Saturday, 13 February 2016

West Country Tour … Whistling Ghost, ‘Obby ‘Horse, South West Coastal Path at Minehead … part 19 …

So much for trying to sneak out of Minehead … I need to post one more here … and let you know about a couple of other interesting points ... prompted by Mel of A Heron’s View

Quay Town and the harbour, under the lea of
North Hill, Minehead - on a windy day
… the village of Dunster is beautiful and is an easy two mile walk from Minehead … found on the edge of Exmoor, while the Luttrell family had a huge influence on medieval Minehead.  Having had a brief look via my computer screen! – I’d say Dunster would be well worth a visit and a layover if time permits.

Dunster Yarn Market - the castle is
in the background

The southern entrance to Dunster is the Gallox Bridge – a stone packhorse bridge … important for the transporting of wool and other goods into the village market in the early 1200s. 

Gallox Bridge

It was called Gallocksbrigge – but derives from the gallows, reminding us of gruesome times – it crosses the River Avill close to Dunster Working Watermill, at the foot of Castle Hill, and provides access to Dunster Castle’s Deer Park.

Mel’s next suggestion is the West Somerset Railway - now owned by a charitable trust … it was closed by British Rail in 1971 and reopened as a heritage line in 1976.

The heritage line near Watchet

This runs from Minehead along the coast to Watchet before turning inland to Bishops Lydiard … it looks stunning – and for railway fans – would be a perfect day trip.

Daniel Defoe came back in 1724 to search for fossils at Watchet, which I gather is rich in reptile remains, with ammonites being common – fossil casts of giant ammonites can be seen on the foreshore.

Ammonite split in half
Now back to Minehead … there’s considerably more than I can write up here … the long pier, accommodating the many tourist steamers, was built in the 1900s and has a fascinating history – until it was demolished during WW2 as it was in the way of the gun site facing into the Bristol Channel.   When the gun was test-fired … it dramatically rocked the harbour foundations and was deemed too risky to be used!

Quirke's Almshouses in the 1900s and 1930s - they have
been refurbished for the 21st C now - but retaining the
ambience (fortunately not demolished in the 1980s)

In the 1630s a master mariner, Robert Quirke, was caught in a storm, so serious it was that … he and his crew vowed to sell the ship and cargo and benefit the poor and needy in Minehead should they return safely.

Some almshouses were built, and over the years have been refurbished, or reconstructed! due to their state of disrepair … they have been maintained over the centuries from the leased income of two cellars on the quay.

The Mission Chapel is down stairs through the
dark door ... the Old Ship Aground is to the left and behind.
This is on the quayside - the Lifeboat station is at the back.

In 1910 the cellars, originally a 17th century warehouse, became St Peter’s Mission Chapel, which we saw, as the Chapel is next to the Old Ship Aground,  but were unable to visit as we were too late or too early leaving.

A painting by an unknown artist of about 1620 -
a Hobby Horse at Richmond, Surrey

The ‘Obby ‘Orse … is custom purported to go back to Viking Days (800 – 1066 AD) … when an error of judgement caused a Viking warrior to be chased through Minehead until he was caught and then ‘bootied’ by the locals.  The ‘Orse charged the marauding Danes, who hastily retreated and put to sea in flight.

I can’t find out what ‘bootied’ means – but a “Boot” (courtesy of my “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” was an instrument of torture … and you all thought they were comfortable walking footwear for various functions?!

The Victorian Hobby Horse Hotel on the front

Always associated with Quay Town is the Hobby Horse, a genuine remnant of early eras – now the brightly coloured ‘horse’ with its long tail is used to encourage donations … ‘it’ is accompanied by a group of musicians … with the tradition established to start on May 1st and last for four days, which may well reference the ancient May Games.

The Hobby Horse hostelry – I thought would be a small pub – but no ... it is a Victorian grandiose building on the seafront … with an incredibly elegant ballroom … reminding us of times gone by.

The Bootie … ‘parade’ goes through the town stopping over to collect donations, which go towards Mental Health, and the Lifeboat Institution in the town.

