Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s verse depicted albatross-haunted mariners and Mongol pleasure domes, but a key inspiration – other than opium – for him, and fellow Romantics Wordsworth and Southey, was more domestic if no less dramatic: the Exmoor landscape.
These three often wandered the paths of the Brendon Hills from Coleridge’s home in Nether Stowey, which today is the start of the 36-mile trail – marked with quill signs.
The final nine-mile stretch from Wheddon Cross, covered by this guide, traverses the moor’s highest hill to reach one of its most attractive villages, Porlock. Coleridge claimed that, as he was furiously scribbling the stanzas of Kubla Khan that had come to him in a dream, “a person on business from Porlock” arrived and detained him for an hour, so he could not remember the rest of the poem.
Take a romantic ramble
Head north-east from the Wheddon Cross crossroads and fork right at the war memorial, veering left on to Higher Park Lane. After 250m, turn left at the quill waymark – always follow the quills – signed to Dunkery Hill Gate and descend through the fields, the 414m-high Dunkery Beacon looming ahead of you.
Cross the A396 (taking great care) and walk down the driveway opposite; take the second bridleway to the right, then another right fork into the woods alongside Raleigh Manor, through rhododendrons and bamboo stands, and up steps on to Tom’s Path – listen for woodpeckers tapping down in the valley to your right.
Cross a road and emerge from the pinewood through a gate into a steeply sloping field, hopping over a gurgling stream in a narrow combe then veering right into Blagdon Wood.
Ascend to Dunkery
At the four-way fingerpost turn sharp right, signed for Dunkery, and delve steeply down to the valley floor; head left to follow the stream, crossing a couple of side streams to reach a ford, and a yellow quill signpost pointing to Spangate.
A stony path leads uphill to a gate and the moor, following the field boundary to your right. A few minutes of breathless huffing – this is a steep haul –brings you to the open shoulder of Dunkery: to your south across the valley lie neatly tiled fields, while ahead beckons wild grass, heather and gorse moorland.
Turn right, following the signposts to Brockwell, initially with field boundaries to your right, then cutting across the moor and down left into Hanny Combe, criss-crossed with sheep tracks, a hidden gully that feels hauntingly remote and Lorna-Doone-ish.
Through combe and copse
Rising on the other side, follow the fence to the right and watch for your turning, signed Mick’s Path, forking left – and for Exmoor ponies which graze these slopes. Dip into a magical grove of moss-clad silver birches, follow a winding dry stone wall.
Turn left at the sign to Webber’s Post and emerge on to the gorse-blanketed flanks of Luccombe Hill to sweeping views across pine plantations to Porlock and the Bristol Channel.
Wander the woods
Take a right turn downhill, again signed for Webber’s Post, crossing two roads and pausing at the car park to admire Dunkery Beacon rising to your left. Veer right through ancient Horner Wood, pine and holly stands dotted with carved wooden sculptures.
Turn left at the sign marked Horner, Judge’s Ride and descend to the road, where you head left past a distinctive old mill and an enticing tea garden to the cottages of Horner.
Bridging the centuries
Follow the road as it bends right then cross the lichen-mottled medieval packhorse bridge (locally named Hacketty Way Bridge) and turn right to follow Horner Water, rising up the hillside above the stream and along the edge of woodland towards Luckbarrow.
At the sign Porlock ¾-mile take the left fork, then fork right into the village, ending at the beautiful Dovery Manor Museum, where you can find out more about the area, and Coleridge and his cronies.
HOW TO GET THERE
Wheddon Cross is on the A396, near Dunster and the A39 that skirts the north of Exmoor. Public transport is limited, but the Moor Rover service offers pre-arranged transfers between points on the Coleridge Way. Book on 01643 709701 at least a day before travel.
FIND OUT MORE
Route notes and information.
Porlock Visitor Centre
West End, Porlock TA24 8QD
The Ship Inn
High Street, Porlock, TA24 8QD
Thatched inn dating from 1290 with great pub food. Coleridge reputedly ate here, and Southey composed a sonnet in the bar!
Wheddon Cross, TA24 7DU
Cosy, welcoming guesthouse in Exmoor’s highest village, with excellent food.
Dovery Manor Museum
Doverhay, Porlock, TA24 8QB
Compact but fascinating museum in a manor dating from 1450, with displays on the Romantic poets.
OS Explorer OL9
Grid Reference: SS 928 391