Thursday, 4 February 2016

West Country Tour … Countisbury and Porlock Hills, Culbone Church … part 17 …



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
Culbone Church

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
Coastal Path
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.



Porlock Bay

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!


Culbone Church

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.





Sorbus Vexans
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.




Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

50 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I have long mourned that the Person from Porlock interrrupted Coleride. Such a beautiful spot it is too - if only the person had stayed at home...

Rhodesia said...

It is many, many moons since I went to Porlock and I barely remember it other than Porlock Hill that sticks in my mind. Thanks for filling me on details that I had forgotten or did not know. As for the hill I cannot imagine any way down there with out the very best of breaks and a lot of energy needed for going back up again!
Keep well Diane

A Heron's View said...

Porlock Hill yes it is very steep. Many years ago my father's car was unable to ascend it in first gear so he turned it around and we went up backwards in reverse, a feat for the driver and something which would certainly not be allowed today.
Culbone Church is or was very old style inside with doors to some of its pews, I presume this was to make it less draughty for the parishioners or was it a class distinction ?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC - yes .. those interruptions in life - that are remembered centuries on - fascinating to read about. The Person from Porlock - forever vilified ... whomever he was!

@ Diane - I'm glad I reminded you of your visit ... walking or cycling up that hill would be too 'terrible' to contemplate ... and I certainly couldn't do it. But see Mel's comment below ....

@ Mel - what a fun remembrance ... I saw some photos of chugging charabancs - but had never thought someone would need to reverse to go up and hill ... absolutely a feat for your father - and what would the offence be for driving backwards, I wonder. Fascinating to read about ...

Culbone Church - looks amazing and I'd love to visit next time I'm down ... it sounds like the box pews were for families to be together, and as you say to stop (limit) the draughts. The posh box pews - with curtains, windows even, tables and fireplaces?! They were treated as personal property and could be passed on to legatees. Hogarth satirised them apparently.

Thanks for adding some extra information to this post - definitely adds some interesting thoughts .. cheers Hilary

Ana coelho said...

Thank you Hilary for letting me share your travels! As always very interesting... take care Ana X

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Beautiful area. Fifty feet is quite a difference between high and low tide.

mail4rosey said...

Hokey smokes, I saw the comment about going backwards up the hill. THAT is some steallar driving skills. I have trouble backing up into a parking spot sometimes. :)

I'll admit, white knuckle driving makes me nervous. Car, horse, bike, what have you... but I bet it is a sight to see.

Nicola said...

Lovely inspirational pictures and information, Hilary. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Have a lovely week.

Joanne said...

heather, gorse, and whortleberry....chasms, gradients, and winding roads...oh my! It's all so musical and quaint. Just the word "hamlet" is enticing. I've enjoyed every twist and turn of your travel tale

Christine Rains said...

Absolutely gorgeous country. I can't wait to see where you'll take us next! :) Have a wonderful day!

Paula Kaye said...

How interesting to see the gradient signs. When we go up into the mountains of Colorado we see them. It always makes my breath catch a bit when I think how steep I will be driving. Enjoying this trip so much!

H.R. Sinclair, Southpaw said...

That's a huge tidal range. It would be cool to see.

Mark Noce said...

Love the wood and the red deer! :)

Lisa said...

You should eventually turn your blog into a book! There are places that do that online. Happy New Year! I'm finally back in the blogging world and making my way to all my visitors and blogs I love to read. Hope you had wonderful holidays Hilary!

Anabel Marsh said...

I wouldn't have taken that hill either! Some lovely places you have visited.

beste barki said...

Hello Hilary-When I first visited England in the 70s I had visited and become enchanted by the moors and dales of the central parts of your country. I had never heard of coombes and declivities-such exact vocabulary,I had to look up the words. Lovely.

Vallypee said...

Ah, Hilary, now you're bringing back memories. My father was not quite as enterprising as Mel's and I remember trying to get up Porlock Hill and failing because the car started boiling! It really is so beautiful there though. I never knew the tide had such a range!

Vallypee said...

