Saturday, 13 February 2016

West Country Tour … Whistling Ghost, ‘Obby ‘Horse, South West Coastal Path at Minehead … part 19 …

So much for trying to sneak out of Minehead … I need to post one more here … and let you know about a couple of other interesting points ... prompted by Mel of A Heron’s View

Quay Town and the harbour, under the lea of
North Hill, Minehead - on a windy day
… the village of Dunster is beautiful and is an easy two mile walk from Minehead … found on the edge of Exmoor, while the Luttrell family had a huge influence on medieval Minehead.  Having had a brief look via my computer screen! – I’d say Dunster would be well worth a visit and a layover if time permits.

Dunster Yarn Market - the castle is
in the background

The southern entrance to Dunster is the Gallox Bridge – a stone packhorse bridge … important for the transporting of wool and other goods into the village market in the early 1200s. 

Gallox Bridge

It was called Gallocksbrigge – but derives from the gallows, reminding us of gruesome times – it crosses the River Avill close to Dunster Working Watermill, at the foot of Castle Hill, and provides access to Dunster Castle’s Deer Park.

Mel’s next suggestion is the West Somerset Railway - now owned by a charitable trust … it was closed by British Rail in 1971 and reopened as a heritage line in 1976.

The heritage line near Watchet

This runs from Minehead along the coast to Watchet before turning inland to Bishops Lydiard … it looks stunning – and for railway fans – would be a perfect day trip.

Daniel Defoe came back in 1724 to search for fossils at Watchet, which I gather is rich in reptile remains, with ammonites being common – fossil casts of giant ammonites can be seen on the foreshore.

Ammonite split in half
Now back to Minehead … there’s considerably more than I can write up here … the long pier, accommodating the many tourist steamers, was built in the 1900s and has a fascinating history – until it was demolished during WW2 as it was in the way of the gun site facing into the Bristol Channel.   When the gun was test-fired … it dramatically rocked the harbour foundations and was deemed too risky to be used!

Quirke's Almshouses in the 1900s and 1930s - they have
been refurbished for the 21st C now - but retaining the
ambience (fortunately not demolished in the 1980s)

In the 1630s a master mariner, Robert Quirke, was caught in a storm, so serious it was that … he and his crew vowed to sell the ship and cargo and benefit the poor and needy in Minehead should they return safely.

Some almshouses were built, and over the years have been refurbished, or reconstructed! due to their state of disrepair … they have been maintained over the centuries from the leased income of two cellars on the quay.

The Mission Chapel is down stairs through the
dark door ... the Old Ship Aground is to the left and behind.
This is on the quayside - the Lifeboat station is at the back.

In 1910 the cellars, originally a 17th century warehouse, became St Peter’s Mission Chapel, which we saw, as the Chapel is next to the Old Ship Aground,  but were unable to visit as we were too late or too early leaving.

A painting by an unknown artist of about 1620 -
a Hobby Horse at Richmond, Surrey

The ‘Obby ‘Orse … is custom purported to go back to Viking Days (800 – 1066 AD) … when an error of judgement caused a Viking warrior to be chased through Minehead until he was caught and then ‘bootied’ by the locals.  The ‘Orse charged the marauding Danes, who hastily retreated and put to sea in flight.

I can’t find out what ‘bootied’ means – but a “Boot” (courtesy of my “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” was an instrument of torture … and you all thought they were comfortable walking footwear for various functions?!

The Victorian Hobby Horse Hotel on the front

Always associated with Quay Town is the Hobby Horse, a genuine remnant of early eras – now the brightly coloured ‘horse’ with its long tail is used to encourage donations … ‘it’ is accompanied by a group of musicians … with the tradition established to start on May 1st and last for four days, which may well reference the ancient May Games.

The Hobby Horse hostelry – I thought would be a small pub – but no ... it is a Victorian grandiose building on the seafront … with an incredibly elegant ballroom … reminding us of times gone by.

The Bootie … ‘parade’ goes through the town stopping over to collect donations, which go towards Mental Health, and the Lifeboat Institution in the town.

Today's version - outside the Old Ship Aground
and the Chapel on the quay

A fun day for one and all … lots of entertainment at that magnificent Hobby Horse Hotel and at the Old Ship Aground Inn – which seems to be a folk musicians paradise ... situated as it is on the quay.

What Whistles up a Storm? – why the whistling ghost of Old Mother Leakey … there were several inns amongst the old fishermen’s cottages: the Queen’s Head, opposite the Old Ship Aground, and then The Mermaid … all on Quay Street.
View from harbour across to the cottages

These old buildings which altered their business according to the times … a warehouse, a ship’s chandlers, a 19th C department store, then a demolishment, an inn, or a tea room.

