It was with much happiness myself, October and our Shih Tzu Ted headed south to Minehead and the beautiful scenery of Somerset and Devon. With family dotted throughout the West Country, it felt far too long since last visiting.
Growing up, I spent many a holiday in the area so looked forward to showing October and Ted the delights this part of the country has to offer. Minehead has always been dubbed ‘The Gateway to Exmoor’ and as such is the perfect base from which to explore the beauty of Somerset and Devon.
We set off from Cambridgeshire on Friday morning and, although the journey was long, the traffic was kind. En-route we stopped at Gloucester Services on the M5 which has an upmarket ‘farm shop’ feel offering high quality produce in an eco-friendly setting. If travelling up or down the M5, it’s well worth planning to stop here.
It was late-afternoon when we arrived in Minehead and headed along the busy streets to the sea-front and The Beach Hotel, conveniently having its own car park adjacent. This large Hotel commands a prominent position overlooking the sea and appears to be a hub for many local gatherings and activities. It was purchased in 2013 by the YMCA Somerset Coast Group with a view to restoring the heart of the community and today is committed to helping young people excel. Apprenticeships, training and support are offered to those within the local community with many going on to be full-time additions to the friendly team running the hotel. Doggy-friendly accommodation is located on the second floor and after checking in we were shown to a spacious room with large sash windows overlooking the sea.
After taking Ted for a walk along the promenade we sat down in the hotel’s ‘Snug’ for dinner. The food was very good with October enjoying superbly presented seared beef and myself a fantastic rabbit dish. Ted had a blanket laid out next to the table with a bowl of water and biscuit treats. After dessert we moved to a sofa by the fireplace to finish our bottle of Shiraz before heading to bed.
The next morning began with a fantastic cooked breakfast offering the perfect fuel for a day of exploring. From Minehead we headed west along the typically windy roads to our first destination - Porlock Weir. This picturesque coastal village is set around a working harbour which serves a small flotilla of fishing boats and yachts and is a great starting place for walks along the coast. It has a small range of shops and cafes, an attractive public house and was originally the port for the larger village of Porlock nearby. After taking in the lovely scenery, we jump back in the car and continue our journey towards Lynmouth. From Porlock there is either the main road or the scenic route. The latter is definitely the route to take as the narrow road winds up and down close to the coast through working farms and country estates. In fact, travelling on this stretch of road should be seen as a destination in itself rather than simply a means of getting somewhere else.
We then arrived, via a very steep descent, in Lynmouth - possibly my favourite place in this part of the world. Set on the northern edge of Exmoor, Lynmouth has a rock beach and is overlooked by Lynton, its twin village perched above. The two villages are linked by road but also, and much more impressively, a funicular railway. Opened in 1890, this magnificent feet of engineering is the world’s highest and steepest totally water-powered railway. Originally constructed to aid the movement of goods and workers that were otherwise faced with a cripplingly steep hill, these gravity-fed carriages also proved economically important when tourists arrived in Lynmouth, allowing both villages to flourish. Lynmouth is often referred to as Little Switzerland and, while meandering along its characterful streets, you can see why.
An easy walk from Lynton, and another must-see, is The Valley Of The Rocks. This spectacular valley runs parallel to the sea and boasts amazing rock formations and stunning views. As the sun was now setting, we decided the narrow cliff-top paths would become a little risky so we all piled into the car and headed back to Minehead.
We wandered around Minehead that evening and stopped at The Stones pub and restaurant for fantastic homemade pizza before returning to the hotel for another good night’s sleep.
The next morning we opened the curtains to blue skies and the sun rising over the sea so took Ted for a run along the beach. He loves running and the flat sand gives him the confidence to go for a good sprint!
After another great breakfast we headed back into Devon and to Watersmeet where the East Lyn river and Hoar Oak Water meet in a dramatic gorge surrounded by ancient woodlands. There are 2,000 acres of National Trust land here and it’s a haven for wildlife. There are walks with breath-taking views in all directions and a lovely tea-room to keep you going.
Heading back towards Minehead and into Somerset we stopped at Selworthy. This delightful village of picturesque thatched cottages and an historic white church is part of the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate of over 12,000 acres. The village green has a little gift shop on one side and the charming Periwinckle Tea Rooms opposite where we enjoyed a traditional cream-tea while Ted was curled up in front of the fire. There are several footpaths from the village up to Selworthy Beacon where Exmoor ponies graze and there are views over the sea to Wales in one direction and Dunkery Beacon and the heather moors in the other. This delightful village of picturesque thatched cottages is part of the National Trust’s huge Holnicote Estate, which takes in over 12,000 acres of Exmoor coast and countryside.
Our final day in the West Country began again with Ted running on the beach before we packed up the car and headed to the medieval village of Dunster. One of the most popular places on Exmoor for visitors, this picture-prefect village has over 200 listed buildings along its pretty streets and boasts an ancient castle, priory, dovecote, yarn market, inns, packhorse bridge and a mill. While here, we met up with some family at The Chapel Tea Room for scones and sandwiches before one last stroll around beautiful Dunster and heading home.
We absolutely loved our short break around Exmoor and will certainly be returning soon to explore further. The Beach offers exceptional value considering the quality of accommodation and anyone wanting to visit this stunning part of the country would be wise to base themselves at this doggy-friendly hotel.