Walk - Culver Cliff Woodland 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.
Minehead was originally three settlements, with Quay Town being the oldest, dating back to the eleventh century. Higher Town was built around fourteenth century St Michael's Church, on the slopes of North Hill, while Lower Town, where the main shopping area is now, was almost entirely destroyed in the Great Fire of Minehead at the end of the eighteenth century and was rebuilt after that.
- The walk starts beside the lifeboat station, with 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.
The first lifeboat was stationed in the town in 1901 but since 1976 two inshore lifeboats have been operated. The RNLI built a boathouse at a cost of £785 in 1901 and the first lifeboat was placed in service on 11 December. For two years the boat was launched across the beach using skids but from 1903 a carriage was provided. The boat house was modified in 1950 by the addition of a garage for the tractor. This pulled the lifeboat in and out of the sea.
In the town's heyday as a bustling Bristol Channel port, Quay Town (at the beginning of the walk) was a very lively area, with a number of inns set among the picturesque fishermen's cottages for the refreshment and entertainment of seafarers. In 1901 a 240-foot pier was built to accommodate the White Funnel steamers which contributed to Minehead's success as a seaside resort at the turn of the twentieth century. The pier was demolished during World War II to give better visibility for the gun emplacements set up along the harbour to help defend the Bristol Channel; but the world's last sea-going paddle steamer, the Waverley, still docks here, as does its sister ship, the classic cruiser Balmoral.
- Here choose the path through Culvercliffe Green which stays by the shore, with views back to the beach at Minehead and across the Bristol Channel to Wales, and follow it along beside the water for about half a mile.
Fishing was always an important part of the town's economy. Mediaeval fish weirs were identified in the intertidal area to the right of the path here and later listed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. These were stone walls built to channel fish into waiting nets beyond. It cost fivepence to rent a weir in 1380, but by 1424 it had gone up to two shillings. A few centuries later, there was a thriving herring industry in the town, exporting some 4000 barrels annually in the eighteenth century.
Being on the Bristol Channel, Minehead's beach is subject to one of the world's highest tidal ranges (second only to Fundy Bay in Eastern Canada), and the tidal rise and fall can be as great as 48 feet. Much of the original beach was washed away by a severe storm in the 1990s, prompting the building of the current sea defence scheme, which turns away waves before they can reach the sea wall. One of the early beach's more unusual visitors was pioneer French aviator Henri Salmet, who landed his aircraft there in 1914.
- When the Coast Path reaches the end of the green, ignore the path to the left, which takes you back to Quay Street, and instead follow the Coast Path steeply uphill through the woods.
The path to your right en route leads down to Culver Cliff beach, a small stretch of shingle at high tide, plus an even smaller sandy shore at low tide. From the beach it can be seen that the concrete base for one of the benches on the path is actually a World War II pillbox, very similar to those on the shingle at Porlock, just a few miles away down the Coast Path (see the Porlock Marshes walk).
Keen geologists with a taste for adventure might (with reference to a set of tide tables) scramble over the rocks here and take a look at the folds and wave-formed ripples in the Middle Devonian Hangman Sandstone evident in the cliffs beyond. (There are more geological features a little further around, at Greenaleigh: see the Greenaleigh Farm walk).
- For this walk, however, carry on up the Coast Path, (or return to it when you have finished your beach walk), until it flattens out slightly and joins a track. Leave the Coast Path here and now turn left, following the track down through the woods.
- Ignore the next path down to your left shortly afterwards and stay on the main track for another half mile or so, until you come to another path to the left.
- Turn left with this path, and follow it down to the road. Turn briefly left again, onto the road, and stay on it as far as the sharp right-hand bend a few moments later. Here there is a footpath to the left, signposted to Minehead Seafront, which will take you down a very picturesque path through the woods, known to the locals (for rather obvious reasons) as “The Zig-Zags”.
- Descend the set of steps towards the bottom, which will return you to the sculpture at the start of the Coast Path. Go left to return to the lifeboat station.
There are numerous tearooms, cafés, pubs and restaurants in Minehead, including several around the harbour