Walk - Porlock Marshes
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park, take the road up past the fire station, and at the top, turn left. After the library, turn left again onto the main street through Porlock, and shortly afterwards take the next left, down Sparkhayes Lane. Follow the road down to the marshes, using the footpath alongside the road as directed.
Severe storms at the end of 1996 breached the shingle barrier between the sea here and the floodplain behind it, changing the nature of the marshes and creating a whole new ecosystem, providing a habitat for enough rare coastal plants and wildlife to merit making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 2002.
There is a line of trees over the hedge looking distinctly the worse for wear, as a result of saltwater flooding around their roots during the sea's encroachments. On the saltmarsh itself, just to the west of this walk (see the Porlock Bay Walk), there is a plantation of stunted trees, long dead, raising their bare branches heavenwards like some primitive tribe turned to wood in retribution for some awful wrongdoing.
Over on the western side of the bay, near Porlock Weir, there is a much-reduced submarine forest visible at low tide, which really is a petrified forest, dating from some 6000 years ago, before melting ice from the last Ice Age caused sea levels to rise and shift the shoreline inland.
- Don't turn right onto the Coast Path: instead, carry on northwards, towards curved boardwalk and the sea.
After the destruction of the shingle ridge, a decision was made to let nature take its course, rather than trying to rebuild the barrier. The saltwater which washes through into the marshes mixes with the freshwater flowing through Porlock from the hills above, creating a saltmarsh. It is an ideal opportunity to see how the coastline is changing fairly rapidly, something that will become more commonplace if sea levels rise.
One of the many plants to have taken advantage of the change from fields to saltmarsh is the yellow horned poppy, nationally rare but abundant in shingle areas like this. The leaves are covered in fine hairs to protect them from the salt. The clumps of flowers resembling Michaelmas daisies on the shoreline, too, are the daisy's coastal cousins, sea asters, which in turn attract butterflies like red admirals and painted ladies.
Bird visitors include the grey heron, egret and shelduck, with small winter flocks of lapwing, curlew and teal, as well as many different species of migratory birds.
- When the path turns, just before the shingle bank, turn right with it. Stay with it, keeping to the left of the fields, past the remains of a limekiln, until it hits the track below the hill. Turn right onto this track and head towards Bossington.
On the shoreline along this part of the walk are a number of disused lime kilns, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. These burned limestone to produce lime for use as an agricultural fertiliser, and there are many of them around the south-west coastline, because the limestone and the coal used for its production were most easily transported by sea.
Also along the pebble ridge are the remains of several World War II pillboxes. Built of reinforced concrete and brick, and faced with beach pebbles, (like many of the walls and banks in Porlock Vale), these were small fortified structures with good visibility out across the bay, built as part of Britain's anti-invasion preparations. Each was designed for a garrison of 8 or 9 men armed with a maximum of 5 light machine guns and 2 rifles, with splayed peripheral loopholes placed so as to protect the other pillboxes as well as to defend the land behind.
Bossington Hill itself, and the ridge behind it leading to Minehead's North Hill, featured prominently in World War II as an area used for tank training (see the North Hill Walk).
- When your track reaches the Coast Path a little while later, turn right onto this, just before Lower Farm, and head southwestwards, back along the marshes. When the Coast Path turns to the right, heading towards Porlock Weir, leave it, and carry on along the footpath curving left between the fields and joining Villes Lane.
- Keep straight on down Villes Lane to the A39 coming into Porlock from Minehead.
- Turn right and follow the High Street back through Porlock to the car park.
There are a number of restaurants and cafés in Porlock and Porlock Weir, or try the 13th century Ship Inn, with real ales.