Walk - Selworthy Beacon
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.
The extensive views all around Selworthy Beacon take in Exmoor on the one hand and the Bristol Channel over to the Welsh coast on the other, with Moor Wood and Minehead Bay to the east and Bossington Hill and Porlock Bay to the west.
- The walk starts in the car park at the viewpoint on Hill Road above Bratton Ball, at the highest point before the road starts to drop to the first cattle grid. From here, take the path that leads due north from the car park, heading downhill towards the sea, and stay with it until it joins the Coast Path.
Like much of the Exmoor coastline, the ridge is formed of Hangman Grits – grey, green and purple sandstones – and the hillside plunges dramatically down to the shoreline. The sea can be heard as a distant rumble as it rolls the shoreline shingle back and forth far below, but it can only be reached from the wide flat valleys at either end of the ridge, where the softer rock was eroded and the sea encroached as the ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age.
- Turn left onto the Coast Path and follow it for about a mile and a half, through the gate to the Holnicote Estate, ignoring all the paths and tracks leading off to the left.
To your right as you enter the Holnicote Estate, the wooded valley plunging towards the sea is Grexy Combe, an especially delightful place in the spring, when the gorse is aflame and the bushes and vegetation are a vivid green, with tumbling blossom and clumps of bluebells and other wildflowers. The rugged alternative to the Coast Path wanders through this combe, as well as a couple of others, and is well worth the effort of a longer walk (see the Brockholes walk).
About three quarters of a mile further on, the metalled road which crosses your path was one of several built at the same time as the construction of the main road running along the ridge, to enable American and Canadian troops to carry out tank training during World War II (see the North Hill walk). The whole area to your right is dotted with dugouts, bunkers and platforms from this time, and a turret was found from a runaway tank in one of the combes.
- Ignoring this road, and the track to the left a little way beyond, continue a hundred metres or so until you come to an open area with a junction of paths.
- Turn sharply left, onto the bridleway which heads due east to Selworthy Beacon, and after a few hundred yards you will come to the beacon itself.
As the Bronze Age people used the highest point around for their burials and religious rites (see below), so subsequent populations too were drawn to them, for the twin purposes of keeping a lookout for invaders and raising the alarm if any were spotted. Selworthy Beacon, like nearby Dunkery Beacon, was one of many hills in the south west used for this during the sixteenth century, when French and Spanish troops threatened to invade. The number of fires lit on a beacon hill sent information about the state of affairs: one fire meant that an enemy had been spotted, two fires meant that an invasion was imminent, while three meant “It's too late, they're here!”
- As the path starts to descend on the far side of the beacon, ignore the track to your right, leading to the road, and stay left on the bridleway.
- Your bridleway hits the road itself a short distance beyond. Keep to the left of the road, on the track which runs approximately parallel to it.
There are traces of human foraging here from as far back as mesolithic times, just after the Ice Age, when hunter gatherers dropped down to the shore to do a spot of fishing to supplement their meagre diet from the hills. Within a couple of thousand years they had started to clear small patches of land to build settlements and start producing their own food, and high ground like this ridge was their favourite environment, because at a time when much of the land was covered in forest, the exposed nature of such areas meant that there were fewer trees and less vegetation to clear for this.
There are numerous Bronze Age cairns and barrows in the hills around Porlock, where these people buried their dead, and prehistoric tools have been found around the area, made from flint which they would have found down on the shoreline at either end of the ridge.
The cairns and barrows can be seen around you here: mounds rising beneath the heather, with depressions nearby where the material was excavated to form the mounds. Some of these are round “bowl” barrows, while others are elongated, with associated piles of stones and rubble scattered around.
- A little way along, the tank track noted on the first stretch of this walk again crosses your path on its way to the road. Ignore it, and the other paths and tracks along the way, and carry on for another half mile or so, until you finally reach the road at the cattle grid.
- There is a path running alongside the road here, avoiding the need to walk on the road itself, and you will shortly come to another cattle grid. From here, carry on beside the road to return to the start of the walk.
In Minehead, or the tearoom in Selworthy Green, just off the A39 between Minehead and Porlock.