Walk 75: Lynmouth to Porlock – 2nd September 2020

Up early and out by 7.45 with Matt. He dropped us at Rock House in Lynmouth and drove on to Porlock Weir. The idea being that he would park and walk back towards us over the top path so that he would end up doing a circular walk (and the reality being that he would end up walking further than us!)

We set out along the short promenade to Perilous Point and then veered up into the woods. It’s a steady, long climb first through the trees until they cross the A39. There’s a very brief few paces on the road and then the path slips onto the cliff and stays there becoming more exposed and rising. About halfway up we met a mother and daughter coming down carrying weighty rucksacks. They’d walked Minehead to a pub somewhere up top of the cliff we were on yesterday and were aiming to get all the way to Combe Martin today. Much more hardcore than us. Looking behind at this point there’s a good view of Lynton and the beach at Lynmouth.

The mast on Foreland Point loomed closer but the SWCP runs around it with another path leading straight up to the top. The cliffs create corners and bends that only reveal end points and other landmarks when you’re right on top of them and this walk was one of those. We took the official path rather than veer off for the lighthouse thinking we may see it at the other end but not a glimpse. Properly Combetastic soundlessness as the cliffs enveloped us into stillness. One of my truly favourite feelings.. The heather covered the ground and filled the air with its scent.

The eerie but beautiful stillness came to an end with a viewpoint, a gate and entry into Gurney’s Wood. From now on the Combes come thick and fast. Double Combes, single Combes but all easy to navigate as the path undulates back into the deep Combes rather than steeply up and down. The deciduous woods are incredibly pretty and faery like.

Twisted oaks dominate and each Combe has varying sizes of waterfall.

We came out of the woods momentarily and could see a new vista north-east of what is probably the Somerset coastline – maybe Weston-Super-Mare? Somewhere on the cliffs outside our woodland idyll was Desolation Point but on the path you see more Combes than cliffs.

A while later and we noticed the start of the estate walls and the path comes into the light on the cliffside outside the wall. Glimpses of our future path, interesting little nooks in the wall and hedge upon hedge of rhodedendrons.

This is Glenthorne Plantations. The path tuns away from the sea into the much bigger and wider ‘The Combe’ and the burning of rhodis and harsher signs of forest management are apparent. The path passes through the gateposts and then down to the idyllically located gatehouse.

At this point Matt texted to say he’d passed the halfway point of Sugerloaf Hill. Of course he had. So we thought as he’s won the competition that wasn’t a competition we might as well stop for a rest at a handily placed cross.

Not much later – up then down again – we met Matt. Barbara put Ben’s relentless playlist on to walk through what turned out to be apocalyptic scenes of forest clearance so the music and the vista merged well. Looked like they were clearing mostly larch so the estate may be trying to regrow native species? Always looks so devastating when it’s been done recently. The scenery did improve and we passed back into mature woods with a wide selection of oak, sweet chestnut, hazel, silver birch, holly, ash and a sprinkling of beech. The ash dieback that I’ve noticed so much of round home in Sussex hasn’t been too noticable here in Devon. Apparently this area was used for charcoal burning way back.

Had a quick lunch on a tree that had fallen across the path. Amusing to hear Barbara’s random comments about Ben’s playlist – ‘bastard’ ‘good taste’ etc etc with plenty of gesticulation.

Passed Culbone and St Beano’s church which is famed for being the smallest in England that still maintains some sort of congregation. There are only two houses on the site and apparently parishioners need to walk the 1.5m from the road as only landrovers can navigate the final part.

Stopped a little later for chocolate when I managed to magic a bench for the first time in many miles. Of course after that there were benches a plenty all the way down into Porlock.

The descent continues through the woods and is damp, dark and riddled with disused and dilapidated tunnels that were once used for the grand house (destroyed in 1974) to allow traders to approach without disturbing the residents. Bloody wealthy wankers.

Ada Lovelace and Henry Babbage lived there for a while. It’s also the furthest east Tarka the otter ragrowsters in his adventures. Near the bottom is the entrance to the toll road (still in use) which allows for a less vertiginous ascent out of/descent into Porlock Weir. 1/4 gradient and not much wider than a single car so no doubt nearly as hairy as the famed main road out of the village.

Ended outside the pub just as it started to rain and talked of the man from Porlock. Coleridge blamed him for disturbing his concentration when he was writing Khubla Khan and he has since become synonymous with writer’s block.

The story goes that he took some opium, fell asleep in which he had the vision of Khubla Khan and on awakening, grabbed a pen, and wrote the 54 lines available in print. Unfortunately, he was interrupted by a man from Porlock, calling upon him on a business matter. An while later he tried to recapture what he had been writing, but it had “passed away.” 

Walked up to the car which was parked opposite this unusual little church.

Miles walked: 11.2

Since the beginning: 957.9

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