Crabs and chips add charm to English seaside at its finest
Porlock Weir in west Somerset has captivated many a writer
IN childhood, my favourite seaside resort was Filey on the North Yorkshire coast, where we spent our summer holidays. It is a beautiful bay with golden sands and rock pools, and I sometimes pay nostalgic visits.
But Porlock Weir in west Somerset has in the second half of mylife become one of my best- loved places in the world. This year it has been magical. The sun has been shining, we have been walking and picnicking inland and enjoying the view across the Bristol Channel to the Welsh coast, which some days looks so near and so distinct that you could swim across, and at other times disappears from sight.
The tide rises and falls, and some visitors are content just to sit and watch it come and go.
We have the second highest tidal range in the world, second only to the Bay of Fundy in North America.
The River Severn pours down towards us, through the Bristol Channel towards the Atlantic, disturbing and mysteriously altering the colours of the sea. There are yachts and boats moored at the Weir, and fishermen in the bay. We can see tankers far away, and occasionally one of the old pleasure paddle-steamers, the Waverley or the Balmoral, which make the crossing to Swansea when the tide is right.
Porlock Weir is a fishing village on the edge of Exmoor and almost on the border with Devon. It is picturesque, with thatched cottages, an ancient pub called the Bottom Ship, and gardens that bloom almost too luxuriantly in the mild climate of the west. Flowers grow into shrubs, shrubs into trees. Fuchsia and escallonia, jasmine and agapanthus and euphorbia love it here.
In recent years, the wind has been blowing more fiercely from the north and the east, and last Easter was bitterly cold, but July and August have been glorious and the Weir has been full of visitors.
Children spend happy hours catching crabs. They sit on the bank high above the Weir, lower their lines into the water and the mud, pull up the crabs, put the crabs in a bucket, admire them, count them, and then at the end of the day put them back. One year a woman was said to be taking them home to cook and eat, but I can’t vouch
PICTURES: ALAMY for that. You can buy lines, bait and fishing nets in the little shop, along with ice-creams and an impressive selection of locally painted postcards.
You can now eat well here. As well as the pub, there is my favourite, The Cafe, where the slow food is excellent, although you can also get takeaway fish and chips. Millers at the Anchor, an 18th-century building with eccentric antique decor overlooking the harbour, does meals as well as coffee. There are other places for a bite or a drink, and craft shops where you can watch glass-blowing or buy textiles.
The swimming isn’t as good as it was at Filey. It’s a steep shingle beach, and getting in and out of the water is so painful that not many brave it, even when equipped with bathing shoes.
This year I got to the water’s edge in my swimsuit but didn’t dare venture further. I stayed on shore sitting on a stone to cheer on the only one of our party who made it into the water. She said it was warm, but she was the only person in there.
This coast, with its wooded hillsides and steep combes, is not only beautiful, it is full of literary associations.
Coleridge composed Kubla Khan at Ash Farm, up beyond the little church of Culbone, and Wordsworth, Southey and Shelley all walked the coast path.
I recently added a new writer to this distinguished list. Reading James Knowlson’s fine biography of Samuel Beckett, in preparation for a visit to the Happy Days International Beckett Festival at Enniskillen, I discovered that Beckett had brought his mother to Porlock Weir one summer on a tour of the West Country. They must have stayed at the Anchor. Howastonishing. Happy days. Margaret Drabble’s new novel, The Pure Gold Baby, will be published by Canongate in November. porlockweir.com visitbritain.com
Porlock Weir is a picturesque town overlooking the Bristol Channel, left; takeaway seafood is popular