Today's version - outside the Old Ship Aground
and the Chapel on the quay

A fun day for one and all … lots of entertainment at that magnificent Hobby Horse Hotel and at the Old Ship Aground Inn – which seems to be a folk musicians paradise ... situated as it is on the quay.

What Whistles up a Storm? – why the whistling ghost of Old Mother Leakey … there were several inns amongst the old fishermen’s cottages: the Queen’s Head, opposite the Old Ship Aground, and then The Mermaid … all on Quay Street.
View from harbour across to the cottages

These old buildings which altered their business according to the times … a warehouse, a ship’s chandlers, a 19th C department store, then a demolishment, an inn, or a tea room.

There is more to Mother Leakey than
whistling up a storm on the seas
(see link at end)

But Old Mother Leakey caused a stir during her lifetime and after her death in 1634 became notorious as the whistling ghost – whenever one of her son’s ships neared port she whistled up the next storm.

The townsfolk were haunted by her tauntings … and called in the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who presided over a commission to inquire into the matter: it was confirmed that such an apparition did not exist … but some inhabitants were not quite so convinced!  Her ‘influence’ waned in the coming years … but the folklore is part of Minehead’s history.

Now should you wish to return along the South West Coast Path back down the north Devon coast, into Cornwall and round the peninsula, crossing back into Devon on the south coast and walking on until you reach Dorset … you would be welcome … but don’t put those ’booties’ on!

The sculpture at the start of the
South West Coast Path - reading
an ordinance survey map, which
intrepid walkers would carry for
reference purposes
It covers 630 miles, twice the distance of the Pennine Way, and will take you six to eight weeks … if you have that spare?!  But is a unique journey, as it was based on a working footpath …

… the ‘first’ path to be controlled every day in pursuit of revenue protection against smuggling.  A whole series of coastguard cottages were built at convenient intervals (lighthouse to lighthouse; or with the creation of a hamlet around a church with an enormous spire, which the sailors could see from afar) and most of these stand in rows along the path today – reminding us of how the path originally came about.

The reverse of the sculpture -
sculpted by Owen Cunningham
from Belper, Derbyshire
The coastguards had to be able to see into every cove and inlet on the coast – giving us the magnificent views that we get today: but rarely the most direct path between two points.

Their children used to use the path to get to school, while their wives used them to get from one fishing hamlet to the next … giving us their considerable history of usage.

To find out more … artists, craftspeople, writers and musicians … films and tv series … please see the BBC Somerset site … but note their “Nota Bene” at the end … the time frame required to walk round!

Minehead - the tiny harbour in Quay Town
The Old Ship Aground is just up the slipway
behind us

I’m showing some links – if you wish to find out more … but I shall be moving on along the Vale of Taunton to our last stop – which was with near-relatives ...

… there will be two or three more posts, together with a summary post – things I’ve picked up along the way … and then a post on Emily Hobhouse herself, as this trip was to follow in some of her footsteps, while giving Jenny a chance to see some parts of the country she wanted to return to, or to see again.

Watchet:A sculpture celebrating
Coleridge and his poem
"The Ancient Mariner"
Minehead a Short History … this is very informative

The Hobby Horse – an old tradition of Minehead

The Religious History of Minehead … may interest some of you

Now before I write any more … I’m jumping in my car (well we did pack up and moved on!) and finding my way to our next destination …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Anabel Marsh said...

What a fascinating place! So much history. Having walked bits if the SW Coastal Path in Cornwall I was interested to see the sculpture at the start,

Sue McPeak said...

You had me at 'Yarn Market'. What a fun trip. Thanks so much for all the history and photos.

Rhodesia said...

Love all the history you have given us here, it is so interesting. Off to follow some of your links now. Have a good weekend Diane

Vallypee said...

I don't remember Minehead being so pretty or so interesting, Hilary. I do, however, remember Dunster. This is a wonderful trip with all these stories and legends. I like the story about the master mariner who promised to sell up and do good works if he and his crew survived. I wonder what good works they did in the end! I thought maybe it was the almshouses, but I realise that was probably not the case. I'm looking forward to your last stops!

