Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Jewel in the Crown


When you come to live here in West Somerset, sooner or later you will be asked if you have seen North Hill; the jewel in the crown. The first time I saw it was when the girls and I had arranged to have our first day out together but I carelessly fractured my leg and had a full length plaster cast and didn’t want to budge. Margaret wasn’t taking no for an answer and I was piled in the back seat of the car (we were only three in those days) and shown this delightful place, where we had our first picnic.

Visitors get their first glimpse when they reach Halsway Hill on the A358 from Taunton. Very often it is bathed in sunlight when there is mist and rain elsewhere. To gain access to this scenic delight you turn off the Parade in Minehead at Blenheim Road and then turn left into Martlet road. Follow the signs to North Hill passing the War Memorial and turn left into St Michael’s road. Drive past the 15th century St Michael’s church with its famous Missal and continue up the hill. The road continues for four miles and abounds with footpaths and bridleways.

To the left is moorland – in summer a purple and gold patchwork of bell heather and western gorse; with vistas over Dunkery Beacon it is the perfect picnic place. On the right is the Bristol Channel with views of Wales - 14 miles distant - and on a clear day the Gower Coast. Along the crest of the hill is Selworthy Beacon, where the view is breathtaking and where ravens and peregrine falcons may be seen.

A large area of North Hill is known as Camp Hill because from 1890 to 1914 it was a summer training ground, first of the Old Volunteers and subsequently the Territorials.

In the early forties the road was metalled and from 1942 to 1945 the area was used as a tank training ground. After the war the National Trust was about to break up the road and allow the hill to return to its original moor land state but, thanks to the intervention of local councils this unique access was preserved and can be enjoyed by all, regardless of mobility.

Some years ago I was compiling an A to Z of West Somerset and met Harry Dootson one of the soldiers billeted on the hill. He had come down from Lancashire.

‘It was the most beautiful place I had seen. I thought I was in heaven.’

He was posted abroad but later returned to Minehead.

I saw many interesting and lovely places but none as beautiful as my first view of Minehead from North Hill. To ensure my residency I married a local girl.’

Selworthy Beacon is 1013’and footpaths lead onto Hurlstone Point down to the beach and the unspoilt village of Bossington. Around about this point is going to be my final resting place – all being well.

‘But what if you’re blown over to Wales?’ asked Margaret.

‘I shall just look back at the place where I was really happy.’

Summer evenings are special on the hill and favoured guests have the perfect digestif, being whisked to the end of the road and quaffing coffee and liqueurs whilst watching the sun slowly sinking into the sparkling sea.


R. Sherman said...

Beautiful photos. I thought England was always foggy and miserable. Apparently, I was wrong.


PI said...

Randall: you should see it today: grey murk!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I can understand why you want that to be your final resting place, Pat. It's beautiful. And the heather and gorse are just glorious. You're lucky to live in such gorgeous surroundings and it's obvious from your words how much it means to you.

PI said...

Sam: but not just yet:)

john.g. said...

Mum2, fabulous photos !!

Anonymous said...

sounds and looks like my type of place.


PI said...

Thanks John!

Kath said...

It sounds gorgeous, I would love to be able to see it when I visit that area next year (when I hopefully visit next year!)

moon said...

Oh wow, is all I can say...what an enchanting place..I hope some day I can walk those paths myself..thank you so much for sharing with us.

PI said...

Helen: it hasn't got mountains - otherwise perfect:)

Kath: I hope you do.

Moon: I'm so glad that we did a lot of travelling round the world whilst we could. But if you have to make do with your surroundings we can't grumble.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What a very beautiful area Pat....I hope you show us even more pictures....(Greedy, I know...lol). Your description of everything made it seem so magical and seeing the pictures, it is! I understand why you would eventually want this to be your resting place....
I'm curious how you picniced with that Cast on your leg...? That could not have been too comfy...! (lol)

PI said...

Naomi: you are right . the plaster cast was very uncomfortable. I seem to remember Margaret sitting me on a small collapsible seat and resting my leg on another whilst the girls sat on a rug. The next two fractures were only knee length casts but I've become much more careful and don't have them any more DV