Walk - Culbone Church and the Fairytale Tunnels
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2018. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Porlock's western approaches are guarded by towering tree-clad hills, including the notorious Porlock Hill, the curse of many a winter motorist and at 436 metres a favourite haunt of local residents in the Bronze Age (see the Worthy Wood Walk). This walk climbs up into the hills via Worthy Combe, a long tree-lined valley scored through by a stream tumbling gently down beside Worthy toll road to join the sea on the shingle beach down below at The Gore.
- Leaving the car park, turn right and walk towards the quay. Take the footpath signposted to the left between the buildings, and follow it up around the fields and along the track to the lane ahead.
- Turn right onto the lane and look out for the bridleway on the other side of the road.
- Turn left onto the bridleway long before you reach the toll-house, and follow it gently uphill for about three-quarters of a mile.
- At the very top, where the woodland opens out and where you meet a T junction in the path, turn right to go over a bridge, meeting the toll road. Turn left on the road, ignoring the track to your right a moment later. Follow your road to where it doubles back on itself to the right a couple of hundred yards later.
- Turn right with the road here, and stay with it for about a mile and a half, past Yarner Farm, Ash Farm and Parsonage Farm.
Part of Parsonage Farm dates from the 17th century and it is a listed building, with mullioned windows and distinctive chimney stacks.
Ash Farm, too, has a place in posterity, as poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was said to be staying here when he wrote Kubla Khan, the masterpiece famously interrupted by a "person from Porlock" visiting the farm. According to Coleridge, in his introduction to the first publication of his poem:
"On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!"
This dream from which Coleridge drew his inspiration is thought to have been one of his opium-induced trances; and it has been suggested that the Person from Porlock may well have been his laudanum-supplying GP, Dr Aaron Potter.
- A little way beyond Withy Combe, just before Silcombe Farm, you come to the Coast Path signposted to Culbone Church and Porlock Weir. Turn right here and follow the track gently downhill.
- When you come to the path to the right, signposted to Culbone Church, take it, and follow it down through the woods to the church.
Long before Christianity reached these shores, Culbone was a centre for pagan worship, and some sources claim that Joseph of Arimathea passed this way on his journey from Looe to Glastonbury, with the infant Jesus in tow.
A community of monks was established here in the fifth century, and the first church was built on the site two centuries later, possibly with an Anchorite cell attached. It is thought that parts of the current church, St Beuno's, date back to Saxon times, although over the centuries it has been rebuilt and refenestrated numerous times.
The church was used in the television version of R. D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone as the scene of John Ridd's wedding (see the Robber's Bridge Walk).
- Exit the churchyard close to the church entrance and turn left to head toward the archway. Cross the bridge to the left and loop around to your left onto the Coast Path as it heads northeast towards Porlock Weir.
- Head through the woods and stay with the Coast Path when you come to a fork. Keep following the path eastwards all the way back down to the road at Worthy. Look out for the toll-house to confirm you are on the right road!
In the hillside above are the ruins of Lady Lovelace's elaborate fairytale mansion. Lady Lovelace was Lord Byron's daughter and a friend of Charles Babbage. It is said that she gave Babbage the idea for the very first computer program. She brought a team of Swiss mountaineers to Worthy to construct tunnels in the hillside, to allow traders to come and go while she made her way undetected down to her private beach below.
- From Worthy, take the road back to the footpath leading downhill to Porlock Weir and retrace your steps to the car park.
In Porlock Weir, including the 13th-century Ship Inn.