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Above the Severn Sea

From Porlock to Minehead along paths well-trodden by smugglers, coastguards and a famous poet.

Distance 7.8 miles (12.5km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,050ft (320m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Coast path, one steep, exposed, avoidable section, 1 stile

Landscape Moorland, grassland and wood, high above sea

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 9 Exmoor

SS 886467SS 972468

Dog friendliness Open land, dogs must be under control

Parking Pay-and-display all along Minehead seafront

Public toilets Porlock, Bossington, Minehead Harbour

Notes Buses 37 and 300 run year-round, frequent service in summer; timetables from tourist information centre

1 From Porlock church take the street signposted 'Museum' and turn left into Sparkhayes Lane until steps on the right lead into Bay Road. At its end, turn left into a hedged path. This leads through kissing gates into a hedged track. Turn right on a lane into the thatched village of Bossington.

2 Pass to the right of the car park to a footbridge. A track on the left runs by the river, then climbs on to open hill. After 300yds (274m) it passes a National Trust collecting cairn. Here note the path on the right climbing into Hurlstone Combe, before continuing ahead to the old coastguard viewpoint on Hurlstone Point.

3 The path ahead traverses a steep, exciting and atmospheric corner of the coastline. It should be avoided when slippery (after heavy rain) and in high winds: you may prefer to avoid it altogether. The alternative is to retrace your steps along the arrival path then fork left on to a slightly higher one. Above the NT cairn, turn on to the path up Hurlstone Combe. Adventurous souls will continue from the lookout over a stile. The narrow path contours around the headland into a shallow combe formed by landslips. Look out for a path turning sharply back to the right, to zig-zag up the combe side. The spur above is rocky, so the path continues just down to the right of the crest, to the signpost at the head of Hurlstone Combe. Turn uphill on a broad path, soon with the cairn of Selworthy Beacon ahead. In the dip before this, note where the coast path forks off to the left, but keep ahead to the top of Selworthy Beacon.

4 Return down the path for 80yds (73m) then fork right to rejoin the coast path. Follow its clear track just above enclosed pastures. Far out to sea you'll see the buildings of Bridgend in Wales. In the north east are the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Flat Holm is in Wales, Steep Holm in England: their names reflect their profiles.

5 As you pass above Grexy Combe, fork left on a sunken way between gorse bushes. This rises to a gate. Follow a coast path sign to keep on the same level for another ½ mile (800m), to a bench and signpost with a car park just above. Here turn steeply downhill, signposted 'Sea Front via Coastpath'. After 200yds (183m) a more pleasant path turns off to the right. This becomes a splendid, broad and gentle terrace path, through a steep oakwood. It eventually becomes a track, reaching tarmac on the edge of Minehead. The next bend brings a view ahead of the tent-like Butlin's Holiday Camp.

6 At a road junction turn sharp left into a tarred path that descends in zig-zags. Turn left down tarmac steps to the Quayside. Ahead, a pair of aluminium map-reading arms are the marker for the end or beginning of the rather longer coast path right round to Dorset.

The South West Coast Path, at 600-odd miles (970km), is Britain's longest National Trail. This was achieved by re-establishing the coastguard path as a continuous right of way, a process which took the best part of 30 years. The result is a surprisingly steep and windy walk. The route is thoroughly waymarked, as 'Coastpath' (oddly, signposted as a single word on the Somerset section).

During the 18th century, as a measure against smuggling, coastguards walked the coastal path, all night and in all weathers, one man for every quarter-mile (400m). Almost every officer and man in the Royal Navy must have taken part either in smuggling or in its prevention. The resulting skill in foul weather seamanship and coastal raiding certainly contributed to the Navy's success against Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Exmoor coast path was also a favourite of the poet Samual Taylor Coleridge while he was living at Nether Stowey. Three times he completed the 45 miles (72km) from the Quantocks to Lynton in a single day.

What to look for

South West Coast Path walkers: those with the sea on their left will be on the last steps of their long walk. They'll be recognisable by their large rucksacks and weatherworn appearance. Those coming the other way will have sparkling equipment, and an eager air. Fewer than half of them will actually reach Poole Harbour?

While you're there

Exmoor Falconry and Animal Farm is just off the walk at Bossington. It has cuddly rabbits, friendly ferrets and the chance to have an owl alight on your outstretched fist. It also offers full-day falconry outings on Exmoor.

Where to eat and drink

Beautifully placed at the corner of Minehead Harbour, the Old Ship Aground is pet-friendly and decorated with bits of real ships. The nearby Mother Leaky's Parlour café invites dogs to claim a free sausage, and also welcomes well-behaved owners.


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