There is more to Mother Leakey than
whistling up a storm on the seas
(see link at end)

But Old Mother Leakey caused a stir during her lifetime and after her death in 1634 became notorious as the whistling ghost – whenever one of her son’s ships neared port she whistled up the next storm.

The townsfolk were haunted by her tauntings … and called in the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who presided over a commission to inquire into the matter: it was confirmed that such an apparition did not exist … but some inhabitants were not quite so convinced!  Her ‘influence’ waned in the coming years … but the folklore is part of Minehead’s history.

Now should you wish to return along the South West Coast Path back down the north Devon coast, into Cornwall and round the peninsula, crossing back into Devon on the south coast and walking on until you reach Dorset … you would be welcome … but don’t put those ’booties’ on!

The sculpture at the start of the
South West Coast Path - reading
an ordinance survey map, which
intrepid walkers would carry for
reference purposes
It covers 630 miles, twice the distance of the Pennine Way, and will take you six to eight weeks … if you have that spare?!  But is a unique journey, as it was based on a working footpath …

… the ‘first’ path to be controlled every day in pursuit of revenue protection against smuggling.  A whole series of coastguard cottages were built at convenient intervals (lighthouse to lighthouse; or with the creation of a hamlet around a church with an enormous spire, which the sailors could see from afar) and most of these stand in rows along the path today – reminding us of how the path originally came about.

The reverse of the sculpture -
sculpted by Owen Cunningham
from Belper, Derbyshire
The coastguards had to be able to see into every cove and inlet on the coast – giving us the magnificent views that we get today: but rarely the most direct path between two points.

Their children used to use the path to get to school, while their wives used them to get from one fishing hamlet to the next … giving us their considerable history of usage.

To find out more … artists, craftspeople, writers and musicians … films and tv series … please see the BBC Somerset site … but note their “Nota Bene” at the end … the time frame required to walk round!

Minehead - the tiny harbour in Quay Town
The Old Ship Aground is just up the slipway
behind us

I’m showing some links – if you wish to find out more … but I shall be moving on along the Vale of Taunton to our last stop – which was with near-relatives ...

… there will be two or three more posts, together with a summary post – things I’ve picked up along the way … and then a post on Emily Hobhouse herself, as this trip was to follow in some of her footsteps, while giving Jenny a chance to see some parts of the country she wanted to return to, or to see again.

Watchet:A sculpture celebrating
Coleridge and his poem
"The Ancient Mariner"
Minehead a Short History … this is very informative

The Hobby Horse – an old tradition of Minehead

The Religious History of Minehead … may interest some of you

Now before I write any more … I’m jumping in my car (well we did pack up and moved on!) and finding my way to our next destination …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

West Country Tour … a brief call in at Minehead … part 18 …

Minehead’s situation as a port is slightly different from the others along the coast of north Devon or Cornwall – in that it sits in a wide bay … yet over the centuries has nestled up close to its western land neighbour – Exmoor – hiding from the storms in the Bristol Channel.

Looking east across Minehead
from Exmoor

There aren’t the harsh boat-wrecking rock-combs of Hartland turbidites, or the tiny coves making a hiding place for early fishermen, or marauders … the quay and thus harbour were tucked right into the protection of rising land …

… which gave Minehead an advantage for a while – and by Good Queen Bess’ reign (1558 – 1603) was ‘ennobled’ as a Royal port, similar in standing to Bristol.

Plaque depiction of boats sheltering from
a major storm in the 1700s
In spite of constant problems with the harbour walls and silting – requiring the harbour ‘to often be moved’ - trade developed rapidly during the 16th and 17th centuries … with some forty vessels plying their way between Minehead and Ireland, South Wales, Bristol and Bridgwater (further up the coast).

And once the trade routes with Virginia and the West Indies opened up … the cargoes included wool (an important export), linen, yarn, coal, salt, hides and livestock, as well as wines from France and Spain.

Daniel Defoe
By the 18th century … Minehead, as with other small harbours, could not compete with the expansion in size of ships, cargoes, and developing world markets.

Just before the Age of the Romantics came in … and ‘tourism’ commenced – an early traveller was Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame) in 1722 he stayed at the Plume of Feathers Inn a much loved beautiful old coaching inn … 

Plume of Feathers hotel at
the turn of the century

… then a couple of years later returned to Watchet up the coast a little, and was impressed by the fossils he found.  The Plume of Feathers was demolished in 1965 – to the disgust of the town.  

