Walk - Culvercliffe Walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
This is the perfect walk for a short stroll after dinner, when the bay lies luminous in the evening light, or on a hot afternoon when the sea breezes are pleasantly cooling and the many cafés and tearooms in the town are there for subsequent refreshment!
Before you start the walk, take time to look around the lifeboat station, which is open to visitors during the holiday season.
- The walk starts beside the lifeboat station, and there is plenty of parking here, and elsewhere along the quay. From here, turn right up the road, away from the town, and make your way along it to the roundabout.
Minehead has been a settlement from the very beginning of human history in the UK: indeed flint axe-heads and scrapers have been found here from as far back as 12000 years ago (and the pelvis from a woolly rhinoceros at least twice that age!). It is thought that at that time, the place known as Minehead today was many miles inland. Evidence suggests that during the last Ice Age the sea was 40 metres lower here than it is now, and 19th century geologist Sir Charles Lyell claimed that the area which is now the Bristol Channel was a wooded valley stretching from here to Wales (visible across the water), with the River Severn running through it. Fossilised insects, pollens and seeds have been found here which show that some 6000 years ago the bay was a salt marsh, surrounded by reeds and alder woodland, and at low tide the remnants of this wood can still be seen in the submarine forest across the bay off Warren Point.
- Choose the path through Culvercliffe Green which stays by the shore, and follow it beside the water for about half a mile.
There are benches scattered along the path: take time to sit and listen to the shush of the sea on the pebbles and the whistle of the steam trains as they pull in on the line lovingly restored and maintained by the West Somerset Railway. The shiny white marquee-like mushrooms across the water are of course Butlin's, a holiday camp here since 1962 and a first venue for many hopeful musicians, most notably the rock band Status Quo, formed here following a chance meeting between guitarists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.
Right back in neolithic times, fishing was an important part of human survival, and the town's maritime history grew from there. It has been an busy port since the Domesday Book, and by the sixteenth century it was reckoned to have more ships suitable for deployment in Henry VIII's navy than any other port in the Bristol Channel. A few years later it even had a Port Officer like Bristol. The tall ships docking at the stone quay, built in 1661, would have carried wool and fish, and later coal, iron, livestock, beans and wine too, to be transported around the land by packhorse. Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), staying here a century later, called it the best port and the safest harbour in the whole of Somerset.
In the mid eighteenth century, “taking the waters” became fashionable, and Minehead was among those towns attracting visitors seeking to do this. The arrival of the railway in the middle of the nineteenth century confirmed the town's status as a popular holiday resort, which it remains today.
- Where the path approaches the woods, continuing will take you steeply uphill and onto a longer, slightly harder walk (see Culver Cliff Woodland Walk). Instead, turn left and follow the new path back along (but below) the very edge of the woodland, until you come once more to the roundabout, from where you can return to the lifeboat station.
From here, why not carry on down Quay Street and savour the history all around you in the picturesque fishermen's cottages?
Pause a while in the Old Ship Aground, but before you do, take a peek at St Peter's fishermen's chapel, next door, built in the seventeenth century by merchant and churchwarden Robert Quirke in gratitude for surviving a storm at sea. The chapel was used as a store for wood and timber, when it was known as Gibraltar Cellar. Locals whisper that it was also used a depository for other, less legal, goods brought here by smugglers.
Spare a thought for Ma Leakey's son, presumably also well-versed in surviving storms, as his mother's evil ghost was said to whistle up a storm every time he neared the port. Known as the Whistling Ghost, she hung out in The Mermaid Inn around the time that Quirke was building his almshouses in the town, (also in thanksgiving for surviving the storm), and she made impromptu appearances to many an honest townsman, including a doctor of medicine, whom she kicked in the stomach for having failed to hand her over a stile.
The Coast Path starts right here, in Quay Street, and the spot is marked by a giant pair of hands clasping a map of the path: a sculpture made by Owen Cunningham of Derbyshire to the design of Minehead art student Sarah Ward.
There are numerous tearooms, cafés, pubs and restaurants in Minehead, including several around the harbour