SWCP Day 2 — Porlock Weir to Lynton
Coleridge, Babbage, and Lovelace
Our host from the Minehead B & B had picked us up at Porlock Weir yesterday evening, and dropped us off again this morning; she had offered this when I first enquired, so that we could stay with her both nights. We spent a few minutes checking at the pub and shops to see if Tom’s phone had been found, but no luck. After purchasing sandwiches and snacks, we hit the trail around 10 am.
The path climbed very gradually behind the village of Porlock Weir, following a small lane that turned out to be the private Worthy Toll Road. This road turned into a gated, thatched-roof arch that I guess served as the toll both, and the path went its own way deeper into the forest. The woods were similar to the temperate rain-forest appearance we saw yesterday, but today we were in it the whole day — this time the alternate path was up on the cliff tops. We did have occasional views of the sea, and could see far down the coast to the west, including a scribed line in the distance that we suspected was our path. Whenever we did have a view of the open water, Wales was still visible across the Bristol Channel, including our power station from yesterday.
The guidebook mentioned that Coleridge had lived in this area while he wrote both Kubla Khan and The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, and that the landscape descriptions in both poems reflected this country. Kubla Khan came to him in a dream and was to be longer, but a “gentleman from Porlock” interrupted him before he could write it all down. We didn’t visit Porlock, but glimpsed it in the distance yesterday afternoon.
A few miles into the woods, we descended to the “smallest complete parish church in England”, whatever that means, at Culbone. Only a couple of other buildings adjoin this 12th-century church; the setting is gorgeous. The Earl of Lovelace had an enclosed pew here; he married Ada Byron, daughter of the poet, and honeymooned at the hunting lodge Worthy Manor near Porlock Weir and associated with the toll road we passed earlier. They visited the manor frequently, and after Ada became friends with Charles Babbage — yes, that Lady Ada Lovelace — she and Babbage are said to have taken walks in the area of Culbone Church. Ada translated an Italian manuscript about Babbage’s Analytical Engine and added her own extensive notes and comments, including an algorithm that is considered by some to be the first computer program.
Shortly past Culbone, the path climbed again, and the alternate path took off even higher for the cliff tops. Our route stayed among the trees for most of the day, with several picturesque small waterfalls as we passed streams and valleys with delightful names such as Pudleep Gort. One spring, Sisters Fountain, supposedly gave refreshment to Joseph of Arimethea on his way to Glastonbury. Signs warned of the danger of “landslips”, and we had to detour around trail damage from one a few years back, necessitating some steep climbs and descents.
In the afternoon, we came out of the woods past an odd gate with hog’s heads on the posts, and into gorse, heather, and bracken again, but with views to make up for the less attractive flora. Both heather and gorse were in bloom, so we couldn’t complain too much. In one stretch, we passed through a thick patch of rhododendrons, considered an invasive nuisance. Ahead we could see the jutting rise of the Foreland. We’d had glimpses of it hours ago, and wondered if that cut across the slope was our trail. Turned out, no, that was the road to a lighthouse. We wouldn’t have to climb to the top, either— the trail went inland of it — but we had some significant climbing after crossing the valley that cut southeast of it. When we reached the coast again west of the Foreland point, the trail ran near the top of a very steep slope, the scariest section of trail we had walked so far, but ahead we could see Lynton, our destination for the night. Then we were above the cliffs on more open ground, but warned away from a deep ravine (“Great Red”) that cut into the cliff.
Past this we saw a church steeple to our left, and the trail turned in this direction. This was the village of Countisbury, and the site of our worst navigation failure of the hike. When we approached the church, a signpost for the SWCP pointed diagonally towards the far corner of the churchyard, possibly to its gate. Another private sign advised going through the churchyard as an alternative to a public footpath by a house. No trail was obvious in the direction that the sign pointed, and the guidebook and its map seemed at odds. There did seem to be a path closer to the ridgeline, but I was firmly against walking any closer to the cliff tops than was clearly marked. There were a number of day hikers in the area, so we asked about the coast path to Lynton, and were firmly directed through the churchyard to the road, where we soon encountered a Public Footpath sign for Lynton.
Within a tenth of a mile, it was clear that this was not actually the Coast Path, but it was headed the right way, so we kept going. Only later did we realize that this had added a mile or two to our route, and several hundred feet up and down. By the time we reached Lynmouth, we were extremely tired and hungry, and we stopped for supper before finding our way to the 19th century cliff railway up to the sister village of Lynton, and our room for the night. Our luggage had arrived as scheduled earlier in the day, the first of four Luggage Transfers, and we had a comfortable night — but Tom had already decided to take a break and sightsee the next day, then catch a bus to meet me at Combe Martin.