23 August 2015: Minehead to Porlock, nine miles (eight on SWCP)
You would have to live very close to Minehead, or stay overnight beforehand, to have the chance to go any further than Porlock on the first day on the SWCP. Minehead is a long bus journey from Taunton, and if like me you were lucky to get a seat – many holidaymakers had to wait a further hour for the next bus – and then have a scare when the driver phoned his depot half-way, worried about his vehicle’s mechanical worthiness, then doubts of starting at all might creep into your mind.
The map sculpture on the sea-front marks the start. Alas the sculptor’s map does not use an OS-style grid. Never mind, it’s a nice idea. Soon after passing the harbour, the route enters Exmoor National Park and begins zig-zagging through woods up the cliff before open ground is reached. About an hour in, there’s a choice of routes, something the SWCP does quite often: here, either bowl along the top across open downland, or take the lower ‘rugged’ path on the edge just above the cliff proper. The latter sounded much more fun and a fine route it is, even if ‘rugged’ in Somerset isn’t quite the same as ‘rugged’ as in say the North-West Highlands. It could certainly though find out more than a few less-experienced walkers. The routes coincide below Bossington Hill for the descent of Hurlstone Combe, soon coming back to sea-level at Bossington village before heading across Porlock Marsh. My camp site lay a half-mile from the trail on the edge of Porlock itself.
24 August 2015: Porlock to Lynton, 15 miles (14 on SWCP)
It’s back across the marsh, inundated when the shingle bank was breached in 1996, past wizened trees poisoned by sea-water to Porlock Weir. Now, as at Minehead, starts a climb to a point (near the church at Culbone) where there is a choice of routes. This time, I chose the higher and more open, which runs for the most part on a green lane linking two isolated farms.
The routes rejoin just before the Somerset/Devon boundary, just beyond which is a cairn marking the spring of Sister’s Fountain. It was well-placed for my planned lunch stop. A busy time it was too, as two couples plus a solo walker, all doing a few days on the SWCP (I’ve never met anyone on the trail who was planning to do the whole thing in one go), and two groups of day walkers passing me as I munched.
There’s a long four-mile stretch now, with a good deal of dipping through woods like Chubhill Wood and into and out of little sea-bound combes, until the church at Countisbury. Suddenly, the modern world intrudes, for one is soon not far from, or beside, the A39 on its descent to Lynmouth. Look out to sea instead, across the Bristol Channel to Wales, and do what you can to separate Newport from Port Talbot, the Gower from Pembrokeshire, the Beacons from the Black Mountain. Either Lynmouth or Lynton is a natural stop point, with plenty of accommodation including for me the camp site not far away at Lynbridge. It’s a steep old climb between Lynmouth and Lynton, more zig-zags, this time crossing twice the cliff railway between the two settlements. It’s cheating to use it though.