PS I've just read the article about the rescue. What a story! I can hardly believe they managed it. Very sad about the poor horses though.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Beautiful sights to see, as always. Wow, that's some kinda hill, and I can't imagine trying to drive up it backwards, as the other blogging pal remembered his father doing. But, it'd be easier to go up that hill backwards than it would be to traverse that hairpin turn backwards! OY!

Thanks for sharing your travels with us again. :)

Have a super weekend. Cheers!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Ana – glad you’re enjoying the trip around our West Country ..

@ Alex – the countryside is lovely; I know we’re used to tides in this country … it changes the dimensions of the coastline twice each day … and that 50 feet is a lot. It is less here in Eastbourne on the coast.

@ Rosey – I know … Mel’s comment is great isn’t it … I guess they knew how to drive in those days!! We don’t have much space to manoeuvre around in in this country sometimes … but these hills can be daunting. Stunning area though.

@ Nicola – good to see you and thanks for your comment – it’s lovely to know you enjoy the posts …

@ Joanne – it is certainly musical and quaint ... and hard work if one is walking, cycling etc … the term ‘hamlet’ always brings us back to tiny communities. Thanks so much – appreciate your comment.

@ Christine – it was a stunningly picturesque trip – I was lucky to be able to drive Jenny round. We are heading east a little on to our last hotel stop …

@ Paula – thanks and I’m glad the gradient signs ring a bell for you in Colorado. Your mountain roads must have some wonderful gradients … mountains always do – spectacular views etc. So pleased you’re enjoying coming round with me ...

@ Holly – the tidal range in the Severn Estuary has a very strong pull … the tides are fascinating … as I showed somewhat in my A-Z of British Coasts …

@ Mark – Exmoor has some incredible landscape and wildlife ..

@ Lisa – many thanks ... it’s on the cards, the cards just don’t get turned over in the right direction! Well done on getting back into the blogging world and good to see you once again up and blogging.

@ Anabel – I wanted to … but the rushing traffic – I was happy to set off down the scenic route and be able to take our time and pay the toll! All Jenny’s destinations – her selection … but it’s been a really good introduction to the area for me.

@ Beste – the Derbyshire Dales, and Yorkshire Moors and the landscape all around the UK is stunning. Fun to learn new words … we are full of coombes in the southern parts, particularly the west, of this country … they describe our landscape via the names.

@ Val – oh yes, those days of boiling cars … stopped us in our tracks, rather more often than we’d wish. I don’t think we went up hills backwards as Mel’s father did. The tidal range is at its largest there … here on the south coast it’s less … 21 feet or so.

Glad you read about the rescue … it was an amazing feat of human endurance … and horse endurance – so sad for them …

@ Susan – Mel’s story about his father has been enjoyed by many of you … the hairpin is a nightmare forwards and going up or down hill … they’re not the easiest – tight turns. Let alone backwards … not funny! Glad you’re enjoying the trip …

Cheers to you all – it seems Mel’s father’s drive of going backwards up the hill is bringing much amused thought at the necessity of getting up the hill somehow, come hell or high water – thankfully the tidal range isn’t that high!! Happy weekends - Hilary

Out on the prairie said...

Pretty hazardous taking a walk on the beach and having no beach to return on when the tide comes in. I have done this with lower tides.Been busy moving animals all day yesterday and was happy to get the last ones done yesterday.

Julie Flanders said...

Oh that little church is so pretty. Love it.
And it's so interesting to think of the submerged forest becoming visible at low tide. That sort of thing is why I find the ocean so fascinating.

Thanks for another wonderful virtual tour, Hilary. Enjoy your weekend!

Misha Gericke said...

It must be magical to walk to that little church. I'd love to visit the West Country. Looks beautiful. :-)

Tammy Theriault said...

Beautiful!! You always get to go to the best places.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Another place I wasn't able to see while I was there. I need to go back! Lovely shots of the most beautiful places on earth. Thanks for sharing your travels, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Steve - yes that can happen .. but it's part of British coastal walks - down here we have a couple of areas where we can be cut off. Hope the animals are safe and well secured in their new grazing areas.

@ Julie - the church is a delight to look at isn't it. I love learning about the submerged forests - showing us where the land used to be before sea level rises - which happened all through time. I agree the ocean and our lands are fascinating ... especially when we can separate them from people .. and see how they evolved.

