'Smiling Somerset'

'Smiling Somerset', as the county is often called, has not earned its attractive title without reason. It is a land of pleasant valleys, lying between several ranges of beautiful hills, which usually rise to over a thousand feet and afford enchanting views over and beyond them to the blue sea which washes the whole of its northern boundary. The valleys are sprinkled with the most delightful old-word villages, whose comely, irregularly placed cottages, peeping from under their deep thatch and seeming half-buried in the flowers which surround and climb over them, give them that happy, comfortable air associated with the ideal English village.

Above is the opening words from Rambles and Walking Tours in Somerset by Hugh E Page and published by The Great Western Railway in a series on English Counties in 1935.

This description from more than seventy-five years ago still holds true. There are so many places to visit in the area it is hard to know where to begin. In any one direction you can find breath-taking scenery, historic interest, culinary delights and a myriad of other things to see and do.

Below is a sample of what is closest...


Dunster Castle

Dunster Castle is the historical home of the Luttrell family located on a steep hill overlooking the village of Dunster itself. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building and is a top tourist attraction in the area.

There has been a castle at the top of the hill at Dunster for more than 1,000 years, and the Domesday Book records one on this location before 1066. The castle was granted by William the Conqueror to William de Mohun, whose family lived there until the castle was sold in 1376 by Lady Joan de Mohun to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell. Lady Elizabeth's descendants owned Dunster Castle until 1976. For a more in-depth explanation please click here.

Dunster Castle is home to the National Plant Collection of Strawberry Trees.

The National Trust recently installed solar panels behind the battlements on the roof in order to provide electricity and make the castle more environmentally friendly. This is the first time this has been done on a NT Grade I listed building and is expected to save three tonnes of carbon emissions per year.


Dunster

Dunster is a heritage village sitting at the foot of Dunster Castle. Preserved within the Exmoor National Park, the village has numerous restaurants and pubic houses. Dunster was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Torre, meaning 'The rocky hill' from the Old English tor. The prefix 'Duns' may well be a reference to the Saxon Dunn, who held land in nearby Elworthy and Willet before 1066.

Dunster Beach, which includes the mouth of the River Avill, is located half a mile from the village, and used to have a significant harbour, known as Dunster Haven, which was used for the export of wool from Saxon times. However, it was last used in the 17th century and has now disappeared among the dykes, meadows and marshes near the shore. The beach is open all year round and has spectacular views towards Minehead and in the opposite direction, Blue Anchor. Dunster Station is close to the beach and is the quintessential English country station building.

A more recent tradition (started in 1987) is Dunster by Candlelight which takes place every year on the first Friday and Saturday in December when this remarkably preserved medieval village turns its back on the present and lights its streets with candles. To mark the beginning of the festival on Friday at 5 pm, there is the Lantern Lighting Procession that starts on the Steep and continues through the village until all the lanterns in the streets have been lit. The procession of children and their families is accompanied by colourful stilt walkers in costumes who put up the lanterns.


Selworthy

Selworthy is a small village set on a step hill giving it magnificent views of Dunkery Beacon and the heathery moorland. Approximately 3 miles (5 km) from Minehead it is located in the National Trust's Holnicote Estate on the northern fringes of Exmoor and is approached by a romantic lane enclosed overhead by holly, oak and ash trees. The name of the village means "enclosure or settlement near sallows or willows" and in The Domesday Book was recorded as Selewrda.

Selworthy was rebuilt as a model village in 1828, to provide housing for the aged and infirm of the Holnicote estate, by Sir Thomas Acland, in a similar style to Blaise Hamlet, Bristol, which had been built a few years earlier. Many of the cottages, whose walls are painted with limewash tinted in creamy yellow ochre, are still thatched and have listed building status. Few of the buildings preceding 1828 survive but those that do include the beautiful Grade-1 listed whitewashed church of All Saints, the tithe barn and Tithe Barn Cottage. The church is renowned for the beauty of the south aisle which is extraordinarily lavish for a village church.

Above the village at 308 metres (1,010 ft) is Selworthy Beacon, one of the highest points on Exmoor. Near the summit are a series of cairns, thought to be the remains of round barrows, and the British Iron Age Bury Castle. There are miles of walks with superb views across the Vale of Porlock and along the coast from Selworthy Beacon, where there is an all abilities trail.


Allerford

Allerford is a small village located within Exmoor National Park, and is part of the parish of Selworthy. It appears in The Domesday Book as "Alresford forda Ralph de Limesy Mill". One of the village's principal attractions is the much-photographed Packhorse Bridge. Built as a crossing over the River Aller, it is thought to have been constructed in the 18th Century.

The village is also home to Allerford House, childhood home of Admiral John Moresby, who explored the coastline of New Guinea and after whom Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, was named. Other traditional sights in the village include thatched cottages, a forge and an old-fashioned red telephone box. There is also a Reading Room, built by the Acland family to foster adult education and still in use (check exactly what the status is)

One of the thatched cottages operated as the local Primary School between 1821 and 1981 and is now a museum containing the West Somerset Rural Life Museum and Victorian School www.allerfordmuseum.org.uk The museum also houses the West Somerset Photographic Archive.


