Walk - Porlock Woodland Walk
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.
- Leaving the fire station car park, make your way back up to the road and turn left. Carry on past the library, and turn right at the end of this road, uphill, and then right once more onto the toll road.
The landscape of this walk has inspired many poets over the years. The famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in nearby Nether Stowey, and often walked around Porlock with his good friend William Wordsworth (also a local resident). In the middle of writing one of his best-known poems, 'Kubla Khan' - apparently in Ash Farm, on Culbone Hill (see the Culbone Church walk) - Coleridge was interrupted by the now infamous "person from Porlock" and as a result never finished it.
Their friend and fellow poet Robert Southey also spent time at Porlock, and wrote a sonnet in its praise (see the Bossington Hill walk), nonetheless bemoaning the inaccessibility caused by the high hills ringing Porlock. In the thirteenth-century Ship Inn is Southey's Corner, where he wrote some of his poetry.
Porlock Hill (the main road you've just left, you'll be pleased to know!) climbs 400 metres in less than two miles, and its steep gradient and hairpin bends have made it notorious from the early days of motoring. Its rapid descent must nonetheless have been very useful in 1899, when the Lynmouth lifeboat was summoned to the aid of 13 seamen caught in violent storms in the Bristol Channel. Unable to launch the boat in the churning waters of Lynmouth Bay, the sailors dragged it overland, up the equally severe Countisbury Hill, to Porlock, where the sheltered bay made it possible to get afloat and save those in peril out in the channel.
Another ship in trouble at sea was the ketch, Lizzy, caught in storms off Lynmouth Bay in 1854, before the town had a lifeboat. A fishing boat was sent out to her aid, and managed to rescue the crew. The weather improving the next day, a fresh crew set out with the skipper to salvage the ketch, and had almost succeeded, when it sank in shallow waters off Gore Point, just a stone's throw from Porlock Weir and safety.
- Take the footpath off to the right about 200 yards on, and follow it through the woods and down to West Porlock.
- Don't turn right into the village, but carry on along the footpath through the woods, until you come to the footbridge which leads you onto the road at Porlock Weir. Take the footpath beyond, which will drop you onto the main road.
The hall here, now used as a village hall, was originally a military building, dating from the First World War.
- Turn left and travel a few hundred yards down the main road, to the footpath to your right, leading onto the beach.
Porlock Weir, just down the road to your left, is a picturesque hamlet of old cottages, including the 17th-century Gibraltar Cottages. The first mention of it as a port was as long ago as 86 AD, when it was visited by Danes; and in 1052 Harold Godwinson (the “on his horse, with his hawk in his hand” Harold who was defeated by William the Conqueror at Hastings, probably amid great cheers from the population here) landed en route from Ireland, with nine ships, plundering Porlock and setting fire to it before proceeding to London.
Porlock Weir and much of the land around and behind it are part of the Porlock Manor Estate, which has been linked to the Blathwayt family since 1686, when William Blathwayt, Secretary of State to King William III, married Mary Wynter, who had inherited it as one of several Somerset manors left to her.
Since 1870 this western side of Porlock Bay has yielded a number of archaeological finds including a submarine forest of some 6000 years ago, and the fossilised bones of the Porlock Aurochs, who lived here a mere 3500 years ago (see the Bossington Landscape walk). A find from more recent times, however, has been puzzling locals since 2003. Dating from sometime between 780 and 1020 AD, it is a carved piece of wood with some as yet unidentified purpose. (Have a look at the Porlock Manor Estate website and see if you can come up with an answer for them!)
- Follow this footpath across the shingle as it turns inland.
- Do not take the footpath to the right, but carry on with the Coast Path as it runs on the seaward side of the fields, past the memorial, to Butcher's Plantation.
The memorial is to eight American airmen who lost their lives when their bomber crashed into Bossington Hill in thick fog (see the Porlock Marshes walk).
- Leave the Coast Path here, turning right, back towards Porlock, and follow the footpath to Sparkhayes Lane, using the path alongside the lane as requested.
- Follow the path into the village, turning right along the High Street, back to the start of the walk.
There are numerous places to eat and drink in both Porlock and Porlock Weir.