Walking the Coleridge Way
Well not exactly like the poet, he regularly walked from the house he rented in Nether Stowey, near Bridgwater, to change his library books in Bristol 35 miles away. We were going in the opposite direction to Porlock where the stranger came from, to disturb the reverie that became Kubla Khan.
The walk was established in 2005 and is attracting a lot of favourable comment, not least from the local tourist industry. It is divided into four sections of about nine miles each, which may sound short to some, but given the number of hills, we found just comfortable. All the details are on an excellent website; coleridgeway.co.uk, with good maps, walking instructions and, for once, a list of accommodation that actually relates to the walk. We found that it was easy to amend the route to take in minor variations.
The route runs a few miles in from the coast following paths, tracks and sunken lanes that have probably not changed much in the 200 years since Coleridge and the Wordsworths walked here.
On the first day we had fine views out over Bridgwater Bay, although it was not clear enough to see South Wales, we could see the stately pleasure domes of Butlins in Minehead and the square bulk of the nuclear power station at Hinckley Point, no sailing ships entered Watchet, the home port of the Ancient Mariner. When the path emerged from the woods we were out on open the open heathland of the Quantocks, so with time to spare, we deviated up onto the old trackway and down to West Quantoxhead by way of Vinny Combe. Rhododendrons may be an ecological menace, but when they are in full bloom and clothing the near vertical sides of a valley they are quite spectacular.
The second day took us through typical Somerset farming country, the villages all candidates for chocolate boxes and the hedgerows thick with wild flowers. A wooden bridge over the river Aller had a collection of copper coins resting on the posts at either end, a notice invited us to carry a coin from one side to the other to appease the tree spirits that had provided the wood for the bridge. So we did.
On the way into Monksilver we passed a sign warning us that a collie bitch might start to follow us. If she did, we were to say "Go home" and if that failed, to be firm and say "Bad dog". In the garden of the Notley Arms, there was a further sign asking us not to throw sticks for the same miscreant, as she got overexcited. While enjoying a pint and a baguette the aforementioned came and sat expectantly beside us displaying yet another notice on her collar "Don't feed me I'm too fat", a dog's life.
The third day in the Brendon Hills was somewhat more strenuous; it seemed as though we were going up hill most of the time. The first climb went on for two miles through woodland past a Roman graveyard then downhill into Luxborough where there is a very tempting garden tea-room, which of course did not open until the afternoon. So we pressed on up an even longer hill through sunken lanes where the foliage met overhead so that it had the effect of walking inside an enormous tube then out onto open pasture land and Wheddon Cross, the highest village in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor.
The final day dawned with severe weather warnings and nasty purple spots on the weather map of the West Country. But the sun was shining as we set out and although we did have to get the waterproofs out later on, we dodged any serious rain.
Throughout the route the quill pen symbol of the walk and the notes had guided us faultlessly, so it was a surprise when we took the wrong turning in Blagdon Wood and after passing a couple of rather startled deer, found ourselves at Dunkery Gate. We walked over Dunkery Hill and rejoined the route on the other side and descended to Porlock in time to see the visitor centre close for lunch, so no certificate for completing the walk, but just in time to hop on a bus to Minehead, where we treated ourselves to a taxi back to the car (there is a bus) and despite heavy traffic around Bristol, we were home indoors by six-thirty.
This is the third walk that we have done in Somerset and although the others were good, this one was excellent and there was not a moment when we felt that it would be good to get past this bit. No long stretches of busy road, no trailing round the backs of houses, no unwelcoming farmyards.
It truly is a walk where every aspect pleases.
Michael Parr, former Area Secretary
We stayed at -
Parsonage Farm, Over Stowey;
Stilegates, West Quantoxhead;
The Valliant Soldier, Roadwater;
The Rest and be Thankful, Wheddon Cross