Friday, 16 March 2018

Welcome to Poole to Minehead

Soar Mill Cove, South Devon

This blog describes our walk along the length of the South West Coast Path. The dominant direction of travel is from Minehead to Poole, but we went the opposite way. Some people do the whole thing in an intense block of maybe seven or eight weeks, but we settled into a pattern of doing a few days at a time, several times a year.

In January 2011 we took our first tentative steps along the Path from Poole. At that point our idea was simply to get to know the Dorset coast by means of a series of circular walks. We decided we would only walk east to west and would pick up where we left off each time we walked. We had the idea of a mythical baton that was left and picked up again.

We quickly became enthralled with the Coast Path and decided we would at least walk to Weymouth. We got there sooner than we had anticipated and realised we would have to carry on to the end of the Dorset coast at Lyme Regis. Inevitably, once we reached Lyme we knew we were hooked and would have to try to complete the whole 630 miles.

We finished the South West Coast Path in August 2017, having lost a whole year when I injured my ankle. We resumed with some of the easier remaining stages so some of the latter parts were done out of order. I have adjusted the dates so that all the posts are in sequential order around the coast.

We spent more than a hundred days on the Coast Path, so this was probably one of the slowest long distance walks walks of all time. However, we did immerse ourselves in nature and in the wonderful sights and views and we do have an extensive and detailed photographic record. The quality of the photos improves over time.


Click on one of the main sections in the menu above.

Click on a year and month in the Archive to the right to see links to individual stages.

Search for a place using the box on the top left of the screen

Go to the start of the walk in Poole

Friday, 4 August 2017

103 Porlock Weir to Minehead

The end of the South West Coast Path

This is the final leg of the SW Coast Path! We set off from Porlock Weir in light drizzle, looking across the rocky beach towards Hurlstone Point. A small tower can just be made out part-way up.

We followed the road through the village and turned left to walk along the back of the beach for a while, passing the wooden stakes indicating the oyster beds.

Soon we had to turn inland because of a "breach". We followed a well-trodden path which eventually turned back towards the sea, passing a dramatic stand of dead trees.

We passed through the pretty village of Bossington, where we especially admired the brick columns of the cattle byre attached to one house.

We then began a long climb, passing inland of Hurlstone Point and thereby missing the small tower which we had seen from afar. I learn from Google that it is a coastguard lookout tower which was built in 1902, and remained in use until 1983.

We were now climbing Hurlstone Combe where we soon reached the heather line and plodded on up the long slope.

 At the very top there was a great view back towards Porlock Weir ...

... and also a fine one inland towards Porlock.

Soon afterwards we ignored the sign for the "Rugged Coast Path" to continue along the regular Coast Path across moorland, passing Selworthy Beacon at 308 metres, only 10 metres lower than the Great Hangman which we climbed recently on the Combe Martin to Hunters Inn section. It turned out that we had somehow drifted off the official path at this point and it took us a while to edge our way back onto the correct route.

By the time we achieved this we were opposite Grexy Combe with North Cliff largely out of shot to its right. The trees were quite picturesque.

As we approached Minehead we were rejoined by the Rugged Coast Path. We were still over 200m above sea level and soon the path made a zig-zag turn towards the sea. The variations in colour were fascinating.

We descended steadily and entered some woodland, emerging eventually onto a minor road which took us into Minehead. It was interesting to see the stony beach in the foreground and the sandy one in the distance. We concluded that at some point in time the rocks had been cleared from the sandy area.

We headed inland in search of the Duke of Wellington in Wellington Square. We passed these rather lovely Coastguard Cottages built in a lovely red sandstone, which we quickly discovered was characteristic of the town.

Just before Wellington Square is Mansion House Lane where the Quirke Almshouses are to be seen. Founded 1630 by Edward Quirke, merchant and mariner, and restored 1986. Note the bellcote at the far end: it reputedly houses a bell from one of Robert Quirke's ships.

Wellington Square is home to St Andrew's church, in front of which is this fine statue of Queen Anne, by Bird who made the similar one which stands outside St Paul's in London.

We now adjourned to the rooftop beer garden of the Duke of Wellington to celebrate our completion of the South West Coast Path with a nice bottle of Wetherspoon's reasonably priced Moet et Chandon.

Conditions: Quite warm, but mainly cloudy.
Distance: 9.5 miles.
Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).
Grading:  Moderate.
Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

102 County Gate to Porlock Weir

 View inland from County Gate

Just two more stages to go and we will have completed the South West Coast Path! We start out from County Gate, the car park on the Devon-Somerset border, and head downhill towards the coast. Soon there is a very pleasing view over the purple heather down to the blue sea.

We carry on downhill into woodland and reach a combe with a lovely stream falling down the hillside.

Gradually we realise that this walk is an extension of the second half of last one we did (from Lynton to County Gate) – a reasonably level path about two-thirds of the way up the cliff. It is very green, but there is not much sign of life (although there were clearly loads of bluebells here earlier in the year).  There are no views because the trees are quick thick and the coastline is fairly straight. There are no boats or ships in sight either.

This continued until we reached a sign telling us the path ahead was closed because of a landslide. A steep climb followed to a new path on a higher contour.

Soon afterwards there was a repeat to an even higher point. After this we turned inland and arrived at the hamlet of Culbone, with its lovely church nestling at the back of the combe.

