Now we’re off along the coast going north-east from Lynton and Lynmouth towards Minehead … vaguely following the track taken by the men and horses hauling the “Louisa” – the lifeboat that the Lynmouth men in 1899 took over the coombes and declivities to Porlock Weir to rescue shipwrecked sailors – a journey of 13 miles.
|Early postcard: Porlock Bay, Countisbury Hill, Tarr Steps in Exmoor and|
To get a feel of their 1899 rescue journey and what was required to widen the track, avoid obstacles … learn about gradients … up the 1 in 4 ½ Countisbury Hill, then hold the lifeboat back from careening down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill … please read the article. (Men and horses hanging on for dear life - I reckon that's probably an understatement!).
|Devil's Staircase, Powys, Wales|
Gradients – these measurements are steep … I remember them from our holidays in the Lake District … this photo here is the Devil’s Staircase, Powys, Wales … which is a 1 in 4 climb or ride.
The A 39 coast road is a delight (except for the traffic) … wonderful scenery with gorgeous views of Exmoor on one side, the coast and sea on the other – when the driver has a chance to look!
|Countisbury Hill -|
now the South West
Roads twisting and turning up the ‘reasonable’ Countisbury Hill … across the moorland dotted with heather, gorse, and whortleberry bushes, we go from Devon to Somerset crossing the Doone Valley until the sight of Porlock Hill wakes me bolt upright as we think about ‘tumbling down’ that chasm with its hairpin bends, decision time …
|A hairpin decision making bend|
… ah ha !!! there’s a scenic route with a toll … we’ll enjoy this detour of 4.2 mile, which was built in the 1840s (before cars) to offer a gentle alternative to the infamously steep Porlock Hill: which we, in the end, never drove!!
|Porlock Toll Road|
The road was dug out manually to provide work for the local people following the Napoleonic Wars. This scenic route twists through idyllic woodland with glimpses of Porlock Bay coming into view.
We enjoyed this side road – used by various car and cycling rallies – when it would be closed off to normal traffic … it has a place in the history of motor sport.
|Looking south-west to Lynmouth|
Sadly we had to keep going … but Porlock is a place I must at some stage get back to visit … and includes Porlock Weir – an idyllic harbour-side village – from where the Lifeboat “Louisa” was eventually launched.
|Porlock Weir Harbour|
Porlock Bay gives us another example of how our coastline has and has not changed over the millennia … the little fishing harbour played an important part in the sea route to Wales … exchanging timber for coal and limestone … similar to the other tiny inlets along this coast.
The sea level has remained at its present level since the Roman times (2,000 years ago) … it is still rising a little, but for 8,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age the melting ice caps caused the Bristol Channel to rise about 40 metres (131 feet). It also has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, which shows itself here at Porlock Weir with a rise of 15 m or 50 feet … second only to the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada.
What is now Porlock Beach would have been about five miles inland … Mesolithic peoples (10,000 years ago – as the last glacial period ended) would be living in the area, hunting aurochs, an ancient species of wild cattle, and living off the rich food supplies of the warming glacial marshlands.
A submerged forest can be seen at very low tide … while the coastline includes shingle ridges, salt marshes … in 1052 AD, the Saxon King Harold, landed at Porlock Bay from Ireland, burnt the town … before marching on London. I have no idea why!
Mel from A Heron’s View asked if we’d been to Culbone Church, which was on our way from Lynmouth to Porlock … I had to advise that we hadn’t had a chance to see it … but obviously my curiosity needed to be satisfied.
The Church is only accessible on foot, with the South West Coast Path going nearby and through the hamlet … the woods surrounding the area are home to the Sorbus Vexans (bloody whitebeam) one of the rarest trees in Britain … the Sorbuses include the Whitebeam and Rowan species in the Rosaceae family.
The Domesday Book (1086 AD) has records of the hamlet of Culbone, while the Culbone Stone points to an earlier significance from medieval times … possibly as far back as the Saxon period …
|Culbone Stone with its incised cross:|
made from Hangman Sandstones
- see my part 12
… though the Stone itself may have been moved from a nearby Bronze Age (2,500 BC – 700 BC) site known as the Culbone Stone Row … where 21 other stones stand …
… indicating an earlier connection long before Christianity reached these shores, Culbone was a centre for pagan worship … a community of monks was established in the fifth century …
|Oak woodland in Exmoor|
The church is tiny but still operates today – it seats about 30 people. Walkers can easily get to the church, but drivers must park nearby and walk through the fairy tale tunnels of woodland – oak, walnut, whitebeam and rowan … with the sunlight dappling through, the sea glinting in the distance …
|Samuel Taylor Coleridge|
… evoking Coleridge’s Kubla Khan – written in the area – where he was rudely interrupted by a “Person from Porlock” … perhaps his doctor with more opium … who knows … so the poem remained unfinished … and the tale one of fiction …
|Red Deer on Porlock Hill|
… but the stunning landscape of Exmoor exudes literary talent … artists, poets, authors … while they all expounded the virtues of this amazing coastline spreading their legacy far and wide … bringing us back to that moorland of Romance, Myth, Murder and fairy tales.
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