Section three - Wheddon Cross to Porlock Village or Porlock Weir - The Coleridge Way
9 miles Moderate Grade with Strenuous options on Dunkery Beacon then a further 2 miles easy grade walking for those continuing to Porlock Weir - what these grades mean
Now lock horns with Exmoor National Park proper on the slopes of its highest point at Dunkery Beacon. Today the Coleridge Way throws everything at you. The climb to the moor is nothing to be rushed. On “Toms Path” you scramble through increasingly deep and steep sided ancient forest, breaking out here and there into brief sub moorland hanging valleys that soar upwards to the heather clad slopes ahead.
A medieval forest track plunges you into Mansley Combe and the River Avil valley, now well beyond the last habitation with the forest becoming increasing wild. Crisscrossed by crashing moorland streams that you continue to ford, the path then makes a steep ascent, breaking out onto Exmoor proper at Span Gate - a breath-taking exit where the whole world suddenly seems to open up around you.
Those keen to scale the heights of the mighty Dunkery Beacon can divert here up the expansive slopes to outstanding views. At 1,705 feet (520 m), Dunkery is the highest point in the whole of Somerset, and at the top you can rest to take in the 360 degree panorama on the huge stone cairn that also marks the site of a Bronze Age Cemetery. On the way back down watch out for large herds of red deer and you are also bound to meet up with the tiny Exmoor Ponies that roam free here.
The less exuberant walkers head off instead around the flanks of the peak on The Coleridge Way which follows an exhilarating path over the open moor, through a purple heather carpet broken up with bright yellow gorse, forests of bracken and wide views now over the Vale of Porlock to the sea.
A steep descent and climb follows through the silent valley at Hanny Coombe, before you drop down through the ancient walled woodlands of Brockwell. You now follow the northern slopes of the heath on the fairly level Dunster Path, with the moor on the left, heather stretching to the heavens and on your right the ground dropping away into the pastures of the Porlock Valley and rippling waters of the bay beyond.
Little villages and stately churches appear far below on one side whilst on the other only the chance of a lonely stag and the call of a curlew break a glorious silence. Eventually you reach a moorland road at Webbers Cross and any sadness at leaving the moor is tempered by the start of a quick and invigorating descent through a woodland trail enriched by a wooden sculpture trail and ornate stone seats – the sign that this point is as near as the casual walker gets to Dunkerry.
The descent now is nothing short of thrilling as you hurtle down the Coleridge Way from the moor, along some glorious forest paths with oaks parting to reveal the deep forested valley and ridge above Horner Water, home to an impressive 14 of the 16 UK bat species.
The final drop is a steep bridleway fringed with deer fences ...known locally as the 'Judges Ride' and you suddenly emerge into the tranquillity of a lowland woodland village at Horner, with its tea shop, water mill and medieval Packhorse bridge known hereabouts as the 'Hacketty Bridge'.
Ending today with a sense of serenity The Coleridge Way now tracks the onward rushing Horner Water River as it heads for the coast. A final descent brings the pretty thatched cottages of Porlock to greet you and you slip through The Drang and other medieval back paths past the fine Porlock Church to finish at The Porlock Visitor Centre.
Here at the outdoor art installation, Coleridge’s "person from Porlock" emerges from out of the garden wall, interrupting your walk, just as the original intruder from Porlock did at Coleridge’s Home, resulting in his lost train of thought and the sudden unfinished end to Kubla Khan.
Those walking on the full route to Lynmouth will often prefer to continue for two miles onto the coast at Porlock Weir. Here you get to stay by the sea, which is always a bonus, and this cuts the mileage down tomorrow. It’s an enchanting run through the deep forests and coombes (hanging valleys) around West Porlock, and those who love gardens can fit in a quick visit to Greencombe Gardens which sits right on the path just outside of Porlock. Emerging from the woodland around 1/2 mile before the coast, the full vista of Porlock Bay lies before you, with its immense shingle ridge holding back the waves from the flat marshes. At the end of the ridge, you reach the timeless little harbour of Porlock Weir and the end of a day that, for those that climbed Dunkerry Beacon, saw you walk from the highest to the lowest points of Exmoor National Park in the space of one unforgettable afternoon.