On the last day of our sojourn into Somerset and the beautiful Exmoor National Park, we had nothing concrete planned so we took a little drive. On our trip to the Exmoor Owl and Hawk centre we had seen signs for a little National Trust village, so we ventured back to take a look.
Just off the A39 and only a few miles outside of the bustling town of Minehead sits this tiny hamlet, picturesque and quiet. With far reaching views across valleys and hills it gives the feeling of complete remoteness despite its accessibility. A narrow single track road leads from the main arterial route and within a few meters you leave the busy road and noise behind. Winding your way upwards through farmland and woodland, the thatched cottages and cottage gardens lining the road it is a very pleasant little drive. There is very little parking as the roads are so incredibly narrow, however once you get to the top of the hill you come across a little whitewashed church, and providing its not Sunday, you are free to park here. When we pulled in it was relatively early in the day and the car park was empty, however by the time we returned just after lunch the car park was packed with people leaving their vehicles in none designated parking spaces. I would think that at peak times the whole getting to and from and parking malarkey becomes a bit of a feat and tempers may fly.
The village itself is mentioned in the doomsday book and was passed into National Trust hands in 1944 by Sir Richard Acland, after 200 years of family ownership. There is a little National Trust shop selling local artists works and a tea rooms. We did pop into the tea rooms on our way back to the car to get an ice-cream but it didn’t have a counter that we could see, so we left. Having researched a little more on the village for this blog post I now understand that it is award winning and therefore may have been worth more than just a nose in the door, but to be honest, we weren’t feeling it that day.
Having parked up at the church car park, we first headed for the church itself. Built in the 15th century and grade I listed, the buildings whitewashed front gives it a very distinctive look, and in the spring sunlight is positively shone. Seated in an elevated position, the views from the graveyard are far reaching across the valley to Dunkery Beacon. After twenty minutes worth of photos, general mooching and reading of headstones we set off back down the hill to see what we could find. Just to the left of the church there is a signposted footpath so we decided to take a look. A very pleasant walk through ancient woodland awaited us, after approximately half a miles walk we were presented with a number of options with signposted walks pointing left, right, up and down. We chose to follow the signs for Bury Castle, not sure if it was exactly what it was eluding to i.e. a castle, or one of the many British misnomers and was in fact just a place name. A rather challenging walk uphill had us a little out of breath, however the footpaths were so well managed and accessible you could easily do the walk in trainers, we did, although we did see a few dog walkers dressed in full walking gear and imagined huge neon lights above our heads with arrows pointing down, flashing ‘tourist’ as they looked at us and smiled benevolently. The walk, despite being a little challenging was in fact beautiful, a plethora of birdsong and one in particular, which I certainly had never heard before and would struggle to even guess what type of bird it came from, and plenty of curious and fat grey squirrels. There are apparently deer in these woods, however we didn’t see any, but with a slightly deaf (due to his many years working without ear protection) and just generally loud anyway (American!) husband I am sure if they were out there they disappeared many moments ago having had a half mile heads up that we were on the way.
Woodland gave way to heathland and we reached Bury Castle, or what remained of it, a couple of shaped mounds and ditches in the earth and a small description placard explaining what you are looking at, is all that you see. Bury Castle is in fact an early iron age fort and a scheduled ancient monument and owned by the National Trust, much like everything else in this area. It was rather windy up there and having stood, looking at a mound of grass, trying to enthuse about the ancient history under it, we wandered off following another footpath. The sun filtering through the trees was so pretty and sheltered from the wind by trees again it was pleasantly warm, we only came across one slightly boggy area but were able to negotiate it without too much trouble, or damage to my shiny white trainers. At the top of the hill we found the road again, which almost makes me feel a little crest-fallen, when you have walked for an hour uphill, to come across a long piece of shiny tarmac where you could have driven up, makes me feel a little cheated, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have driven it for two simple reasons. Firstly, there is always the joy of walking, the fresh air and the views and secondly, where is the sense of achievement in driving it, when you are capable of walking? however what I would say is that if you would find the walk too challenging for you then there are other options to see the views and the monuments in the area.
At the top of the hill sits a small stone built shelter and we grabbed some time in the sun out of the wind. The shelter is built from the same red stone as Dunster Castle and each side has a poem or a dedication carved into stone slabs. It is a pleasant point for a rest, sitting in the sun and out of the wind which whips around due to the exposed nature of the heathland on the top. A quick break and we headed back downhill through the woods and back to the village. We took a small wander around the picturesque thatched cottages and manicured village green before heading back to the car. As far as the village goes, there is little to ‘do’ here, it is worth going to see as a beautiful example of thatched cottages and quintessentially British village life, but there are a multitude of interesting walks in the area and stunning countryside, so for that reason alone I am glad we visited.