@ Misha - good to see you .. I imagine the walk to the church would be a delight ... and the views from the coastal path.

@ Tammy - thankfully England is full of wonderfully pretty places ... which can be enhanced with a little history and story telling.

@ Joylene - it's a little nearer to where you were staying with the family - but still some distance, especially on our roads. So happy to hear you'll be back and are drawn in by these posts ...

Cheers and thanks so much for visiting .. Hilary

Gattina said...

That sounds as a wonderful part of your trip ! Interesting to know that the A 39 coast road is so beautiful ! I am more and more playing with the idea to come by car and get used to drive on the "wrong" side ! I would be much more free and see a lot more too !

Wendy Percival said...

A favourite area of ours. Luckily we don't live too far away and can visit regularly. We often walk to Porlock Weir from the pretty village of Bossington along the edge of the recently reclaimed 'salt marsh'.
Having just discovered your blog, I'm looking forward to browsing the rest and reading about the other places you went on in your tour.

Suzanne Furness said...

Not being a fan of heights I wouldn't have fancied driving along the steep roads. This isn't an area I know well but I can see the scenery looks wonderful. The church sounds fascinating, a real gem to find.

A Cuban In London said...

I love that combo of country, road and coast. Marvellous journey.

Greetings from London.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I love this stunning landscape and the dizzying journey through centuries and millennia!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is a tight turn. The toll roll looks beautiful though.

I love that little church. When we visited in 1999, the small village churches were my favorite to see. Although I did love St. Giles, but then, he IS the patron saint of animals.

Lowcarb team member said...

So lovely to read your post
So lovely to look at the photo's too

Porlock Toll Road looks so picturesque

Happy Weekend Wishes

All the best Jan

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Gattina - well that would make a change to your travelling .. but our roads are small and twisty .. but lovely if someone map reads you off the beaten track. Certainly you'd be freer .. and could do more ...

@ Wendy - good to meet you .. and I'm glad you confirm the area is lovely to be walking or driving amongst. I'd love to see the salt marsh ... perhaps next time. I hope you enjoy some of the other posts ...

@ Suzanne - if you're on the road = you are on the road, up or down! It's not far from you and is well worth a visit. I was happy that Mel suggested I research a bit about the church ... and that area looks so pretty.

@ ACIL - exactly ... country, road and coast - preferably without the cars! But they seem to be around. It has, as you say, been a marvellous journey ..

@ Dianne - certainly I've covered history here - as you say through all the ages and seeing what the geological remains are now .. giving us beautiful scenery.

@ Diane - we have a few hairpins on our roads - though sadly many have been taken out, or bypassed. With your love of roller-coasters I'd have thought this road would have suited you?!

Getting off the beaten track and going into the villages is probably the best way to see Britain - and the churches offer that connection. St Giles in the Fields is a special church .. and he is the patron saint of animals ... while the church is dedicated to poets.

@ Jan - thanks so much ... Porlock was incredible to drive through ... next time I must get down to the coast ...

Thanks so much everyone for visiting and your comments - much appreciated ... cheers Hilary

Cindy Saul said...

Thank you! I like your pictures and seeing your side of life!

Magical!

Friko said...

This must have been a wonderful journey altogether.
Lots to see and lots to learn and lots to experience.

You are very thorough and leave nothing out, an excellent guide to travelling the route for anybody.

I am not too happy about steep gradients either and much prefer scenic, ambling lanes.

Deniz Bevan said...

Funny, hairpin bends in England don't scare me, but the ones in Turkey you used to frighten me when I was a kid (maybe because they involved an uncle who wasn't a confident driver, and a sharp drop to the sea!).

It's intriguing reading about changing sea levels and what they hide or uncover. I even wrote a story based on this idea once!

Elsie Amata said...

Those windy roads, whew! During the winter months, they must be rough. I love that church. It's exactly someplace I'd feel right at home to attend a service.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Your posts are always so informative and intriguing! I love the part about the Culbone Stone.

Chrys Fey said...

Such beautiful scenery. Your posts always make me jealous and wish I could travel.

Bish Denham said...