Suzanne Furness said...

Reading all your fascinating posts about your travels gives me itchy feet! Some more suggestions here for our to see list. Hubs and I plan to do a grand tour of our own on of these days.

A Heron's View said...

An excellent piece of work and great to see a photo of the Dunster Yarn Market which I suppose sold woollen yarns from the Exmoor and Quantock's moorland flocks.
Thank you for the mention Hilary and for making a wonderful scenic blog of one of my favourite Somerset villages.
I am eagerly looking forward in seeing Taunton and Taunton Vale both places so rich in history - if memory serves me right :)

bazza said...

Wow, I've got lots of reading to catch up with! I hope to be back to Blogging more often - at least for while. Devon and Cornwall are almost like foreign countries to a Londoner like me; I think that's what makes your history so interesting.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

walk2write said...

I understand now why I adore the work of so many British authors and poets: the spectacular walking opportunities! This is another fantastic post of yours, Ms. Hilary. I think every town needs a hobby horse parade. Maybe I should suggest it to the parade committee in our small town.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I've heard of whistling in the dark, but never whistling up a storm! Cool ghost story.

I'm thinking those "booties" weren't something soft and knitted with love.

Lots more interesting stuff here. Love the sculpture with the map, and the first picture showing the waves on a windy day. (That ghost must have been whistling...)

Cheers! Have a super weekend.

D.G. Hudson said...

Thanks for showing us the details and adding in delicious tidbits of information. I like knowing the history surrounding a place. I would love to see the coast of England. You are an intrepid traveller Hilary!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Beautiful village by the sea. I'd love to stay at the Hobby Horse.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Anabel – once I got under Minehead’s surface ... there was so much to see. I thought the sculpture was fantastic ... and needed to post about it … the coast paths are wonderful assets to our lives, if we are visiting.

@ Sue – yes, the ‘Yarn Market’ – I thought of you … it was the gathering place for the wool, and there was a lot of small factories down in Minehead – once people moved away from the land a little.

@ Diane – so pleased you’re enjoying the history – at least you can relate somewhat … knowing England. So pleased you’ll be following the links across to find out a bit more ..

@ Val – well I hadn’t realised til I got home! But I do enjoy finding things out. We never got to Dunster ... next time. The master mariner was Robert Quirke and he did set up the almshouses, and over time they’ve been kept up – there must be some income from the warehouse properties … but the almshouses were very derelict in the 1980s … so it’s good they’ve been brought into the 21st century.

@ Mel – thanks so much – I’m glad the post matched your expectations. There was a lot of ‘industry’ in Minehead … I expect in the early days the wool would have been dealt with locally ... perhaps even in Dunster, before times moved on – and larger looms could have been built in the expanding Minehead for the Exmoor wool. I think the Quantock wool would have gone to another town … not sure where …

Sadly – I’m at the end of the journey now – so only some photos of various places and not much history … so you are going to be sorely disappointed I’m afraid.

Though I do need to go back and see that area … I have a friend in Wellington that I can stay with and explore around …

@ Bazza – yes … our tour has progressed on with a lot of postings! I’m glad you’ll be back blogging and we get to see more of your art thoughts … so interesting to learn about.

Yes – Devon and Cornwall are a long way away aren’t they … whereas I’d love to see Essex and more of that coast and the outskirts of London …

@ W2W – how good to see you – those early writers and poets certainly knew where to walk, or artists to come and paint. So glad you enjoyed the post … and I wonder if your community will take your idea for the hobby horse up …

@ Susan – I had in the end to write about the ghost ... and now I’m glad I’ve written about Old Mother Leakey and her whistling. Those booties were not knitted, nor ‘given’ in love … so so true – horrid thought!

The windy bay was a good find as an image and I’m pleased I put the sculpture up and found the sculptor’s name to add to it.

