Thursday, 19 August 2021

Dunster Castle and town

The Gatehouse

On our way home from Lynton we decided to stop off at Dunster Castle, near Minehead. We had passed by the entrance several times in the past as we returned home from visits to North Devon, but there never seemed to be the right moment to stop.

The first castle on the site was built - of wood - just after the Norman Conquest by the De Mohun family. According to the Dunster website,  the De Mohuns sold the castle to the Luttrell family in 1376 and they were responsible for most of what we see at Dunster today. They built the gatehouse in 1420, created a Jacobean mansion in 1617, defended and saved the castle during the English Civil War and updated the castle in the Victorian era. The Luttrells lived there for 600 years until 1976 when the property was gifted to the National Trust.

Nowadays visitors go through the massive Gatehouse and then reach the 13th century lower level gateway with its massive iron-bound oak doors.


You emerge at the top into a large grassy area with the facade of the house before you. George Luttrell commissioned Anthony Salvin to remodel Dunster Castle in 1868-72. Luttrell employed the prolific architect Anthony Salvin, to redesign the castle and create a comfortable Victorian family home. Salvin had worked on many other castles and country houses including Alnwick, Caernarfon and Windsor Castle. At Dunster he altered the building’s exterior, demolishing the chapel on the south front, building two new towers and adding battlements emphasising its medieval origins.

We went inside to have a look. The rooms were very Victorian and perhaps you could say were quite cosy. The most striking room by far housed a set of 17th century leather wall hangings of Antony and Cleopatra. They are believed to be the largest and most complete of their type in the world. We were certainly impressed.

Emerging into the area in front of the castle we were very taken by this delightful structure, Tenants Hall. It was built on the upper storeys of the Gatehouse in 1764.

We decided - perhaps wrongly - to give the celebrated 18th century watermill a miss and instead have a brief look at the village of Dunster. We started by walking down to the very attractive West St, with its pastel-painted houses.

From there we walked back to the imposing Priory church which mainly dates from the 15th century.

A little further on, on the left, was the Dunster Village (or Secret) Garden, a delightful walled area managed by local residents.  Above the garden looms the Conygar Tower. It was commissioned by Henry Luttrell and designed by Richard Phelps. It was built in 1775 and was designed to be about 18m high so that it can be seen from Dunster Castle on the hill opposite. It was just a folly: there is no evidence that it ever had floors or a roof.

A little further on we came to this unusual and interesting building. It looks to be half-timbered with a slate-hung facade. There seems to be no evidence that it was ever used by nuns.

Turning into the High Street we headed to the top to see the splendid Yarn Market which was built for the wool trade in the 12th century,

Conditions: greyish and a bit wet.

Rating: four stars. A very interesting and enjoyable stop off. We doubtless have spent more time exploring the the castle, the village and its environs.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Lynmouth and Watersmeet

The East Lyn River

Today Jim and Em are taking us on a walk to see Watersmeet. We walked down from Lynton to reach Lynmouth and our first sight on this trip of the East Lyn River. This was famously the location of the devastating 1952 flood which resulted in 32 lives lost. A substantial programme of remedial works  successfully prevented a repeat.

We passed the harbour with its delightful Rhenish tower (c 1860 by one General Rawdon), rebuilt after the 1952 flood. It is a pity the tide was out.

We continued along the right bank of the river and then cross to the left where we had a nice view of the church of St John the Baptist (1869, with later additions in 1908 and 1921).

Soon we saw this delightful creature climbing up the right bank ...

... while on the left we spotted a new horror: artificial hedge! It looked truly awful. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture.

Soon we left Lynton behind and crossed the rather lovely bridge to enter the woodland.
We followed a climbing path through the woods with the pretty river on our left. Quite soon we started to spot Grey Wagtails with their characteristic nodding (or perhaps I should say wagging) behaviour.

 As we got nearer to Watersmeet the river became more rock-strewn.

Watersmeet marks the joining of the East Lyn and Hoar Oak rivers. The house usually provides a cafe and loo, but sadly not today.
We headed back along the opposite - and rather quieter - bank, admiring another shapely bridge.
Further along, these trees stood out along the hillside ...

... and a little further on this fallen tree had been embellished by banging coins into the wood. I would love to know whose idea it was and what was its purpose.

We carried on back to the start. My arthritic knee was beginning to play up so we thought about taking the the funicular up to Lynton. When we got to the entry point we quickly realised that this wasn't a viable option as there was a long queue ahead of us. I gritted my teeth and plodded slowly up the hill.

Conditions: grey, but mild.

Map: OL9 (Exmoor).

Distance: about six miles in all, including the descent from and climb to our base in Lynton.

Rating: four stars. Delightful.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021



After our excellent walk around the Valley of Rocks, I decided to make a short blog of what we saw as we approached and then walked through Lynton. The first interesting feature was the Funicular Railyway which connects Lynton (high above the sea) with Lynmouth (at sea level). The funicular is interesting for being the only water-powered one in the world. The left hand picture shows one carriage coming down from Lynton, while the right hand picture shows the specific point where the two carriages cross.

We continued along the path and enjoyed this lovely view down to Lynmouth. It does illustrate however Lynmouth's main weakness: the lack of a sandy beach.

We emerged opposite the Church of St Mary. The nave south wall dates from 1741, but everything else is 19th century.

A right turn led us past the imposing main entrance to the Valley of Rocks Hotel. The rest was less interesting.

