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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Walk 178 Lynmouth (Devon) to Porlock Weir (Somerset)

Walk 178 Lynmouth (Devon) to Porlock Weir (Somerset)

(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)

Map: L/R 180 and L/R 181
Distance: 12 miles or 20 km approx
Difficulty: Demanding in parts, overall moderate
Terrain: cliff paths
Access: Parking at both ends – can be difficult to get space at Lynmouth.
Public transport: Not viable. Takes hours with many changes. I used a taxi from Millers, the hotel I was staying at in Porlock Weir.

Start on the main street in Lynmouth alongside the bay. Before joining the coastal path stroll up to the River Lyn Valley Gorge. It is worth visiting the museum here to learn about the devastating floods of 1952 which killed 34 people and the new flood barriers built to prevent a repeat of the disaster. You can also learn about the power station and have a go at some interactive stuff outside which helps to explain things. Look out for the memorial hall which marks the site of the former lifeboat station which was washed away in the floods.

Walk back towards the sea where, on the left, the cliff railway to Lynton is situated. It was very busy with long queues when I went. The railway was opened in 1890 and, when built, was the steepest railway in the world – a gradient steeper than 1 in 2. It works using the weight of the water in the downward car to power the upward moving one at the same time. In its early days it carried freight and even cars.

Before crossing on to the main coastal path take a while to admire the attractive bay. Painters and poets have visited, including Southey who likened it to a Swiss village and Gainsborough who described it as the most delightful place for a landscape painter this country can boast. Before becoming a visitor attraction Lynmouth was a port dealing in coal and limestone from South Wales.

It is a long steady climb out of Lynmouth giving good views of the sea. When the path levels out the outstanding landmark is Countisbury Church, dedicated to St John the Baptist and built in the 18/19th centuries. It is on the site of an earlier church.

The views continue to Forleand Point – make the most of them as the path goes through woodland from this point with only occasional glimpses of the sea. This headland is the most northerly point of Devon and is owned by the National Trust. A separate path goes off to the lighthouse which was built in 1900 and became automated in 1994. The keeper's cottage is now a holiday home.

The walk through the woodland is not without interest. Look out for fungi (I spotted bright red spotted ones, perhaps best not to touch), some rather strange dilapidated graves near to the path and pleasant waterfalls.

After a few miles of walking, during which the Devon/Somerset border is crossed, you arrive at the isolated Culbone Church. It is well worth stopping here to look inside what is claimed to be the smallest parish church still used for services in England. (35 feet x 12 feet – seats 33 people). It was built in the 12th century and is dedicated to St Bueno, a Welsh saint. Information in the church will tell you about some of the old parts including a few from Saxon times which were part of an even older church that once stood here.

The walk finishes at Porlock Weir, another attractive old seaside place. It was once a bustling port sending tar, charcoal and pit props to South Wales. There are many old listed cottages including the thatched Bottom Ship pub. Coleridge once stayed in Porlock (the main village is a mile or so up the road) and composed some of The Ancient Mariner here. The back of the coastal path comes around the back of Millers, a 200 year old building now a hotel. It is full of antiques and curios. I know because I stayed there. I believe this is the same Miller who publishes antique guides.

Photos show: Lynmouth Bay; red mushrooms on the woodland walk; Culbone Church; The Bottom Ship Pub at Porlock Weir.

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