Minehead has all the trappings of a popular family resort, with a mile of sandy beach, amusements and a promenade, as well as a long-standing Butlins holiday camp (more recently elevated to ‘resort’ status). However, there are also more quaint parts of town to explore such as Quay Town dating from the 11th century. The harbour here was once busy with ships and there was a thriving trade with America. In 1901 a pier was built to accommodate the White Funnel steamers, but the pier had to be demolished during the Second World War in order to give better visibility for the gun emplacements stationed there. Another older part of town is Higher Town, built around the 14th century St Michael’s Church. Lower Town, where the main shopping centre is now, was largely destroyed by a major fire at the end of the 18th century, and had to be rebuilt.
One of the big attractions nowadays is the West SomersetRailway, which starts in Minehead and follows the coast for a while before turning inland towards Bishops Lydeard near Taunton. There are boat trips from the harbour in summer, including trips on the MV Balmoral, a survivor from the White Funnel line. Each year around May Day there is a festival which is similar to the better-known Obby Oss festival in Padstow. In Minehead’s version the Sailors’ Hobby Horse, decorated with ribbons, dances through the streets to the accompaniment of a drum. Traditionally the ritual was intended as a way of fending off marauding Vikings. Minehead’s main literary claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Arthur C Clarke, the science fiction writer.
Looking to the north-west of Minehead, the eye is drawn to a steep, wooded elevation. As well as being the first (or last) part of the South West Coast Path – a baptism of fire for those starting the path at this end, as they are carried up a steep incline towards Selworthy Beacon – this wooded mound marks the start of what is one of my favourite stretches of coast in Britain, a glorious roller coaster of tall dramatic cliffs and deep wooded valleys stretching from West Somerset along the North Devon coast - of which more anon.
For a list of events in Minehead, see here.
Map of the area.
|Minehead Harbour. Photo by Lewis Clarke, via Wikimedia Commons|