Walk - Culbone Wood and Six Combes
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2017. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Ancient hanging oak woods cloak much of the northwestern section of the Coast Path between Porlock and Clovelly. The woods here are rich in wildlife and home to the rare Sorbus vexans, a whitebeam found only in these parts.
- From the layby take the lane down towards Yenworthy Lodge and pick up the bridlepath running off to the right, following it across the fields and around the stone wall for about three quarters of a mile, until you come to another bridleway crossing yours.
- Turn left onto this path and carry on downhill to meet the Coast Path as it turns eastwards from its steep ascent up from Yenworthy Wood.
- Turn eastwards with the path, and stay with it along the hillside to Broomstreet.
Before Broomstreet the path drops into a dip, where a small stream runs from the spring above down through an ever-widening valley which plunges, tree-lined, to the sea below. This is one branch of Wheatham Combe, the first of the six combes which seam the hillside on this walk.
The word "combe" comes from the Welsh word “cwm”, meaning “valley”, and many of the steeper slopes of Britain's uplands are scored through by them, where water streaming off the high ground has found its easiest route to the lowlands below and over the millennia carved itself an enduring gully. Often this will be strewn with boulders, and the water froths and foams over them in a series of little waterfalls. Because of the water, vegetation finds a foothold down the perilous banks of the combes, and here they are lined with ferns and brackens, as well as the shrubs and trees which have spread outwards to cover the hillsides.
- Beyond Broomstreet Farm, follow the lane up to the left a little way, and then turn onto the footpath to your left, where the Coast Path climbs gently to Twitchen Combe before levelling out and making its way around to Holmer's Combe. Here it curves around once more to the next combe, Silcombe Combe.
- Following the lane around past the Silcombe Farm, take the left fork a while later, following the Coast Path as it heads towards Porlock Weir for a quarter of a mile or so, until you come to the footpath leading through Withy Combe to Culbone Church (see the Culbone Church walk).
There was a house here in the combe during the 14th century, but it was burned down 1430 and nothing remains of it now.
- Do not take the Culbone Church footpath, instead staying with the Coast Path and dropping around downhill and to the left.
Culbone has been inhabited on and off since 3500 BC. Its remoteness made it an ideal place for the banishment of social misfits, and in the thirteenth century “disbelievers, the mentally insane, and those practising witchcraft” were brought here and left to fend for themselves without support or resources of any kind. They were a hardy lot, however, and set about building themselves a few stone huts and growing food. For about 40 years there was a thriving community here.
The practice of banishment lapsed for a while; and then again the following century, the woods were used as a jail for criminal and moral offenders, who were also abandoned without any tools for survival. These outcasts were not as resourceful as their predecessors, and many of them "went mad or killed themselves".
In the 16th century, local society once again used the area's remoteness to rid itself of a group of people seen as a threat to its security, and this time a leper colony was established here. After these unfortunates had all passed away, the only people to use the woods were smugglers, presumably bringing their contraband up the path from Embelle Wood Beach.
In the 18th century a small community established itself here voluntarily, living completely self-sufficiently for long enough to raise their families before moving out again. It was another century or so before a number of Indians, taken prisoner by the British, were brought here to work as charcoal burners for 21 years, in order to buy their freedom. Small boats would take away the charcoal in exchange for commodities like tea and sugar.
- Towards the bottom of the hill the path forks again, where it meets the lower Coast Path running from Yenworthy to Porlock Weir. Turn left onto this, heading back towards Yenworthy, and follow it back through the lower reaches of the combes you encountered on the slopes above.
- At Broomstreet Combe there is a small path heading abruptly downhill to Embelle Beach, another small strip of shingle where the rush of the waves is accompanied by the low rumble of the pebbles they carry to and fro. The walk, though, carries on along the Coast Path and climbs gently into Wheatham Combe, then ascends rather more steeply through Yenworthy Wood.
- About a quarter of a mile after Wheatham Combe, there is a path heading left and steeply up the side of Sugarloaf Hill: the alternative route for the Coast Path which you followed eastwards from the top. Take this path up to that point where you left it before, at 3, and carry on uphill for a short way before turning right onto the bridleway back to Yenworthy, to retrace your steps to the car.
The Culbone Stables Inn is barely a mile from the start, on the A39 towards Minehead from County Gate.