The first thing you notice when passing through Combe Martin for the first time is that its main street, strung out along a valley, seems to go on forever, wending its way alongside the River Umber. In fact, the street lays claim to being Britain’s longest village street, although that claim has been disputed. Probably the most striking building you will pass on the way down is an inn called the Pack O’ Cards. This inn, classed as a Grade II Ancient Monument, and reputedly built in 1690 by a local resident who was fond of a game of cards, was constructed to resemble a deck of cards, with four floors representing the suits, 13 doors on each floor and 13 fireplaces. The total number of panes of glass in the windows used to be equivalent to the quantity of numbered cards in a pack, but the window tax which was imposed for 156 years until 1851 put paid to that, since a lot of property owners blocked off some of their windows in an effort to cut down on tax. The house became an inn at some point in the early 19th century, and it still offers accommodation, meals and drinks to this day. At the bottom of the main street is a sand and shingle beach with rock pools, and from here the cliff path leads to Little Hangman and Great Hangman, with lovely views.
Combe Martin used to be a lead and silver mining centre, and some of the old mine workings are still visible. Experts believe this industry started in the 13th century, with the last mine closing in 1890. Due to the geology of the silver deposits, there were periods of boom and bust, and during the quiet times the village turned to hemp growing. Last year it was reported that archaeologists had uncovered the remains of a 12th century monastic industrial complex including a Hemp Mill and a Hemp Pool. The history of the silver mines and other aspects of village life are displayed in the Combe Martin Museum.
Map of the area.
|Lester Point and Newberry Beach. Photo by Pauline Eccles, via Wikimedia Commons|