“What if you slept And what if In your sleep You dreamed And what if In your dream You went to heaven And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower And what if When you awoke You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Complete Poems
If I returned to England to live I would go back to Somerset. I lived there for eleven years and fell in love with Exmoor life, the spectacular coastline, country villages, traditions and folk tales. It is no wonder it attracted the Romantics, writers and poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. For me it is one of the most beautiful counties in the UK and often missed as visitors drive from London, down the M4 and M5 to reach Cornwall and Poldark country. Somerset is to the right and borders the county of Devon. Think of afternoon cream teas, scones jam and clotted cream, however Somerset is where the cider apples grow, and that they be proud of.
On the hill near Dunster Castle, situated close to Minehead, the writer Cecile Alexander was thought to have written the hymn All things Bright and Beautiful’ The words ‘The purple-headed mountain, The river running by, The sunset and the morning, That brightens up the sky” are thought to refer to Grabbist Hill.
I lived for a number of years in Minehead, The town proudly is the gateway to Exmoor. although often associated with having the largest Butlins holiday world situated on the edge of town. If you are a keen walker, Minehead is where the popular coastal path begins, 630miles stretching all the way to Poole in Dorset and Britains longest coastal path. A coastal town overlooking the Bristol channel, the Vikings came here. Imagine them scrambling up the North hill, up there, is the top of the world. Venture on through the purple heather and yellow gorse, you may see an Exmoor pony of even the legendary ‘Beast of Exmoor’
Nestled deep amongst woodland, on the edge of the Exmoor National Park, a thousand year old church has stood the test of time and remained a place where worshippers and tourists with intrigue have continuously trekked the trail through ancient woodland to Culbone. As you decend through the woodland and keep to the track, the smallest church in England comes into view. This magical place, Culbone church is only 35 feet long but has stood the test of time, it draws you close, it draws you near.
Without road or easy access, the magic of the ancient church, has still managed to entice people to make the journey over the centuries. The area , a spiritual haven although it´s history has not always been heavenly. Once used as a place to send undesirables, Culbone or Kitnor as the valley was originally called can give the visitor a sense of mystery and a few goose bumps. Go back to when seven welsh monks settled there in the year 430 AD. Since then it has been used for worship and as a burial ground. Culbone church is believed to be dedicated to Saint Bueno, who arrived from Wales in 600 AD,The last time I visited, there was a small wooden hut supplied with a kettle, tea and coffee to refresh weary walkers.
Locals will tell you stories of the Red family, buried in the graveyard and linking their tales to John Ridd of Blackmore’s book, Lorna Doone. Published in 1869. The church was the location used in the film, Lorna Doone for her marriage to John Ridd. The area is awash in legends and folklore
Once a leper colony you can still see the stone mullioned narrow window in the 12C walls where you can imagine poor unfortunate souls peering through. There were lepers living there for 78 years, with the last one dying in 1622. The church today runs weekly services and weddings and christenings are still conducted there. Unfortunately these have to be small gatherings as there is room for only 33 parishioners.
A friend of mine was married there and at the same time had her daughter christened. The marriage took place first and then the congregation turned around and passed the baby over their heads to face the stone font situated at the other end of the knave.
You can find Culbone on the outskirts of Porlock Weir. To reach the church, you will need to trek the two and a half kilometer path through woodland and will approach from high in the wood then descend into the valley, as you do so you will first see the top of the church through the trees, It is truly magical.
Visit Somerset https://www.visitsomerset.co.uk/