Travel: UK walks - Happy hours and sea breezes

A blustery spring day is ideal for a walk in Kilve. By Emma Haughton
Click to follow
SOME WALKS are best done in summer, when the trees are in leaf and everything is green and verdant; others are just as charming in winter. This walk along Kilve beach in Somerset, set among the rolling Quantock Hills as they back into the Bristol Channel, is an all-season number. The coast along the English Channel is always bleak and windswept, so it doesn't much matter whether it's warm or cold; indeed, harsh weather adds an air of drama to the scenery.

Start from Kilve car-park, on the right off the main road opposite the antique shop. Head towards the Hood Arms pub, and then left down Sea Lane. The mile to the coast follows a stream and takes you through the back of the village and past the medieval St Mary's church; its chantry chapel was reputedly destroyed in the 19th century because it was being used to store smugglers' contraband. Just past the beach car-park you'll pass the Oil Retort House, a ruined monument to what proved to be an unprofitable method of oil extraction - in the 1920s it was loaded with crushed shale from the beach, which was then heated to release the oil.

Take the right footpath and you'll soon find yourself face-to- face with the South Wales coast and the Bristol Channel where, on a windy day, the slate-grey water heaves like boiling mud and looks like the very last place on earth you'd ever want to swim. The tall and flat islands to your right are Steep Holm and Flat Holm, uninhabited except by birds; inland to your right is Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

It's easy to get to Kilve beach, once frequented by Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Known for its fossils and rare rock formations, it is England's answer to Ireland's Giant's Causeway, a weird, architectural landscape with tiers of rhomboid rocks and fantastic cliff strata. It's difficult to imagine that this place evolved through geological accident - the segmented rocks, run through with lines of crystal and punctuated by limpets, look like the remnants of some long-forgotten language, while the whole area seems like an exercise in some fantastic, disjointed geometry.

Bearing left, make your way along the beach. Its slippery surfaces reward closer inspection. There are patches of curious deep brown sand the colour of cheap milk chocolate, little chunks of pretty rose-coloured quartz, and rocks imprinted with whole galaxies of ancient ammonites. Not to mention the great clumps of seaweed that explode with satisfying pops underfoot.

Keep on until you reach the metal steps bearing left back up the cliff, then take the path signposted to East Quantoxhead. There's a lovely stroll through the fields and woods up to this diminutive village, as pretty as its name suggests, with a duckpond and thatched cottages. In the 14th- century church you'll find tombs and monuments to the Luttrell family, which owns the great house ensuite to the village, as well as its far grander main residence, nearby Dunster Castle.

Continue up Frog Street for around half a mile. Take the footpath to the left past the last cottages and through the centre of the field. Looking across the fields, you can see clearly how the trees are carved and flattened by the prevailing wind. The footpath takes you over a number of stiles, until you meet the main road into Kilve. A few yards on your left is a stone track, which takes you right back into the car-park.

The walk is around three miles long and is covered by the Explorer 22 map (Quantock Hills). The Hood Inn in Kilve (01278 741210) offers traditional English food from pounds 5.95 upwards for a main course and pounds 2.75 for pudding

Comments