As a side note: It’s interesting in the 1960s there was little control as to destruction – we’ve lost quite a lot of archaeology here in Eastbourne due to the 1960s ‘demolishers’!

From the harbour side - Exmoor rising behind, with
The Ship Aground  hugging the harbour ... before the lane
along Exmoor waned, with the Coastal Path continuing on
The creatives … poets came to be inspired, authors to be entrapped by the scenery with its hidden bowers, artists to draw and paint landscapes only heard of, scientists to explore and learn … medical doctors were soon advocating sea-bathing as a remedy for ailments … tourism really settled in …

Quay cottages at the turn of the 1900s

... gradually the image changed, here as elsewhere … and with the growth of transport links, visitors increased during the 19th century, as did their desire for new places to visit and things to do … 

Early morning sun lighting up
The Old Ship Aground
Tourism as we know it today had started in the late 1800s … and would have called Emily to check the area out in the first years of the 1900s.  Jenny thinks she stayed in the cottages near the harbour, where our hotel was situated … 

The Old Ship Aground – now an inn – originally The Pier Hotel of Edwardian times (1901 – 1911) … has given the refurbished building in the historic quarter of The Quay a new lease of life.

Rabbit faggots, with bubble and squeak with bacon,
fresh savoy cabbage and a cider jus - my choice

The hotel/pub/inn has taken advantage of today's market - they have a farm nearby and locally source other produce ... so offer good pub grub, often with entertainment, local beers, ciders etc.  It is frequented by locals and is perfectly positioned at the start of the South Coast Path

Jenny's desert choice - treacle tart with custard

At the harbour are some plaques – but unfortunately I didn’t take photos of them all, as I’d assumed (wrongly!) I’d be able to find out once I got home … 

Since the Millennium, the Minehead community have been creating ways of telling the town’s story to visitors and locals alike … there are various walks with audio accompaniment …

… six hidden histories and secret stories about the town – tales that are designed to be read out loud to families and groups and … then these historical plaques covering the 7 eras of maritime history: I regret not taking photos of them all …

Detail re this plaque - in italics within the post:
it is believed to be Saint Carantoc from South Wales
The First Millennium and the Currach – it was a light and durable sea going vessel much favoured by the Celts.  A construction of hide and wicker made repair simple no matter where it was landed and vessels of up to 60 feet with a beam of 15 feet were capable of ocean voyages.

This plaque depicts a wandering saint landing here in such a vessel searching for an unspoilt, secluded location in which to devote his life to solitude, prayer and learning.  His final destination is where St Michael’s Church now stands.  It is believed to be St Carantoc from South Wales.

Minehead after World War Two - showing the harbour and
the Lifeboat Station - under the lea of the hill.  The Ship
Aground is on the corner of the harbour - about where the
black splodge is!  St Michael's Church is marked with the
Ordinance Survey church symbol (between Higher Town
and the shoreline).

Then there’s:

 the quaint chapel in a cellar

an 'obby ’orse  

and the ghost … a whistling ghost … 

then the start or finish of the South West Coastal Path – 

these await you in the next post!
… all this set on a bay, perfect for a family seaside holiday, with its long flat sandy beach, great for picnics, games, paddling, or swimming, while the sand of the Strand is wonderful for sandcastle building …

One of the few Butlin's Holiday Camps
left in Britain

… life has developed since Emily’s day (1860 – 1926) [that post really is coming!] … but our ability and ease of reference now to moving around, to learning about the area has only been facilitated since the turn of the 20th Century.

Now we have the opportunity to vicariously travel as we wish … to be tempted to areas unknown, to be beguiled by photos of those places … and then to be left up in the air!:  tomorrow I will wrap up Minehead with those remaining tales before we head off to the Vale of Taunton on our last leg.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 4 February 2016

West Country Tour … Countisbury and Porlock Hills, Culbone Church … part 17 …

Now we’re off along the coast going north-east from Lynton and Lynmouth towards Minehead … vaguely following the track taken by the men and horses hauling the “Louisa” – the lifeboat that the Lynmouth men in 1899 took over the coombes and declivities to Porlock Weir to rescue shipwrecked sailors – a journey of 13 miles.

Early postcard: Porlock Bay, Countisbury Hill, Tarr Steps in Exmoor and
Culbone Church

To get a feel of their 1899 rescue journey and what was required to widen the track, avoid obstacles … learn about gradients … up the 1 in 4 ½ Countisbury Hill, then hold the lifeboat back from careening down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill … please read the article.  (Men and horses hanging on for dear life - I reckon that's probably an understatement!).