We walked along Lee Road to soon reach the rather splendid Town Hall of 1898-1900. Pevsner is not so positive: "Small, but certainly an attempt at municipal architecture in a holiday spirit ... Utterly un-Devonian." I think that is rather harsh.

Further along was the interesting United Reformed Church in a rather similar style.

At the end of Lee Road was the Holy Saviour: a Roman Catholic church attached to a convent of the order of Poor Clares. It a rather austere building dating initially from 1910, but not completed until 1931. Pevsner describes it as "decently and honestly utilitarian", and I can't disagree.

While we were in Lynton we learned of a local controversy concerning the convent: much of the greenery on the hillside behind the convent had been cut down and just left. This was felt to be a poor job.

Conditions: grey

Distance: a mile.

Rating: three stars, but most enjoyable.

Lynton: The Valley of Rocks


                                                     The eastern end of the Valley of Rocks

We are in Lynton in North Devon visiting Ange's brother and family and no sooner have we had lunch than we are off to see the Valley of Rocks (not the Rocks).  We have been here before, in 2017, when we were walking the South West Coast Path from Hunter's Inn to Lynton.

We were surprised by how quickly we left the town and are now following a high rocky path which looks down on the western end of the Valley. Unexpectedly, the valley is home to a cricket ground. There is also a car park.


We continued along the high path and soon passed above Lee Abbey. The site was originally owned by the Cistercians at Forde Abbey and the Gothic Revival buildings were rebuilt or extended in Victorian times. In the 1920s it became a hotel, at which time the main extensions were built. During the Second World War it became a boys' school, and in 1945 was acquired by the Christian Fellowship. The site now offers retreats, group weekends and Christian family holidays



We gradually descended from the high path and reached the road that leads up to Lee Abbey. There was a fine view of the buildings, which look unchanged since our previous visit.

One we had passed the Abbey we entered the Valley of Rocks at ground level.

The official South West Coast Path is the path coming in from the left, but we took the narrow road instead which comes in from the right. Why?

Well it turns out that if you stand in the right place along the road and look in the right place in the high rocks opposite, you get an interesting view. It is the White Witch. You may want to click on the image to get a full-size version.

Look at the large square rock on the left. On its right side is a slanting rock. If you look at the gap between the two rocks a silhouette of a woman comes into view. So long as you are in the right place!

It remained only to continue along the Coastal Path to reach Lynton and then head through the town to where we are staying. This was surprisingly interesting and will shortly be the subject of a separate post.

Conditions: Warm and sunny.
Distance: about 4.5 miles.
Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).
Grading:  Easy.
Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Frome and Nunney Castle

                                                                    The Round Tower

Merv and I started our exploration of Frome at the Black Swan Arts Centre where we acquired a map. The Round Tower was built as a wool-drying stove in the 18th century and is a reminder of Frome's cloth industry. It is now the start of the town trail. Opposite, where the cattle market was, is the Market Hall, now a pub.

We crossed the bridge over the River Froom (1667) to reach the handsome Blue House. It was built as an almshouse around 1465 and rebuilt to include a school in 1724. The pupils wore blue uniforms which gave the building its name. It now houses flats for retired people. It was a shame that building works are underway.


We walked up the narrow Market Place and turned left into medieval Cheap St where an ancient leat (an open water course) channels water.

We then approached St John the Baptist's Church by following a path parallel to its wonderful Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross).

My photo of the church was taken from the rear, but one taken from the road (Bath St) would have been preferable. The first (saxon) church founded by St Aldhelm in 685AD and replaced by a Norman structure of the late C12 which was gradually extension until reaching the present footprint around 1420. It was largely rebuilt in the 19th century.

We walked down to Bath Street to see the very grand Rook Lane Congregational Chapel of 1707. It was so grand that many Chapel members found it offensive.

We returned past the church and turned right into Gentle Street, where two fine houses could be found on the right hand side: Argyll House of 1766 and 19th century Argyll Lodge.

We continued along the lane passing the massive former Lamb Brewery.

We turned right at the top passing Wesley Villas on the left, a complex of 19th century buildings, to reach the modest Town Hall.

Now left into Wine Street which led us to a delightful little street, Sheppards Barton, which was developed by the Sheppards to provide workshops and houses for cloth weavers. At the end of the street steps lead down into Catherine Hill.

This is the view downhill (back towards the Market Place).

We turned left and passed this curious lovers' post box and the Valentine Lamp, installed in 1993, inevitably on Valentines Day.

At the top end of Catherine St we turned right along Vallis Way which leads into the Trinity area. Our guide book explains that this area was one of the earliest developments of industrial housing in Europe. At the end of Trinity St we admired Trinity Church (1838). Only once I got home did I spot that the church contains stained glass windows designed by Burne-Jones and made by Morris and Co.

We turned right down Trinity St to pass the monumental Butler & Tanners Steam Printing Works.

We continued down hill via Trinity St, Castle St, Milk St and Cork St to return to the start of the walk.

To add extra spice to our walk we headed off to nearby Nunney, where a picturesque medieval castle, Nunney Castle, waited for us. It dates from the 1370 and its builder was Sir John de la Mare, a local knight who was beginning to enjoy royal favour. Much modernised in the late 16th century, the castle was besieged and damaged by the Parliamentarians in 1645, during the English Civil War.

This is the first view you get of the castle: you can deduce that it is rectangular with huge circular towers in each corner.

Once you get inside the enclosure it becomes clear that the Castle is surrounded by a moat. It  is pretty battered, but has a very impressive presence.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Rating: four stars.