Thursday, 5 February 2009

South West Coast Path Day 2 Porlock - Lynmouth

View Over Porlock Weir
It was another fabulous day today, although cloudier than yesterday and I wasn’t quite sure which way the weather would turn during the day. I drove over to Lynmouth and then got the bus back to Porlock village, where I resolved to buy some lunch to take with me. However, while Porlock was blessed with quite a few shops, there didn’t seem to be one that would supply lunch material and so I decided to push on, armed only with some bottles of water. I figured that I would be finished with my walk early to middle afternoon today anyway, so a late lunch wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Porlocl Tollbooth
I felt a bit more energised than I had done yesterday and was looking forward to this section of the walk almost more than any other. I had had a taster of what to expect the year before when visiting with Erin and Marie and we had walked the short distance from Porlock Weir up to Culbone Church and this had whetted my appetite for more. I took the link route from Porlock village to regain the coast path proper, passing through some attractive woodland bordered by houses with some exquisite gardens, already fully of camellias and rhododendrons out in full bloom despite the earliness of the season.
Culbone Church
Once at Porlock Weir, I passed by the small corrugated steel chapel which despite being a Sunday was quiet, with no services today apparently (although it was Palm Sunday). I passed by the top end of the village and met up with the Worthy Toll Road. Just as I reached the fancy toll booth for this private road, the path veered off to the right and I was free of road walking for the rest of the day. The path then headed up towards Culbone church, zigzagging its way up through the woods and past some strange tunnels and landscaping that was apparently put in by Lord Lovelace, a previous owner of the estate to give the area a romantic feel. Now all these structures are almost completely overrun with rhododendrons and other plantings that had got out of control.

Sanger Beyond This Point
The path up to Culbone was much as I remembered, but seemed easier this time without a one year old child strapped to my back! I didn’t linger at Culbone this time, partly because I spent some time there last year and partly because there were quite a lot of other people milling about. The path is the only access to the church and it is reputed to be the smallest complete parish church in England. I could believe this, as the remote setting probably means that there isn’t much of a congregation!

Woodland Trail
Shortly after passing the church, I had a choice of routes. The first was to climb up to a much higher level, probably gaining some more spectacular views across the Bristol Channel, or continue on a more level path through the woods. I opted for the latter, although I knew I was taking a risk in as much as the guidebook suggested that some of the route might be impassable. However, the going seemed to be good so I carried on through the trees. As I got further along the path, all the people that I had seen earlier on had now gone and this stretch did seem extremely lonely. A couple of times I jumped out of my skin as I heard funny noises when the wind blew through the trees. I had no mobile phone signal and felt a little vulnerable along this fairly wild stretch of coast. The hill rose high above me, and I could not see the top due to the density of the woodland. Far below me I could hear the waves crashing against the very steep hillside.
Exmoor Coast

The path negotiated several coombes, or steep sided steam valleys where small streams were doing their best to erode the hillsides. I also came across a couple of landslides, one so serious that I had to make a considerable detour to get round it. Part of the hillside had crashed into the sea at this point, taking a large chunk of path away with it.
The Gates I Should Have Gone Through

Eventually I regained the official path after a long steady climb through the trees and was quite pleased to leave this stretch behind me. Not long after I bumped into the first people I had seen for a while, which was also a relief. I negotiated Yenworthy Coombe and suddenly became aware that this was quite a popular stretch of the walk as more people began to come into range. By now the path was also become more undulating and I had a couple of modest climbs that I had been unprepared for. I reached Sister’s Fountain a small springhead that had been built up a bit and had been signposted for a while. Whatever its significance was lost on me and I pushed on. I climbed away from the small valley, along a section that had some fabulous views back to the woods I had been in earlier. I reached some impressive looking gates that formed the entrance to Glenthorne. These were guarded by some fairly aggressive looking stone pig heads that had been carved out of the top. I had a serious conundrum here as the sign pointed 180 degrees away from the direction I expected to go. I was very confused, and after some deliberation I decided to follow another couple who looked like they knew where they were going.
Foreland Point

The path zig-zagged up the hill and the views back along the coast towards Porlock were pretty spectacular. This compensated for the uneasiness I felt about the route I was taking and a little further on my fears were confirmed when I saw the couple ahead in conversation with some other walkers about taking a wrong turn. I couldn’t face retracing my steps as I had gained a lot of altitude so I found a new route across the top of the hill, rejoining the coast path about a mile on from where I went wrong. I concluded that the sign must have been changed around by a ‘comedian’ determined to send walkers the wrong way. He or she had claimed at least six victims today!

Road to Foreland Lighthouse
Once back on the path, the views back to Porlock were hidden and the focus was on reaching Foreland Point, about two miles ahead. The path again disappeared into trees for awhile and there were only glimpses of the coast ahead while the path wound its way around various combes. Eventually I reached the road that wound its way down to Foreland Point lighthouse. The lighthouse itself was hidden behind the headland so I couldn’t see it from the path and I had to content myself with a very impressive display of flowering gorse instead.
Descent From Countisbury

The path by-passed the headland and climbed up to the top of the hill that formed the spine of it. This was a bit of a slog as by now I was feeling pretty tired. Clouds had rolled over and so it was also pretty fresh when I got to the top. It made for difficult going across the top past Countisbury Church, which now looked pretty bleak now that the clouds had rolled in. The view down to Lynmouth and Lynton was pretty spectacular, with the cliff railway cutting a fairly subtle path between them. Lynton looked fairly substantial from this distance, perched on the little plateau above the harbour of Lynmouth far below me.

Lynmouth Seafront
The path down to the harbour was pretty steep in places, mirroring the A39 road which was a pretty hairy descent in a car. I took it nice and slow, as I didn’t want to end up rolling down the steep cliff and into the sea! Uniquely along this part of the coast, there were some old military defences in evidence. Not much was left other than the foundations for gun emplacements and a pill box, but clearly this small part of the coast was considered to be vulnerable during World War 2.

Rhenish Tower
Eventually I reached the bottom of the hill and after snaking around a fairly surreptitious sewage works and a mini golf course, I reached the Lyn river. This was the scene of a horrendous flooding disaster in the early 1950s, when heavy rain in a short period of time caused a flash flood and killed 34 people, devastating the village. The path passes by the memorial hall built to commemorate the event. This is a moving and comprehensive exhibit and should not be missed. This marked the end of the days walking and I reunited with my car.

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