Devil's Staircase, Powys, Wales

Gradients – these measurements are steep … I remember them from our holidays in the Lake District … this photo here is the Devil’s Staircase, Powys, Wales … which is a 1 in 4 climb or ride.

The A 39 coast road is a delight (except for the traffic) … wonderful scenery with gorgeous views of Exmoor on one side, the coast and sea on the other – when the driver has a chance to look!

Countisbury Hill -
now the South West
Coastal Path
Roads twisting and turning up the ‘reasonable’ Countisbury Hill … across the moorland dotted with heather, gorse, and whortleberry bushes, we go from Devon to Somerset crossing the Doone Valley until the sight of Porlock Hill wakes me bolt upright as we think about ‘tumbling down’ that chasm with its hairpin bends, decision time …

A hairpin decision making bend

… ah ha !!! there’s a scenic route with a toll … we’ll enjoy this detour of 4.2 mile, which was built in the 1840s (before cars) to offer a gentle alternative to the infamously steep Porlock Hill: which we, in the end, never drove!!

Porlock Toll Road

The road was dug out manually to provide work for the local people following the Napoleonic Wars.  This scenic route twists through idyllic woodland with glimpses of Porlock Bay coming into view.

We enjoyed this side road – used by various car and cycling rallies – when it would be closed off to normal traffic … it has a place in the history of motor sport.

Looking south-west to Lynmouth

Sadly we had to keep going … but Porlock is a place I must at some stage get back to visit … and includes Porlock Weir – an idyllic harbour-side village – from where the Lifeboat “Louisa” was eventually launched.

Porlock Weir Harbour
Porlock Bay gives us another example of how our coastline has and has not changed over the millennia … the little fishing harbour played an important part in the sea route to Wales … exchanging timber for coal and limestone … similar to the other tiny inlets along this coast.

The sea level has remained at its present level since the Roman times (2,000 years ago) … it still rising a little, but for 8,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age the melting ice caps caused the Bristol Channel to rise about 40 metres (131 feet). It also has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, which shows itself here at Porlock Weir with a rise of 15 m or 50 feet … second only to the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada.

Porlock Bay

What is now Porlock Beach would have been about five miles inland … Mesolithic peoples (10,000 years ago – as the last glacial period ended) would be living in the area, hunting aurochs, an ancient species of wild cattle, and living off the rich food supplies of the warming glacial marshlands.

A submerged forest can be seen at very low tide … while the coastline includes shingle ridges, salt marshes … in 1052 AD, the Saxon King Harold, landed at Porlock Bay from Ireland, burnt the town … before marching on London.  I have no idea why!

Culbone Church

Mel from A Heron’s View asked if we’d been to Culbone Church, which was on our way from Lynmouth to Porlock … I had to advise that we hadn’t had a chance to see it … but obviously my curiosity needed to be satisfied.

Sorbus Vexans
The Church is only accessible on foot, with the South West Coast Path going nearby and through the hamlet … the woods surrounding the area are home to the Sorbus Vexans (bloody whitebeam) one of the rarest trees in Britain … the Sorbuses include the Whitebeam and Rowan species in the Rosaceae family.

The Domesday Book (1086 AD) has records of the hamlet of Culbone, while the Culbone Stone points to an earlier significance from medieval times … possibly as far back as the Saxon period …

Culbone Stone with its incised cross:
 made from Hangman Sandstones
 - see my part 12

… though the Stone itself may have been moved from a nearby Bronze Age (2,500 BC – 700 BC) site known as the Culbone Stone Row … where 21 other stones stand …

… indicating an earlier connection long before Christianity reached these shores, Culbone was a centre for pagan worship … a community of monks was established in the fifth century …

Oak woodland in Exmoor
The church is tiny but still operates today – it seats about 30 people.  Walkers can easily get to the church, but drivers must park nearby and walk through the fairy tale tunnels of woodland – oak, walnut, whitebeam and rowan … with the sunlight dappling through, the sea glinting in the distance …

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

… evoking Coleridge’s Kubla Khan – written in the area – where he was rudely interrupted by a “Person from Porlock” … perhaps his doctor with more opium … who knows … so the poem remained unfinished … and the tale one of fiction …

Red Deer on Porlock Hill

… but the stunning landscape of Exmoor exudes literary talent … artists, poets, authors … while they all expounded the virtues of this amazing coastline spreading their legacy far and wide … bringing us back to that moorland of Romance, Myth, Murder and fairy tales.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories