Crabs and chips add charm to English sea­side at its finest

Por­lock Weir in west Som­er­set has cap­ti­vated many a writer

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - MAR­GARET DRAB­BLE THE GUARDIAN

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. por­lock­ visitbri­

Por­lock Weir is a pic­turesque town over­look­ing the Bris­tol Chan­nel, left; take­away seafood is pop­u­lar

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