Right Outside Our Door – Exmoor

Is it end of August already? Summer is in its dying throes and before we know it, it’s dark, wet and miserable again. Joy…

But first a bank holiday weekend. For once we didn’t have long term plans for this one. Having a look for a nice campsite we quickly settled for Sparkhayes in Porlock, North Devon coast. Where else would you find a campsite no further than a two hour drive from Bristol, with a pub and a supermarket nearby and walks straight from the tent? Porlock just ticked all the boxes.

Saturday, An Old Friend – Porlock Weir

Set off for Porlock at 7am Saturday morning to hopefully beat bank holiday traffic. As busy as it was on the M5 at this time, it must have been mental the day before.

Turned off quickly enough though before getting too grumpy and instead got stuck behind slow cars on the A39 which was fine. It was warm and sunny and the lovely scenery kept us chilled and looking forward to the long weekend.

Pitched at Sparkhayes campsite and even putting up our new windbreak didn’t take too long. Rich had a snooze after a restless night and early start whilst I read a bit and then went for a mooch around the village.

Ready for a great weekend

Got some breakfast bits from the butcher, a postcard for my granny and generally just enjoyed walking through the village on balmy late summer day.

Rather nice this Porlock
The Ship Inn, table booked for tonight.

Back at the tent I grabbed Rich and off we went towards Porlock Weir just after mid day. We had been there a few years back, it’s a lovely little place with a hotel, a pub, a couple of restaurants, ice cream parlour… the usual fare.

I had plotted a circular route which lead us on the Coleridge Way through lovely cool woodland for quite a bit. We enjoyed the shade and fresh air as we leisurely walked up and down the undulating path.

Dropped out into the sun at Porlock Weir and after a scoop of ice cream in the sun settled for a few pints at The Bottom Ship pub, a centuries old inn with white walls and thatched roof.

We could’ve stayed there forever getting pissed. But we had a table booked back in Porlock, so at 4pm we wobbled back along the coast to Porlock. Try navigating a shingle beach when you had a few, haha. Showers helped sobering up a little.

The Ship Inn, sister pub to The Bottom Ship at Porlock Weir we had been to earlier, was just as stunning. Another old thatched roof building with flair and charme. Enjoyed pretty good typical pub grub with Gammon Steak and Fish & Chips and fell asleep back in the tent before the clock struck 9pm. Oof.

10k loop from Porlock

Sunday, Heddon Valley

Looking at the map for walks we could do, I had come across Heddon Valley. One of those typical Exmoor “combes”. A combe is a valley with (often) steep sides. In Exmoor they are usually covered in trees and have a river cutting through it right in the middle. Large parts of Heddon Valley are owned by the National Trust, which was a good sign and a hotel with food and drinks on offer was also right there. Sounded like a good idea.

Rich hadn’t had his breakfast yet.

After a 40 minute drive with some steep single track switchback corners we arrived at Heddon Valley around 11am and only just got parked up. This place was popular by the looks of it. Had a coffee at the little National Trust cafe and off we went on a 15k circular route, after booking a table at the hotel for 6pm.

Through Trentishoe Combe we walked first, under trees and with a stream rustling nearby. It was generally overcast, but very humid and the sun broke through the grey mass of clouds every now and then.

Eventually we climbed steeply up to a small road and kept going all the way to the top of Trentishoe Down at 324m. Initially there was a path from the road, but soon it looked more like a sheeps’ track and even sooner afterwards it was just lost in heather and low gorse.

Nice start to the walk
Climbing out of the green combe
Typical Exmoor view from the minor road

The colours of bright yellow and purple were amazing and from afar it looked really lush, but walking through it in shorts proved to be not such a good idea. Our legs were getting scraped left right and centre however hard we tried to avoid the gorse.

Over the top, down the other side and up a very broad path to Holdstone Hill at 349 next. Lovely views up here and at 1pm time for lunch. The still present heather and gorse was alive with flies, bugs and all sorts of flying bug-things. It was a constant buzzing and humming all around… like living next to a motorway… only nicer.

Spiky things lurking in the yellow grass
Beautiful colours
Looking back to Trentishoe Down
On Holdstone Hill
Just a few scratches

Onto the South West Coast Path next and all the way back with a short excursion to Heddon Mouth which was teeming with people. The coast was quite dramatic with a narrow exposed path towards the end. Woodland on the last bit towards the car park and a nice end to a lovely 15k walk.

On the South West Coast Path
Heddon Valley
Heddon Mouth

Ice cream was had – of course – and a cool drink at the hotel before we sat down for dinner at 6pm. Unfortunately, food was disappointing. Lovely service, lovely place, less than average food. Never mind, didn’t spoil our mood really.

Chose a slightly less “exciting” road back out to the A39 and enjoyed an almost traffic free stretch of racing around the many corners. Rich says I’m Rally-Katja… sometimes he gets a bit sick, but I asked him and he was okay this time… hahaha.

Monday, A Castle? A Castle!

Time to leave Porlock after a brilliant bank holiday weekend. We could’ve stayed much much longer, especially with such fine weather! But there was still something to explore on our way back. Dunster Castle! A ginormous building dominating the view as you drive South towards Minehead.

We had passed by a few times, but never went in. Not so this time. Again it was fine hot weather and knowing it was gonna be busy we arrived as early as 10:50am, they must have just opened, but already most of the car park was full. I’ve been a National Trust member for a few years now, yet I haven’t explored many of their places. Dunster seemed well worth the trip.

We took our time, had a look at the still working watermill and did not buy flour or spelt produced here, but had instead coffees and a lush cheese scone with butter. Visited the castle proper with rooms portraying an interesting view into how people lived here in Victorian times. The hill had been occupied since before Norman times. Remnants of the Saxon hill fort can still be seen as the Keep Garden.

Still working water mill with two wheels. Apparently a very rare find.

Overall a really lovely place, with gardens, refreshments and areas to explore. We were a bit weary after a few hours and instead walked into Dunster village for tea and a snack. Dunster high street is certainly not shy of tea rooms and we found a very cosy one which happened to serve not just excellent food but also maaaaaaasive portions of it. Rich’s cheese “cream tea”, sported two cheese scones and a thick lump of cheddar the size of his hand. My coronation chicken sandwich was made of bread slices two inches thick. Wow.

We wolfed it all down and then made our way back on a not unexpectedly busy motorway.

As nice a tea room as it gets.
Dunster high street with castle back drop

What a great mini-break we had!!! Porlock is awesome! Nice campsite and so much to do around there. Got all the things you need nearby and plenty of options for walking, mountain biking, road biking or just plain chilling. We will be back!

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