) and quite tough I would very happily do it again.
I am staying again in Porlock so after a meal I walk east up to the edge of Bossington to enjoy the sunset over Porlock Bay. Whilst it is not the most spectacular sunset it makes a wonderful end to a very enjoyable day.
This walk also sees me move from Somerset to North Devon. So I look back over my walk in Somerset, which has been very varied. From the wild and remote hills of Exmoor, the gentler Quantock Hills and the river estuaries and mud flats of the Somerset Levels, there is a huge variety of coastal scenery in Somerset. I enjoyed the unusual geology particularly in the east of the county, with the odd hill in an otherwise flat landscape, and the trip out to Steep Holm. Low points is probably the long trudge around the River Parrett into Bridgwater, not helped by the heavy rain on that day. I am of course writing this when the River Parrett has been in the news, having flooded overmuch of the Somerset Levels and sparked a debate about dredging of the river and flood defences in the area.
Something I am often asked is “What is the best beach?”, which of course is impossible to answer beacuse it depends on what you want from a beach! But looking back over the walk in Somerset I think the best was probably Minehead. Many of the beaches suffer from being close to the Severn and hence are muddy, particularly once the tide is out, but Minehead is far enough west to avoid this. But I’d say Brean is a close second, a huge beach backed by dunes which is very unspoilt.
The public transport needed for this walk is detailed below.
Quantock Motor Services route 300 : Minehead – Porlock – Lynmouth
Quantock Motor Services routes 39 : Minehead – Porlock – Porlock Weir
Here are the photos I took on this walk.