South West Coast Path: Minehead to Porlock

In which: The walk starts with an early morning sculpture ● the rain begins ● the way is lost and found again ● a diversion is made ● a shingle beach and salt marsh are explored ● a dog attacks me

Date: 10 April 2009
Time of walk: 0700 to 0745 and 0900 to 1240
Today’s walking: 20.7 km
Progress along SWCP: 11.8 km
Estimated ascent: 475 metres

The day dawned bright, but then heavy cloud came in bringing some rain. I went out before seven o’clock and walked back to the Sculpture (for the third time, after twice yesterday), this time making the start of the walk along the South West Coast Path official with a photograph with me by the sculpture. The walk back to the Old Ship Aground put several hundred metres of the over one million metres of the path under my belt, and with that safely accomplished, I returned to lie down for a while as breakfast wasn’t until 8.30.

Me at the start of the South West Coast Path
As explained yesterday, the apparently odd choice of location, part way along the front, is that the route of the Coast Path used to run away from the front here between cottages. Since then it has been re-routed along the waterside, but still starts here.

Breakfast was, like the room, okay but a bit nondescript – all the cereals were what I would call children’s cereals, the sausages were very cheap, and the orange juice rapidly ran out. It was mildly entertaining listening to a French family behind me trying to grapple with an English breakfast.

Per instructions I left my suitcase in the hallway, with the owner/manager promising to call a taxi in about half an hour to take it to Porlock. Outside, it was raining. I continued my way along the Coast Path from my promising 300 metre start earlier on, and gradually gained height, first along a tarmac path and then suddenly on an earthen path in woodland. Just before Greenaleigh Farm, the route turned sharp left and I found myself heading back towards Minehead. My map showed this fairly mature woodland as open country, and at the top of the south-east “zag”, I zigged north-west, despite the sudden absence of any signs. As these had been thick on the ground up till past Greenaleigh Farm, I thought that I must have missed one, and that the Coast Path had been re-routed. I continued through the rain, climbing into the clouds, on the route marked on my map, and as I neared a car park on top of North Hill almost a mile later, I found a sign confirming that I had been on the right route.

Looking down on Greenaleigh Point
Walking west above Greenaleigh Farm, along what I thought might be the wrong path, but proved to be right after all.

I was now on moorland among gorse and heather, definitely on the edge of Exmoor, but trending a goodish way from the sea. The weather started to clear, and after more gradual ascent I made a small diversion to the top of Selworthy Beacon, a Marilyn.

Moorland with the sea just visible through the mist and rain.
Burnt heather
The sign that confirmed I was on the right path after all
The Coast Path is a fair bit inland at this point.
The summit of Selworthy Beacon. The summit is 308 metres above sea level and its prominence above the land around means that it is a Marilyn. Selworthy Beacon lies just off the South West Coast Path but it was too close to miss the opportunity of a visit.
Looking back towards Minehead (with a tiny patch of sea just visible)
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s walk, with Porlock out of sight below.

From there it was a gradual descent along Bossington Hill, then a steep and initially very slippery descent down the small valley of Hurlestone Combe, bringing at its base a clear view of Porlock Bay and the shingle bank of Bossington Beach.

This shingle bank protected the land behind it from the sea, but needed regular reinforcing. In 1996 it was breached in a storm, and the policy is now to let nature take its course, which it is doing by turning the land behind the shingle into a salt marsh, and pushing the shingle back.

The path took me through the lovely village of Bossington, then along the re-routed Coast Path, since the old route along the shingle bank is now impassable at high tide and potentially dangerous at low tide.

Heading steeply down Hurlstone Combe off Bossington Hill
The shingle bank of Bossington Beach
Bluebells as I approach Bossington
The ford and bridge coming into Bossington
Houses in Bossington
The lovely Bossington
Looking towards Porlock Weir

I tried to follow a public footpath to visit the beach, but was turned back by deep water, so decided to continue on to Porlock. I inspected several eateries, and in the end selected The Castle, a hotel-cum-pub. I had to wait some time at the bar, by which time a couple had seated themselves at my table, despite my large rucksack lying across two seats and my newspaper on the table. When it was eventually my turn, the barman told me to go to the restaurant side, but I pointed out that the restaurant side had a notice telling customers to go to the bar for assistance. When he’d checked this out for himself, he reluctantly took my order, told me that they didn’t have what I’d asked for, and took an alternative order.

I pointedly moved my bag and newspaper from the table I thought I had bagged (no comment emerging from the couple there) and found myself what I decided was a rather better table anyway. I lingered an hour or so over lunch, getting a second drink, then walked along the Myrtle Cottage, a 16th century thatched building that was to be my home for the night. I was met by a pleasant lady who showed me to my room, which required ducking several times to get under low ceilings. The room suffered, as do so many, from lack of space to lay out a suitcase, but the bathroom was a fair size, so I used that.

On the edge of the marshes
Looking across the marshes towards Bossington Hill
The public footpath to the beach. That gap, however, isn’t just slightly under water, but it’s about a metre deep.

At the cottage I rested for an hour or so, then went out for a walk back to the beach. I walked to the west, to the breach, past a very alarmist notice about the hazards ahead, to find that crossing the breach would involve wet feet but at this state of the tide meant crossing a two-metre wide river at most perhaps ten centimetres deep. Hardly hazardous, provided the tide is right.

Later in the afternoon, a different route to the shingle beach
A somewhat imposing sign, but rather overdoing it, especially at low tide
Groynes dating from the time when active efforts were made to maintain the shingle bank
The main inflow and outflow from the sea into the marshes
This is the fearsome gap that prevents me from walking from one part of the shingle bank across the breach to the other side. No doubt a fearsome barrier at high tide or when there are significant flows of water in or out, but at this state of the time no real barrier at all.

I walked back to the east to an old lime kiln, then returned to the inland Coast Path, which I then followed back towards Porlock. As I moved from one field into another, I heard a woman with two dogs calling one of them which was bounding towards me barking. I ignored the dog and it first touched me from behind, which I ignored, then it bit me, tearing my trousers too. I was very cross and swore at the woman. She offered a very half-hearted apology. With hindsight I should have pursued her, or at least taken a photograph of her and/or the dog, but I was so shocked and cross I didn’t think of it. I returned to Porlock, fuming at the woman, the dog, and particularly my new trousers, now with hole. They can be repaired, but I liked that pair of trousers.

Back at the other end of the beach under Bossington Hill, and an old lime kiln lies between two pill boxes.
The view of the sea and south Wales from my bedroom window.
Myrtle Cottage, my resting place for the night.
Porlock

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