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The Coleridge Way Walking Holiday

Section Four – Porlock / Porlock Weir to Lynmouth - The Coleridge Way Extension

14 miles Moderate Grade with two strenuous climbs from Porlock Weir (16 miles from Porlock Village)  - what these grades mean

The Coleridge Way Worthy Wood

Its no gain without some pain however as you leave Porlock Weir this morning with a heart-pumping climb first thing that rises from sea level at Porlock Bay through leafy forest tracks teeming with rabbits and then into narrow trails through the mighty forest that is the backdrop to "the Weir". This is Worthy Wood and you climb and climb through patches of wild garlic, past old stone quarries and through shady clearings always keeping an eye out for the deer that forage here.  Eventually you emerge into the light and join the old drovers track to Ash Farm. It was here that Coleridge when in residence was forced to abandon his finest work Kubla Khan - unfinished forever as the Postman from Porlock, who would have arrived along the same lane you walk, ruined his train of thought. The unfortunate messenger has now himself gone down in history as having cut short one of the greatest ever literary works !

St Beuno Church at CulboneIn Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.....

Just beyond Ash Farm is the chance (and everyone must take it) to divert off the Coleridge Way to drop 1/2 mile through the dense coastal woods to reach the simply perfect little church of St Beuno's at Culbone. This place hidden in a leafy glade is the smallest church in England with only a handful or rough wooden pews. It must also be one of the most remote, the parishoners still forced to walk 2 miles out along the coast path from Porlock Weir to attend services. It really is one of those other worldy spots that feels as close to heaven as to earth, always peaceful, empty and well worth the rigours of the steep ascent back to the Coleridge Way

Oare Valley - welcome to Doone CountyJust so you don't feel like you missed out The Coleridge Way then joins one of the sections of the South West Coast Path contouring along a long forgotten byway that gives fine views over the oceans from the edge of tree lined valleys before departing inland to climb the flank of the moor itself arriving high above the Brendon Valley. There is a totally different feel to the walk now - the coast is quickly forgotten replaced by wild heather and gorse and far reaching views inland to the desolate and brooding plains and empty moors of the interior..... of the 'Ex-moor' proper. 

In between you and the high moor but far below your feet you now catch sight of the secret Brendon Valley and the first test is a steep descent down the magnificent Deddy Combe a spine like ridge between deep stream valleys that knife cuts through the heather on a glorious descent to Oare. Welcome to Doone County ! 

Highland cattle grazing in Exmoor

Lorna Doone on Exmoor

Oare and the Brendon Valley area is the setting of R D Blackmore's classic novel of 17th Century outlaw clans and its easy to see how this deep and atmospheric valley inspired him to write it. 

At the hamlet of Oare divert to the lonely Church of St Mary the Virgin, dwarfed by the surrounding moors and clinging to the highest meadow on the fringe of the void. 

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oare in ExmoorIn the novel it was here that Carver Doone shot Lorna at the alter on her wedding day (based on a true events from nearby Dartmoor on the Two Moors Way walk, where a local bride, Mary Whiddon was shot dead on the steps of Chagford Church).  There is a memorial here to Blackmore whose grandfather did survive a tour of duty as Rector here in 1809 and this was no mean feat as the local rhyme suggests

Culbone, Oare and Stoke Pero
Parishes three no parson 'll gio tio
Culbone, Oare and Stoke Pero
Three such places you'll seldom hear o'

Wind blown tree on Exmoor part of The Coleridge WayThe lawlessness and remoteness of the areas you are walking through was far more then than mere fiction as nearby "Robbers Bridge" still testifies and the "Dounes" were indeed a nasty lot, forced out from Scotland and ending up here as outlaws who survived by raiding farms, practicing highway robbery and abducting the local women to be hidden away in their camp at the highest points of the steep Bagworthy valley above Malmsmead.

Whilst 'Lorna Doone' has spawned no less than 10 films and has devotees across the world, you won't find many of them actually make it here and its likely as not you will have the silent church to yourself as it would have been 300 years ago in Blackmore's tale.

