EXMOOR’S annual Walking Festival takes place next month under the banner of a new overall outdoor event in a bid to help encourage more walkers to the area.
It includes a series of organised events such as guided walks through forests, on the hills, over coastal paths and moorland and through picturesque rural villages.
Keen walker and hotelier, John Bradley, who co-owns the multi-award-winning Dunkery Beacon Country House Hotel on Exmoor with his wife Jane, said: “The walking festival is a great way for people to get to know some of West Somerset’s most glorious countryside by themselves or with friendly and knowledgeable guides.
“Bryan Cath, organiser of the walking festival, has now retired, so the Exmoor Walking Festival will not be taking place as it has during the previous 16 years.
"The plan this year is that all of May 2017 will be known as an Outdoor Festival month, where guided walks will be on offer, as well as many other outdoor activities.
“The guides for the walks are all local people who are passionate about this area and are able to give an insight into the countryside being walked through.
"You will be with like-minded walkers too, so there’s an opportunity to make friends and, as you have a guide with you, there’s no need to worry about getting lost.”
Included in the event are guided and non-guided walks inspired by the fictional, romantic heroine Lorna Doone.
‘Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor’ by English author Richard Doddridge Blackmore was first published in 1869 and is set in and around the East Lyn Valley.
John added: “There’s the chance to walk through windswept valley of Badgworthy Water, which is said to be the inspiration for Doone Valley, by the waterslide on the Lank Coombe brook, where the hero, John Ridd, is claimed to have fallen into the water while fishing, and on to Oare church where Lorna was shot on her wedding day by a spurned admirer.
“Other walks include the South West Coast Path passing Culbone church and climbing to the ‘Coleridge farms’ before returning through Worthy Woods.
“This part of the world is where the Romantic Movement poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in the late 1700s and wrote his finest works including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, The Nightingale and Cristabel.
“Visitors can retrace many of the walks he did and see the places he was inspired by.”
William Wordsworth also lived in the area with his sister Dorothy and they befriended Coleridge.
They became an inseparable threesome. C
oleridge was a huge intellect but a loner at heart.
He had a wife and baby son living at Nether Stowey but he sadly neglected them for weeks on end to go striding about the moor and hills with the Wordsworths.
“One walk we recommend to visitors passes through landscapes said to have inspired the imagery in Kubla Khan. It starts at Culbone church and ends at Porlock Weir.
This four-and-a-half-mile ramble from England’s smallest parish church (Explorer map OL9: OS Grid Reference SS864479) takes you through deepest, darkest Coleridge country.
“It covers woods, coombes and coastline to the medieval church at Culbone before wending through the hills around Ash Farm, where Coleridge is said to have written his famous poem.
"As you travel on, there are glimpses of the sea and you eventually finish at Porlock Weir.
“Coleridge, who we’ve named our award-winning restaurant after, was profoundly influenced by the scenery in the area and you can still visit his cottage in Nether Stowey, which has been preserved by the National Trust.
"There is also a statue commemorating the Ancient Mariner in the harbour town of Watchet.
“You could also take a stroll through the Holnicote Estate near us. Sir Thomas Acland, who was a politician in the 1800s, owned much of the land around Selworthy and the Holnicote Estate, which is now also owned by the National Trust and where we source our venison from for the hotel restaurant.
“Walks here can take in memorials and the picturesque village of Selworthy, which was restored by Sir Thomas, and some of the paths afford marvellous views across Porlock Bay, before returning through attractive mixed woodland.”
Dunkery Beacon Country House Hotel, which was recently named Editor’s Choice in the Rooms with a View and Hotels for Walking categories in the 2017 Good Hotel Guide, provides its guests with maps and advice for self-guided walking and can organise guided walks by prior arrangement.
“Our area is perfect for both seasoned and leisure walkers to explore. And there are many more wonderful walks in the area too including the South West Coast Path, which is just a 10-minute drive from us at Minehead, and the Macmillan Way from Castle Cary across the Quantocks, through to Barnstaple in Devon and linking to the coastal path.”
Last year there were more than 30 guided walks during the festival, which included well-known Exmoor spots such as Tarr Steps, Grabbist Hill and Dunster.
For more information about this year’s event, which comes under Visit Exmoor’s Outdoor Festival, prices and to book walks, visit www.exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk in May.
Each walk will be described by length, pace, time and difficulty and there is something for all ages and abilities.
Jane says: “Keen walkers wishing to take part in this much-loved event can stay with us and rest their weary legs in our comfortable beds and soak their sore feet in our bathrooms. Packed picnic lunches for walkers can be provided on request too.
“Our hotel is a wonderful base for walkers. We offer a drying room for equipment and clothing, and we think we’re pretty unique, as we provide luxury accommodation and award-winning, seasonal food, as well as help and advice regarding particular walks for those wishing to stay with us.”
To find out more, call Dunkery Beacon Country House on 01643 841 241 or visit www.dunkerybeaconaccommodation.co.uk.