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TA24 8TJ, Minehead
A picturesque hamlet in Selworthy Parish, on the National Trust's Holnicote Estate. Distinctve cottages with decorative chimney stacks and bread ovens bulging from the facades, line the single street. There are good walks along the Coast Path to Hurlestone Point and Porlock Marsh and superb views from Bossington Hill.
Pebbled beaches, secret coves, rocks and steep cliffs that is what Exmoor’s 30 miles of coast are all about. At times you can get close to the water and at others you can look down on the sea from a swindling height or just sense the water beyond another green and inaccessible hill. Sometimes seagulls will sweep over your heads, telling stories of smugglers and rum, soldiers in hiding, and sailors lost at sea. Monuments in the landscape, made from stone or simple wood, standing sentinel against the force of the tide and the westerly wind, bear witness to the seagulls’ song of years gone by. It is so easy to lose yourself in this eternal landscape, where the tide is the second highest in the world.
Thankfully the National Trust, Exmoor National Park and the South West Coast Path have combined their efforts to make sure that you won’t get lost while losing yourself. Many footpaths, all well signed, meander along the coast, providing access to many miles of stunning landscape.
The South West Coast Path starts in Minehead, West Somerset’s nostalgic seaside resort where families, walkers, sunseekers and railway enthusiasts embark from the West Somerset Railway’s steam trains for a first cone of locally made ice cream and a portion of fish and chips by the sea. Leaving Butlin’s resort to the east, a gentle stroll takes you to Minehead harbour, where - when the tide is in - modern day seafarers and fishermen are busy with their boats. Amongst them are wet-suited youngsters trying their balance on SUPs (stand up paddle boarding), while others, if the wind and the surf is right, fly across the sea windsurfing.
Here the coast path leaves the sea level and heads up onto North Hill where Exmoor National Park begins. With a bit of luck, walkers will meet their first free roaming Exmoor Ponies before they head down again onto Bossington Beach which sweeps around Porlock Bay in a majestic swoosh all the way to Porlock Weir, another picturesque little harbour. In between and behind the pebbly ridge of the beach lies Porlock Marsh, a coastal wildlife area of national importance (designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest). On the shingle beach there are limekilns and pillboxes to be explored or simply used as a place to sit and stare.
After Porlock Weir the coast is lined with cliffs, offering breathtaking viewpoints and steep descents. At Lynmouth awaits another little harbour which is linked by the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway, a cable car using the force of gravity, to its sister town on top of the cliff. In Lynmouth, West Lyn and East Lyn river join forces in a narrow gorge, causing death and distraction in the disaster of 1952, but now a safe place to watch the wild water tumbling over rocks towards the sea.
Further west is the Valley of the Rocks, a place of unique rock formations and home to many feral goats as well as Exmoor Ponies. Here the Exmoor coast becomes even more rugged, but accessible enough for coasteering and abseiling.
Those who don’t mind very narrow windy lanes should follow the road from the Valley of the Rocks to Hunters Inn, past Woody Bay. Leaving the car behind in the National Trust car park, it is worthwhile to go for a short walk down a narrow valley which finally opens out on a tiny pebbly beach, Heddon’s Mouth. It is a world away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities.
The Exmoor coast finally comes to an end at Combe Martin, the longest village in England. However, it is not far from there to Ilfracombe, an historic seaside town and fishing harbour, which has seen a return of fortunes in recent years. “Verity”, a controversial sculpture by Damien Hirst, has brought many tourists into the town which, since October 2016, is the proud home of a Michelin star restaurant, The Olive Room.
SelworthyMineheadSomersetTA24 8TJUnited Kingdom
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