'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 that rise to over a thousand feet and afford enchanting views
of the sea that washes the whole of its northern boundary. The valleys are sprinkled
with delightful old-word villages, whose comely, irregularly placed cottages, peeping
from under their deep thatch and seeming half-buried in the flowers that surround
and climb over them, give them that happy, comfortable air associated with the ideal
Above are the opening words from
'Rambles and Walking Tours in Somerset' by Hugh E Page 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 that 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, the historical home of the Luttrell family,
is 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 is a heritage
village sitting at the foot of Dunster Castle. Preserved within the Exmoor National
Park, the village has numerous restaurants and public 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 that 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
that 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. Taking place every year on the first
Friday and Saturday in December, this remarkably well-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.
If you fall in love with Dunster, take a look at our cottage 'The Oval' on West Street. This cosy cottage
is one of the oldest buildings in the village, dating to the 14th Century. Steeped
in history, it has all mod-cons and sleeps six.
Selworthy is a small village set on a steep 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 by Sir Thomas Acland, to provide
housing for the aged and infirm of the Holnicote estate. It is similar in style
to Blaise Hamlet, Bristol, which was built a few years ealier. Many of the cottages,
whose walls is painted with limewash tinted in creamy yellow ochre, is 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 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
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. The museum also houses the West Somerset Photographic Archive.
Porlock Weir lies about 1.5 miles west of Porlock and is a small settlement that
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
here and see how this small village in Somerset has become synonymous with
literary allusions and unwanted intruders.
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 writers, 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 while composing 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 entitled 'Porlock'
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 while he was
travelling through Watchet and the surrounding area. It is his longest major poem,
written in 1797-98 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 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 their 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 destination
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.
This is a small collection of dwellings situated between Bossington and Allerford.
The medieval church is adjacent to West Lynch Farm, which is home to a falconry centre and cottage tearooms and garden.
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
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 2 mile walk
from Porlock Weir, and some 4 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 that 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