 

Malsmead Bridge ExmoorBack on the Coleridge Way you are now fully acquainted with your guide to the coast - the gurgling bouncing Oare Water river, as it tumbles between heather and twisted copses at the start of its forceful charge to the sea.  At Malmsmead you reach a typical Doone Valley hamlet with a couple of sturdy stone farmsteads, one now the Lorna Doone Inn overlooking a crossing point of Badgworthy Water that rushes off the moor here. This is the entrance to the Doones hidden valley and higher up it you will find a memorial to Blackmore and the abandoned medieval Village at Hoccombe Combe that inspired the book.

An ancient bowed packhorse bridge saves you using the old ford to cross the Badgery if you don't want to get your feet wet. Today its cream teas rather than sanctuary from the outlaws that will draw you to this spot but the tranquility of resting in pretty river meadows below a towering moorland can't have changed much in the last 400 years.

The steep climb up Ashton Cleeve on The Coleridge Way

Fuelled by cream tea.. or perhaps local cider,  you can now take on a steep and significant climb, toiling up Ashton Cleave on a haul up from the river towards the heights of County Gate and the entrance to Devon.  Once again the views along the valley are stunning with only the occasional hard won farmstead in sight to break up the line of low forest and high moor and thankfully having worked hard on the climb up the combe you stay high on the ridge now heading towards distant trickles of fire smoke in the valley to the west which signal the final steep drop through the gorse and heather to the village of Brendon. Those on the relaxed walking itinerary will be ready for refuge here in the welcoming Staghunters Inn

Changing scenery on The Coleridge way deep valleys and streamsClick Here to read about overnight stops in the village of Brendon on the Coleridge Way Extension.

Beyond Brendon the Coleridge Way surprises yet again by immediately cloaking the walker in a totally new landscape, the valley sides suddenly thrust up for the skies in a wall of steep dense forest that towers above the walker and the river. Here the Oare Water gets a new lease of life and now gathers speed sensing the coast is getting close in a churning, boiling and snaking line of rocky rapids and white water - its the final stage of the Coleridge Way so congratulations, you have made it to Gorge Country!

The Coleridge Way keeps pace with the ever quickening river one minute having you clambering along the banks of the rushing water, the next climbing high above creeper covered cliffs when the river decides to push itself through deep and narrow clefts. 

Cream Teas and cake await you at WatersmeetThe water is rarely calm but now and again you come across a hesitant deep trout and salmon pool where you can take a refreshing swim. At the appropriately named hamlet of Rock you can take a high suspension bridge across the drama to visit the Rockford Inn and rest up in a beer garden right above the watercourse in this dark forested valley. The forest canopy continues to reveal an array of wildlife with red deer, dippers, heron, woodpeckers and even otter present along its banks.

Arriving at Watersmeet cream teas and cake awaits for those who feel that now you are in Devon you should behave accordingly. Run by the National Trust, Watersmeet is like something straight out of Hansel and Gretel, a former fishing lodge set deep in the forest at a point two rivers join forces before a final combined charge for the sea. Look for the lines from a Wordsworth Poem inscribed above its doorway as you enter. 

LynmouthThere are options here to continue on the Coleridge Way gorge route into Lynmouth OR for those who want a challenge you can divert instead onto The Two Moors Way for the final few miles where you will climb high into "The Combes" to join a high level traverse at the top of the gorge lip on a narrow ridge that gives the most amazing views over what the Romantic Poets named "Little Switzerland". 

Whichever way you end the walk you will reach Lynmouth in a blur of white water, rocks the size of cars and lush green forest with just a whiff of salt in the air that tells you the end is ahead long before you reach the little stone harbour quay in Lynmouth with its iconic Rhenish tower.

One mile beyond the town and after one short climb (or a ride on the Victorian Cliff Railway), you reach the end of your Poets Pilgramage at the "Valley of the Rocks" and its a fitting final location.

The coastal path meets the Coleridge Way at Lynmouth

Here, herds of wild feral goats skip along the huge sea crags and climb through the castle like rock mountains and pinnacles. Its been a place of inspiration to all the romantic poets who came here and then to generations of visitors ever since who arrive to view the formations of the White Lady, Mother Meldrum and the Devils Cheesewring.  The Coleridge Way finishes at the restored 19th Century "Poets Shelter" and if you can catch the end of the day here and witness the setting sun over the rocks - well then never mind the lost ending of Kubla Khan - you will finally get what Coleridge was about !

Click Here read about an Overnight in Lynmouth, "Little Switzerland" at the end of your Coleridge Way Walking Holiday

Valley of the Rocks near Lynmouth

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