Drama on the Quantock’s

The parish church of St Mary’s at Kilve, the first of three churches visited on this walk.

Cast your mind back to those few balmy days of late February which now seem a distant memory. It just so happened that I was down in the West Country which gave me the opportunity to walk another section of the Somerset Coast Path. Having started in Bristol a couple of years ago on my frequent visits to the southwest, I have been walking the coastline down towards Minehead and to date I had reached Kilve Pill which meant with just two more walks I would achieve my goal. During much of this time the newly opened coast path had been closed due to a rock fall at St Audries but according to the up to date website it had now re open.

I had two plans;- If the weather was dull and grey I could have walked from Watchet to Minehead along the coast then caught the bus back, or secondly if the weather was fine I could park up in Kilve and walk down to the coast to rejoin where I left off before Christmas at Kilve Pill and follow the coast to Watchet and return over the Quantock Hills making it a fairly long walk, but feasible on a fine winter’s day. As the weather was set fine, I chose the latter so what could go wrong? As we shall see, this walk didn’t go to plan.

Parking up at the Village Hall in Kilve I opted to take the field path running past East Wood down to the village church at the remains of Kilve Chantry. Here I followed the track down to the coast at Kilve Pill to pick up where I had got to on my last walk in the area late last year.
Setting out west on the coast I immediately came across two signs, one saying the path west was closed due to a rock fall which I took as being out of date information but secondly, metal signs stating that the coastal path was impassable a couple of hours either side of high tide at two locations;- firstly at St Audries Bay and secondly at Helwell Bay prior to Watchet, both places that I would be passing.

What a place for my morning break with just the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the warm February sunshine on your back.

I soon stopped where there were some seats for my morning break overlooking the coast with the sound of breaking waves. For now, I opted to press on west along the coastal path but it was soon obvious from the cliff top path that the tide was well up and still coming in.
I followed the coastal path west over Quantock’s Head but a half mile further west, it was obvious that the tide would be too high to stay with the coast as the sea was already up to the base of the cliffs looking west to the headland at Blue Ben. I would need to turn inland and do this coastal walk on another occasion and check the tide times prior on the next time that I intended doing this walk.

This is the point where I decided to leave the coast path. With the tide coming in my route ahead would have been blocked. The tide is already up to the base of the cliff at Blue Ben in the distance.

I now followed a concessionary path south and later crossed the A39 to join a minor lane up to a point where a cottage was being thatched. I chatted with the owner before pressing on to skirt the northern edge of the open access on the Quantocks. The path eventually led around to West Quantoxhead but ran just above the busy A39 and hence it was rather noisy. The path route also didn’t agree with my Ordnance Survey map despite having the latest Explorer edition of the map.
At West Quantoxhead I opted to divert down to take a look at the attractive church which despite the busy road nearby is set in a sunny fold of the Quantock Hills. I took a look inside this small Victorian church which is dedicated to St Ethelreda or St Audrey – take your pick.
Heading southwest I took the road into West Quantoxhead standing in for a fire engine racing to somewhere. In the village I turned left uphill on a minor lane. Nearing the car park at Staple Plain I discovered that not all was well as ahead of me the moorland was on fire.

A pause to visit the church at West Quantoxhead on this warm February day. An idyllic spot but is marred by the A39 which runs just behind the church.

Reaching the car park I stopped for an early lunch on a bench. My plan had been to get to the top of Beacon Hill before stopping for lunch. Over lunch I observed the smoke billowing up on the moor ahead of me. Going over Beacon Hill was certainly out of the question and a stiff breeze was fanning the smoke from the southeast. I pondered over lunch which way I needed to go. I could still get through to Bicknoller Post on the western side as that seemed the only route free of smoke then skirt around to the south of the moorland fire but if I was forced off the hill I would be on the ‘wrong’ side of the Quantocks to my car.

Leaving the car park at Staple Plain, more fire engines soon turned up. For now I kept an eye on the fire burning over to my left. Reaching Bicknoller Post I was now southwest of the fire which was burning on Longstone Hill. My only real option was descend through Sheppard’s Combe and later Hodder’s Combe. It was a lovely sunny afternoon as I descended through the peaceful valley in the warm February sunshine but I noted that the dead bracken was tinder dry but here I was out of the cool breeze blowing over the hill top. The place was deserted and it was a pleasant walk down through the woodlands. At the foot I briefly took a wrong turn and had to back track. I wanted to make a short diversion to visit the church at Holford. Much of the building today dates from the 16th century but there has been a church on this site for over a thousand years. I took a look inside before sitting in the peaceful churchyard for my afternoon break. Back in the village I took a side path which dropped down to a footbridge which spanned a stream in Holford Glen. Beyond, I joined the Coleridge Way briefly before taking a field path down to Pardlestone Lane which I followed down to Kilve and passing an activity centre on my left on the way.

Rounding off the day at the historic St Mary’s Church at Holford. I sat awhile in the churchyard in the warm February sunshine with only the sound of ravens in the trees.

The Coleridge Way is a fifty mile long recreational path way marked with a quill pen which runs from Nether Stowey in Somerset to Lynmouth in North Devon. The path runs through areas which have connection with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and passes through some attractive villages in deepest Somerset and well off the tourist trails so this may be worthy of walking when I get the time.
I had completed a good day’s walk in excellent weather but not the walk I had set out to do.