@ DG – how lovely to see you … and I’m glad I’ve satisfied your curiosity ... the links will add to all the stories too. I hope one day perhaps you can get over and see England … I’ve enjoyed these visits – thankfully Jenny suggested them.

@ Diane – being on the Quay side in Quay town was a good idea – and where Jenny wanted to be: the Hobby Horse looks a good posh place to stay! We pubbed it …

Thanks everyone so much for your interested comments – always a pleasure to read them and reply to them … cheers Hilary

Out on the prairie said...

A friend whistles not knowing he does it so I will have to share your ghost tale.Perhaps he is haunted. HA!

Sherry Ellis said...

I enjoyed reading this interesting bit of history!

Elephant's Child said...

Mother Leakey's story is dark indeed.
Thank you as always for sharing the history, the beauty, the wonder...

A Cuban In London said...

Every time you post I get a sense of awe. You condense the history and culture of the area you visit so well. Gorgeous shots as well. Thanks, i really enjoyed this post. In fact, it has made me think of an idea I had a couple of years ago about travelling the UK by bicycle. Now, if I could only convince the other three! :-)

Greetings from London.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I bet that was a fun trip. Beautiful too.

Deborah Weber said...

What fun. Doesn't whistling up a storm sound like some kind of super power? And to think it was ghost-induced! Makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

This looks like a great and engaging trip, there is so much history in Minehead.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Steve - he could whistle up a storm on your lake ... and yes, perhaps old mother leakey sailed over the pond to encourage his whistling... interesting!

@ Sherry - thanks .. I was surprised to find out how many snippets were to be had to add interest to the post ...

@ EC - yes Mother Leakey's story is dark ... but interesting to contemplate - I'm happy you enjoyed the post. I hope you clicked the link to the book on her story - it sounds as though you did?

@ ACIL - gosh ..thank you. I enjoy writing the posts and including all sorts. Some of the photos are mine, some borrowed. Well I'm sure you could persuade one member of the family to join you in a few days cycling around a new part of the UK. With the offer of a stay in a pub central to the proposed route - might serve the others?!

@ Teresa - it's been fun finding out all the things we didn't see - yet I can get to go back sometime.

@ Deborah - to be able to have that controlling power re a storm would make a good story line ... but I think Mother Leakey has returned recently with the number of storms we've had. Though a ghost story does beckon ...

@ Rhonda - the whole little tour has taught me much about the various areas - now to go back sometime armed with the knowledge I've got.

Cheers to you all - thanks for coming by - at last we have a day of quiet and some sun ... yesterday was positively foul ... drizzly rain ... Hilary

Nilanjana Bose said...

So much fascinating history! Boots can be instruments of torture even now, particularly if they pinch the wearer, just saying... The more I read of your travels, the more I realise the truth of one life not being enough. I have to draw up multiple bucket lists now :)

Unknown said...

Sounds like fun travels :) always cool to hear about your adventures.

Gattina said...

What a nice an interesting post ! I found two "escape to the country" from this area, I have seen Dunster and Minehead. Such beautiful towns and the whole area is so nice !

Elephant's Child said...

I did indeed follow the link - thank you.

H.R. Sinclair said...

Very cool stuff. Boy, that harbor is low, isn't it?

Joanne said...

not just an intrepid walker, you are an intrepid traveler. I did like that statue. The Gallox Bridge did not look scary anymore - glad it's not used as a gallows. and the whole 'Obby Horse' description - quite amusing. You are keeping quite a pace and covering a lot of territory

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

So much to see, so little time. I guess "giving him the boot" is a mild example. LOL. Great informative post, Hilary. I think a train ride would be wonderful.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

So much history in one area. I would think there would be more ghost stories than one.

Stephen Tremp said...

Hilary, I'd love to do a day trip on that train along the coast and points unknown. What a fun day exploring small towns that have been around for like a thousand years.

I've really go to get out more. Thanks for sharing this excursion with us!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Nila - yes there is a lot of history in Minehead, which I only touched on. Boots (or shoes) can be really uncomfortable can't they - pinching horribly - the 'bootie' sounds really unpleasant. There is so much to see in all areas of the world ... and every time I visit somewhere - then I want to go back and explore more: bucket lists ... sounds a good idea.