So much fabulous history! The little church and the path one must walk to get to it... so lovely. I imagine all the other feet that made their way to those stone walls.

Lynn said...

I like that the church is only accessible on foot. What a wonderful journey you had - so full of history. You make me want to visit all of these places!

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, I love history that is so old. All the pagan hints thrill me. That church though, is also a gem. In the US "old" history is the 17th century, so all this REALLY old stuff gives me goosebumps

cleemckenzie said...

I'm so enjoying this armchair travel with you Hilary. I have Porlock Toll Road marked as a place to walk. Thanks so much.

DMS said...

Absolutely fascinating! I can't believe the twists in the road. Very windy and tricky for sure! Porlock Toll Road looks like a great place to explore. I really love the sound of Culbone Church. Such history! Thanks for taking us on another adventure. I get to do a lot of traveling with you and you are such a good guide. :)
~Jess

Shannon Lawrence said...

Ooo, a submerged forest, that's cool! Also, I never thought about some places having bigger tidal variances/reaches than other places.

Karen Lange said...

Oh, this sounds like a delightful portion of the trip! Love the photos. I'm with you, I would most definitely want to return to this area. Thanks for "taking" us along on the journey. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Cindy – glad you’ve enjoyed seeing something of the West Country

@ Friko – it was an amazing journey … and I’ve enjoyed seeing and experiencing these parts of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset … instead of dashing past to Penzance.

Thanks re the thoroughness – it’s good to write up the various aspects of history, or life today that we saw as we travelled. I’m quite glad we didn’t go down that hill … I was happy with the slower side lane!

@ Deniz – yes, our hairpin bends don’t usually hug the coastline with enormous drops on one side … but can quite understand your fear with your not-so-confident driving uncle – I’d have been too.

Writing your story and thinking about the tide ranges as your story evolved must have been intriguing … I love the way the tides always change the seashores.

@ Elsie – we have lots of those windy roads over here – difficult to get away from, especially off the main track. Winter can happen or not here … as this year when it’s been very wet – without much frost or snow. The west is usually mild – the moors may well have snow.

The church draws us in to those mysteries of yore. I can understand you feeling you’d love to attend a service there.

@ Sheri – that’s great that you appreciated the information re the Culbone Stone … there’s more to find out. I’m happy you find the posts informative and intriguing … that’s great!

@ Chrys – you will one day be able to travel – well I hope so and come over and see some of Britain.

@ Bish – there is lots of history around our shores and then inland too: we seem to exude it. Plenty of those early peoples would have traversed the coastal paths … and seen the walls of the church.

@ Lynn – well one day I hope that you can get here to see some of these places. It’s good isn’t it that the Church is still functioning, even though we need to walk to it …

@ Hart – our country is full of pagan hints – they abound. You’re right the church is a gem. I know the States’ history is so young – yet our history is your history too … and yes sometimes one gets goosebumps thinking about the past.

@ Lee – that’s great – and Porlock Hill or the coastal path would be an amazing hike – lots of trails in Exmoor …

@ Jess – our lanes are full of twists and turns, invisible because of the dry stone walls or stone hedgerows … it’s fun to drive in! I’m just delighted you’re enjoying travelling with me and calling in to all the tiny hamlets and villages or explore the landscape I suggests – as Culbone Church.

@ Shannon – I keep coming across submerged forests – with the storms we’ve been having more and more are being exposed – giving us new dendrology records. The tides are fascinating … and long beaches we get when it is a Spring tide … the moon’s pull and push.

Julius Caesar was surprised by the tidal differences – it’s only six inches the Mediterranean – so our forty feet of tidal range must have given them some food for thought re their fleets.

@ Karen – I love these long coastal roads and would again like to take time out sometime and visit once again. Glad the photos brought the post to life ..

Cheers to you all – thanks so much for visiting and for your comments … Hilary

Jeffrey Scott said...

I would love to give that road a try.
Interesting tree. I wonder why it is so rare.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jeffrey - the roads round there were incredible - steep, twisty with wonderful scenery ... one day perhaps you can give it a try.

The trees are rare - because their 'environment' is being changed, or they've been destroyed when development happens ... so much, we don't realise, affects their growth ...

Cheers Hilary