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Quantock Coastline: Kilve and East Quantoxhead

With the risk of French invasion now passed, you can spy out these Tudor villages and breezy cliffs without fearing arrest.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 250ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks, field paths, and grassy cliff top, 7 stiles

Landscape Tudor villages, farmland and coastline

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 140 Quantock Hills & Bridgwater

Start/finish ST 144442

Dog friendliness Extra care along cliff top, unstable near edge

Parking Pay-and-display at sea end of Sea Lane

Public toilets At car park (closed October - February)

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1 From the car park head back along the lane to the ruined chantry. Turn into the churchyard through a lychgate. Such gates were built to shelter coffins and their bearers: this one is too small for its purpose, so must be a modern reconstruction. Pass to the left of the church, to a kissing gate.

2 A signposted track crosses a field to a gate with a stile; bear right to another gate with a stile and pass along the foot of East Wood. (At its far end, a stile allows wandering into the wood, from April to August only.) Ignoring the stile on the left, keep ahead to a field gate with a stile and a track crossing a stream.

3 The track bends left past gardens and ponds of East Quantoxhead to reach a tarred lane. Turn right, towards the Tudor Court House, but before its gateway bear left into a car park. Pass through to a tarred path beyond two kissing gates. In an open field this bears right, to St Mary's Church.

4 Return to the first kissing gate but don't go through, instead bearing right to a field gate, and crossing the field beyond to a lane. Turn right and, where the lane bends left, keep ahead into a green track. At its top, turn right at a 'Permissive path' noticeboard.

5 Follow field edges down to the cliff top, and turn right. A clifftop path leads to a stile before a sharp dip, with a ruined limekiln opposite. This was built around 1770 to process limestone shipped from Wales into lime for the fields and for mortar. Most of the rest of Somerset is limestone, but it was still easier to bring it by sea across the Bristol Channel.

6 Turn around the head of the dip, and back left to the cliff top. Here an iron ladder descends to the foreshore: you can see alternating layers of blue-grey lias (a type of limestone) and grey shale. Fossils can be found here, but be aware that the cliffs are unstable - hard hats are now standard wear for geologists. Alternatively, given a suitably trained dog and the right sort of spear, you could pursue the traditional sport of 'glatting' - hunting conger eels in the rock pools. Continue along the wide clifftop path until a tarred path bears off to the right, crossing the stream studied by Coleridge, into the car park.

With two Tudor villages, industrial remnants up to only a century ago, and a lucid display of geology underfoot, this is a walk to stimulate the brain as well as the lungs.

The chantry chapel at Kilve is built in the local grey shale, but with the arches picked out in orange Quantock sandstone. The sandstone is easier to work into shaped blocks, but has been eroded by the sea winds. This chantry housed five priests whose sole function was the saying of prayers and masses for the deceased Simon de Furneaux and his family. The doctrine was that the rich could pay their way out of purgatory by setting up such chapels. This created employment for priests, but contributed to the general loss of credibility of the Catholic faith. In fact Kilve Chantry closed even before the Reformation, when a Lollard dissenter married into the family in the late-14th century. Later it was used by smugglers for storing brandy and burnt down around 1850 in an alcohol fire. Behind the ruins, the Chantry House has a pigeon loft still in use.

The old (possibly Saxon) preaching cross in Quantoxhead churchyard is a viewpoint for the Manor House. It also looks on to the back of Quantoxhead Farm, where the semi-circular wing is a horse-gang. This once housed a capstan where horses walked in circles to power, via an endless belt, farm machinery in the main building. The church itself has fossils incorporated into the walls, and Tudor-carved pew ends.

When Samual Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth walked here, their particular interest was in the Holford stream. Coleridge planned a poem in his deceptively simple 'conversational' style, tracing the stream from its birth high in Hodder Combe. However, the two poets had already aroused local suspicions by their comings and goings, and both had been enthusiastic supporters of the French Revolution in its early days. This was 1797: England was in the grip of invasion fever; and Kilve has a small but usable harbour. Accordingly, a government agent called James Walsh was sent to investigate. He quizzed a footman about their dinner-time conversation: it was reported as being quite impossible to understand, which was, of course, most suspicious. The agent followed them to Kilve. Lurking behind a gorse bush, he heard them discussing 'Spy Nosy' and thought he'd been found out. They had actually been talking about the German philosopher, Spinoza? Coleridge never got round to writing his poem The Brook - but Wordsworth did. Twenty years later, he adopted his friend's plan into a sequence of sonnets on Lakeland's River Duddon.

While you're there

The magnificent Cleeve Abbey at Washford is relatively little-known as it's only recently been made safe for visitors, under the care of English Heritage. The vaulted stone roof of the chapter house and the carved wooden one of the refectory are particularly impressive.

What to look for

On the approach to East Quantoxhead church look out for a fine ammonite, 12 inches (30cm) across, built into the wall on the right; it's 25yds (23m) before the kissing gate, and marked by a splash of yellow lichen. At the very end of the walk, as you come into the car park, on the left is the brick chimney of a short-lived Oil Retort House (for oil distillation) from 1924; there is oil in the grey shale, but it's less trouble to get it from Texas.

Where to eat and drink

Just ¼ mile (400m) into the walk are the tempting Chantry Tea Gardens. The nearest alcohol available is at the Hood Arms, a 17th-century coaching inn at Kilve - it welcomes walkers but not their muddy boots.

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