Another mile or so, including a gradual descent, brought us to the wonderful entrance to the Worthy Toll Road.

We carried on down to Porlock Weir and snatched this view of the small harbour. There are three pubs and not much else. The rocky beach is not too brilliant either.

Conditions: Mild, but quite a lot of drizzle.
Distance: 6.2 miles.
Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).
Grading:  Moderate.
Rating: three stars. Rather underwhelming.

Friday, 14 July 2017

101 Lynton to County Gate

 Lynmouth Bay and Foreland Point from Lynton

We set out from our hotel in Lynton and, perhaps controversially, took the wonderful funicular down to Lynmouth.

The funicular is water-operated, 862 feet (263 m) long, operating on a 1 in 1.75 gradient track. One car descends, while the other ascends, on a counterbalance system. The water is piped from the West Lyn River. It was opened in 1890 (information from Wikipedia).

We walked past the small harbour with its lovely Rhenish tower.

Soon the path took us into woodland to begin the long climb out of the town. After some zig-zags the path emerges onto the cliff side just below the road and the ascent continues, offering fine views over Sillery Sands.

Just before you reach the church of St John the Baptist at Countisbury (an 18th-19th century rebuilding of an older church) there is a great view of the shoreline of Sillery Sands.

 The church enjoys a wonderful position.

The path levels out for a while as you walk above the grey sand beach. Then you start climbing again to pass just under the summit of Butter Hill (302m) where there are some lovely views back to Lynmouth/Lynton.

Now there is a bit a descent and then the path winds inland behind the great bulk of Foreland Point. There are great views down Caddaw Combe towards South Wales.

We followed the path on the right and then descended to the bottom of the valley and climbed again behind the coastal cliffs.

At the top we can see east as far as Hurlstone Point.

Once we entered the next zone - Glenthorne Cliffs - there was a fine view back towards Foreland Point.

The path which continued through Glenthorne Cliffs was predominantly woody with the path winding along a mid-cliff level around a series of combes. Just before Wingate Combe, we passed the worryingly named, but unimpressive, Desolation Point, photographed into the sun unfortunately.

After this, the path continued on the same line but now with the slopes mainly covered in rhodendrons. At length we emerged through a rather wonderful gate (note the pigs on the top) and realised that we had been walking through the grounds of Glenthorne House.

I haven't been able to discover much about this mysterious house except that it is Neo-Tudor house built 1829-30 for the Reverend Walter Stevenson Halliday. I would love to know the story behind the pigs' heads.

We headed uphill through woodland to pass this intriguing cross.

From here, a grassy track led uphill to the A39 and the boundary between Devon and Somerset. The County Gate car park is off to the right.

Conditions: Warm and sunny.

Distance: 6.2 miles.

Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).

Grading:  Moderate to Strenuous.

Rating: four and a half stars. Dramatic at first. The area around Foreland Point was wonderful. A bit more mundane later, but always enjoyable.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

100 Hunter's Inn to Lynton

The Hunter's Inn

We set out from the Hunter's Inn and re-traced the last part of yesterday's walk before resuming the Coast Path at the bottom of the Heddon Valley. Soon we came to the stone bridge over the River Heddon and began the long climb up the other side of the valley.

As we approached Heddon Mouth, there was a great view down to it.

At the top we passed inland of Highveer Point and had our forst view of the next section of coast, bounded by Foreland Point in the distance. Lynmouth and Lynton lie in the bay before it.

As we advanced, we noticed this interesting holed rock.

Now we were forced inland and were delighted to come on this waterfall.

The next section was through woods, but eventually a nice view across Woody Bay presented itself.

We joined a tarmac track inland through the small settlement of Woody Bay and left it at this rather wonderful sign, now heading towards New Zealand!

Soon there was a choice between a road option and a track option. Naturally, we took the latter and headed down towards the coast again. It was surprising how overgrown the field path was. After a while we began to glimpse this watch tower on the hill over Crock Point and eventually managed a half-decent pic of it.

We descended into the hamlet of Lee and enjoyed refreshments at the delightful cafe in its lovely garden. The route continued up the hill and past Lee Abbey, a Christian community, not an actual abbey.

The site was originally owned by the Cistercians at Forde Abbey and seems to have been rebuilt or extended in Victorian times. In the 1920s it became a hotel, at which time the main extensions were built. During the Second World War it became a boys' school, and in 1945 was acquired by the Christian Fellowship.

Just as you leave the Abbey grounds you enter the extraordinary Valley of Rocks. There is a curving rocky slope on the landward side, parallel to the sea and two very dramatic rocks on the seaward side. The OS map names them as Castle Rock and Rugged Jack, which seems pretty reaonable.

The far side of Castle Rock has some vaguely human or animal shapes: the one on the right suggested a Teenage Ninja Turtle to me.

Rugged Jack was truly impressive - note the small figures on the left hand side.

Now we followed the tarmac path which leads to Lynton for about a mile. It clearly offered a delightful excursion from the town. There was some evidence of goats on the path and just towards the end we discovered one of the culprits.

We were staying in a hotel right on the path so the walk ended soon afterwards.

Conditions: Warm and sunny.

Distance: 7.3 miles.

Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).

Grading:  Strenuous.

 Rating: four stars. Started and finished really well, but the section around Woody Bay was less enjoyable.