Porlock Weir

Porlock Weir lies about 1.5 miles west of Porlock and is a small settlement which has grown up around the harbour. The tidal port has existed for more than a thousand years with the Anglo-Saxon chronicle reporting that in 1052 Harold Godwinson (he of the Battle of Hastings) came from Ireland with nine ships and plundered the area before moving on to London. Even before that in 86 AD it was visited by Danes. In the 18th and 19th centuries coal from South Wales was the principal import cargo and in World War II pit props cut from local timber were exported in return.

Many cottages around the area are very old including the Gibraltar Cottages which date from the 17th century and have been designated by English Heritage as grade II listed buildings. A popular visitor attraction all year round, it is especially pleasant during the summer months when visiting yachts swell the small harbour alongside local craft and the waterfront hostelries cater for alfresco dining. Artist workshops and specialist boutiques provide plenty of opportunities for browsing and for a visual as well as culinary treat visit Miller's at the Anchor www.millersattheanchor.co.uk and just watch the world pass by.

The Person from Porlock?

So what might this be? Well, The Person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan. For more information click here and see how this small village in Somerset has become synonymous with literary allusions and unwanted intruders.


Porlock

Porlock is a pretty coastal village situated in a deep hollow below Exmoor, 5 miles (8 km) west of Minehead. In the Domesday book the village was known as "Portloc". The area has links with several Romantic poets, especially R. D. Blackmore the author of Lorna Doone, and is a popular destination with visitors. The visitor centre holds exhibitions and displays about the local area and the village has a vibrant arts scene. The Church of St Dubricius dates from the 13th century and has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building. Within the church is a 15th century tomb of John Harrington who fought alongside Henry V in France in 1417.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived nearby at Nether Stowey (between Bridgwater and Minehead), was interrupted during composition of his poem Kubla Khan by "a person on business from Porlock", and found afterward he could not remember what had come to him in a dream. Coleridge and William Wordsworth who lived nearby were known to roam the hills and coast on lengthy night walks. Since it was the middle of the Napoleonic Wars with France, local speculation had it they were spies for the French. The Government sent an agent to investigate, but found they were, "mere poets". Their walks are celebrated by the Coleridge Way which ends in Porlock. Their friend Robert Southey published a poem titled "Porlock" in 1798.


Watchet

Watchet is a pretty harbour town some 9 miles (14 km) east of Minehead. The parish includes the hamlet of Beggearn Huish. The town lies at the mouth of the Washford River on Bridgwater Bay, part of the Bristol Channel, and on the edge of Exmoor National Park. The foreshore at Watchet is rocky, with a high 20 ft (6 m) tidal range. The cliffs between Watchet and Blue Anchor show a distinct pale, greenish blue colour, resulting from the coloured alabaster found there. The name "Watchet" or "Watchet Blue" was used in the 16th century to denote this colour.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written whilst travelling through Watchet and the surrounding area. It is his longest major poem, written in 179798 and published in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Along with other poems in Lyrical Ballads, it was a signal shift to modern poetry and the beginning of British Romantic literature.

The Church of St Decuman in Watchet has a 13th century chancel with the rest of the church being from the 15th century. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage. Watchet is a stop on the West Somerset Railway.


Blue Anchor

Blue Anchor is a seaside village, in the parish of Old Cleeve, close to Carhampton. The village takes its name from a 17th century inn. The village marks one end of the Blue Anchor to Lilstock Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest along which the Triassic cliffs have geological interest for the variety of fossils. The coloured alabaster found in the cliffs gave rise to the name of the colour "Watchet Blue". It is on the South West Coast Path. The location is a popular holiday designation for families with many attractions in the area and the beach has a gentle gradient suitable for young children.

Blue Anchor is a stop on the West Somerset Railway, a heritage railway in Somerset. It is situated in the village and houses the museum of the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust. The station buildings have been restored and the waiting room on the westbound platform was converted to a railway museum in 1986 under the auspices of the West Somerset Railway Steam Trust. The museum now contains around 550 items, mainly related to the Great Western Railway or other West Country lines.


Lynch

This is a small collection of dwellings situated between Bossington and Allerford. The mediaeval church is adjacent to West Lynch Farm which is home to a falconry centre and cottage tearooms and garden


Bossington

Bossington is separated from Porlock Bay by a shingle beach, through which flows the River Horner, forming part of the Porlock Ridge and Saltmarsh Site of Special Scientific Interest. In the 1990s rising sea levels caused the creation of salt marshes and lagoons developed in the area behind the boulder bank. The village is on the South West Coast Path.


Culbone

Culbone is a tiny hamlet consisting of a few dwellings and the little parish church dedicated to Columba the Virgin. As there is no road access it is a two-mile walk from Porlock Weir, and some four miles from Porlock itself. The village is situated in a sheltered spot with the cliffs behind it rising to a height of 1,200 feet (366 m). The South West Coast Path goes through the village and the woods are home to the rare Sorbus vexanns, a micro-species of self-cloning Sorbus trees which are only found in the coastal area between Culbone and Trentishoe in Devon. It is amongst the rarest trees in Britain.

Culbone (St Beuno's) Church located in the village is reputed to be the smallest church in England. The church seats about 30 people and services are still held there, despite the lack of access by road. The church is probably pre-Norman in origin, with a 13th century porch, and late 15th century nave. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building and the churchyard cross is grade II* listed.