@ Sarah - you enjoy your travels in Argentina - looking forward to reading about them ...

@ Gattina - I'm glad you enjoyed it .. and I'm sure that programme will have shown you Dunster and Minehead - it's not something I watch. But the area is beautiful ... as you saw.

@ EC - thanks for letting me know - you'd read the Old Mother Leakey link ... it is dark isn't it.

@ Holly - our tidal reaches happen every six and a bit hours - to low tide, then another six and a bit hours to the high tide. We're used to it ... our coasts are always like this! That photo .. the tide will go further out.

@ Joanne - I was driving - but following the route that Jenny wished to visit ... so we didn't get a chance to do much walking. The statue depicts what a walker would do ... the map and ready to go. These stories came up in my research and I felt readers/bloggers would be interested to read about them.

@ Joylene - so much to see ... certainly there are lots of places to learn about. "Giving the boot" - definitely a great saying isn't it. I'm sure the heritage train ride would be a beautiful journey to make ...

@ Susan - I'm sure there are plenty of ghost stories around ... especially at gallows bridge, or up at the castle - but Old Mother Leakey has stood the test of time.

@ Stephen - these train trips can be found around the UK .. it's wonderful that people have shared their abilities and passion for trains to restore, ride and open these lines for customers ... and yes our towns and villages have been around for two millennia - as long as humans have been settled. I hope you can one day get over and see some of our history.

Thanks to you all - wonderful to see you ... perhaps a visit is brewing .. cheers Hilary

Lynn said...

Each place seems more beautiful that the last! Love the bit about the Hobby Horse.

cleemckenzie said...

I can see why you tarried. There seems to be so much to see and learn here. I envy people who live in villages with a castle looming above the trees. They always make me think of knights and chivalry and romance. Of course, I realize that's just my romantic filter hard at work, but I don't care. I just love to see those castles and those quaint villages.

beste barki said...

So much history. Some of it, gruesome as you say, hard to imagine to be a part of.

Christine Rains said...

What wonderful history. I can't help but picture a giant boot used to kick someone as was done in an episode of The Simpsons years ago. I'm sure the real bootied torture was something much worse! Have a lovely week. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Lynn - all the villages and ancient towns have their delightful and fascinating areas ... the Hobby Horse tradition is such a good way to raise funds ...

@ Lee - I wish I had tarried .. we were tootling along - most of the details I've found out once I got home .. thank goodness for the net and Wiki. I have to say I'd quite like to live in a village with an ancient church and castle nearby ... and all those trees. Our imaginations can go into free fall can't they ...

@ Beste - Europe is full of history ... and some is gruesome and dark. So difficult to imagine what it was like - I agree with you there ...

@ Christine - 'to put the boot in' is a good saying .. but I didn't expect to learn that it very probably stemmed from this sort of 'torture stool/chair' .... I don't watch the Simpsons - but can imagine your bye-line for them ...

Thanks so much ... the villages, churches and countryside abound for us to wonder at and see their history - or as much as we are able to take in ... cheers Hilary

Dianne K. Salerni said...

The name "Mother Leakey" was somewhat familiar to me, but I had to look up the story. I'm not sure I'd heard it before, so I don't know why the name was familiar in the first place ...

Jeffrey Scott said...

Railways are so cool.
The gun, WOW rocked the foundations? That's some gun.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Dianne - it was fascinating ... so much history or myth and folk lore in Minehead. I'm glad you looked up her story .. ."Mother Leakey" is such an interesting name. - I expect you might have picked it up in your sub-consciousness somewhere along your educative journey ...

@ Jeffrey - railways are wonderful aren't they and I'm glad they've kept some alive. I suspect the foundations of the harbour were not very strong - as they'd have been built over the years - while the gun was new in WW2 ..

Cheers and thanks so much for the interesting and pertinent comments - Hilary