Somerset and Exmoor
At 35 miles long, the section of the South West Coast Path here makes up just over 5% of the entire National Trail. It runs from the Path’s start point at Minehead to Combe Martin in North Devon and has long been praised as one of the main reasons Exmoor was dedicated a National Park in 1954.
When it comes to talking about the Exmoor coast, it really is a story of superlatives. In England and Wales, it holds titles for; the highest coastline, soaring to a heady 433m (1,421 ft) at Culbone Hill, the highest sea cliff with Great Hangman peaking at 244m (800ft) and the longest stretch of coastal woodland between The Foreland and Porlock. Finally, and admittedly this final stat is not unrivalled, the Exmoor coast is home to one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, second only to Fundy Bay in Eastern Canada. Here, the rise and fall of the tides can be as much as 15m (48ft).
Valley of the Rocks by Greg Jeanneau
On the western side of Porlock Bay, near Porlock Weir, there is a much-reduced submarine forest visible at low tide. The fossilised wooden stumps mark the edge of an ancient forest dating back some 6,000 years. Over time the trees have been petrified, meaning they have turned to stone, taking an almost identical form to when they were alive. The reason we say the submarine forest is ‘much reduced’ is due to a severe storm that took place in 1996. Fuelled by Hurricane Lillie and made worse by an unusually high tide, the storm broke through Porlock’s shingle ridge and destroyed much of the tree remains. The storm also dredged up the fossilised bones of the famous Porlock Aurochs, a large ox estimated to have walked these shores around 3,500 years ago.
Whilst walking the Exmoor coast, don’t miss…
- The monument on the promenade in Minehead, which marks the beginning of the 630-mile Path. The impressive bronze monument, forming enormous hands gripping a map is based on a design by local art student Sarah Ward
- Seeking out the Dartford warblers and nightjars living amongst the western gorse and bristle bent heath on North Hill, plants found only in the West Country
- Catching glimpses of the beautiful Red deer and wild Exmoor ponies
- Standing upon the summit of Selworthy Beacon at 308m (1,013ft) and resting to admire the spectacular views inland to Dunkery Beach, the highest point on Exmoor, out towards Wales and along the coast to the journey ahead
- Enjoying a welcome rest at harbour side pubs in Porlock Weir and waiting for the tide to go out to reveal the ancient submarine forest on the beach