A Walk Around Dunster

When a friend from New Zealand visited us for a few days, we wanted to show her a scenic Somerset route that would showcase the best of the countryside near us. A few options were mulled over before we settled on a walk around Dunster.

Having just returned from a gastronomic exploration of Emilia Romagna in Italy, we were in desperate need of some exercise to counter an excess of Parmesan, prosciutto, and pasta. Tackling Dunster’s undulations seemed a good option.

Dunster Castle, Dunster, Somerset

This is a route that is a treat for the eyeballs right from the start. We climbed from the Medieval village’s car park to be rewarded with views of Dunster Castle (worth a half day of your time) perched on a hillock, the flowing skirt below it consisting of exotic gardens.
Then comes a trio of bridges, each one more interesting than the previous. The second, the Lovers’ Bridge lies within the castle’s grounds, but the path runs right beside it, close enough for a decent view. The third, Gallux Bridge, is the most interesting. It’s more of a stone walkway beside a deep ford. Once, carts would trundle across the River Avill here, bringing fleeces from Exmoor to sell in Dunster’s delightful Yarn Market.

Gallux Bridge, Dunster, Somerset

We were somewhat distracted from the lovely old bridges as we were caught up in a mass sheep breakout. Around a hundred of them decided to ‘escape’ from their field and make a bid for freedom along the narrow path skirting Dunster Castle. As we just happened to be at the back end of the rogue flock, it looked as though we were driving them. They caused utter havoc all the way to Gallux Bridge, where the woolly vandals broke down a gate and piled into another field, ironically adjacent to the one they escaped from.

With the tranquillity of the countryside restored, we climbed away from the great escapers, taking in views of the castle and village, the north Somerset coast from Minehead to Hinkley Point, the Bristol Channel, and Wales beyond. As well as panoramic views, there are often Exmoor ponies roaming this area, adding their shaggy chestnut coats to an already appealing vista.

Exmoor Ponies, Dunster, Somerset

Following a decent ascent, the path levelled out to cross moors where a 360-degree spin on your heels adds a great swathe of Exmoor to the already impressive scenery. Signs point to the intriguingly named Bat’s Castle, which conjures up visions of a Transylvanian-esque castle inhabited by vampire bats. Well, it does for me. In truth, it’s the site of an Iron Age hillfort. Despite the lack of blood-sucking bats, it’s a fabulous spot to take a break and soak up the views of forest, pasture lands, wild moors, and the coast.

A Walk Around Dunster - View from Bat's Castle, Dunster, Somerset

In Autumn, the next section of the route, leading to a descent through the forest, can be ablaze with colour – holly trees festooned with plump red berries in readiness for the onset of winter, the ground decorated with a variety of multi-coloured fungi such as Fairy Ring champignon, Brown Rollrim, Parasol mushroom, and Sulphur Tuft. However, there had been a drastic change since the last time we walked the path. There are plans to introduce a deer park and there is a lot of forestry work taking place. Work that requires large machinery to use the forest tracks for access. As a result, they are badly churned up. No, wait, that’s an understatement. Some sections were like wading through an ankle-deep sea of something you’d expect to find in a sewer. What had been an enchanting descent through the forest was now a yucky obstacle course. I know it’s necessary to break eggs to make an omelette but, for the time being at least, it is a mucky mess up there. Hopefully, once the machinery departs and the ground dries it will revert to its former glory. We’ll give it a few months before we return to find out.

Andy and tall trees, Dunster, Somerset

Thankfully, there was one more ‘attraction’ in store before we returned to Dunster, otherwise it would have been a disappointing finale to what was a great walk. Escaping the forestry work, we made a brief detour to the wonderfully named Nutcombe Bottom, where trees climb into the canopy to neck-wrenching heights. One of these lofty giants has the title of the tallest tree in Britain (over 60m at last measurement).

It is a magical stretch of woodland that exudes a calming influence, which was handy as I was still muttering away Muttley fashion at the wanton destruction of the path. After a Zen-like interlude that washed away black thoughts, we made our way back to Dunster to negate all our relatively hard work with a Cornish pasty, cheese and onion pie, and a sausage roll at the Watermill Tearoom.

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