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Ancient Mariner country Pt1
by Gavin Atkin gmatkin@clara.net

Where Exmoor meets the southern side of the Bristol Channel, you'll find a dramatic row of wooded cliffs; Minehead and Porlock Weir are two tiny ports that seem to cling there, almost ready to be washed away. Minehead is a small holiday town, and a stone pier protects its harbour, from which a number of pleasure boats run sightseeing and fishing cruises. Porlock Weir, however, is little more than a hamlet of fishermen's cottages, pub and a small hotel. The harbour is behind a gate and a bank of cobbles, the channel has to be dug out regularly, and is marked by a few withies - saplings or slender branches stuck into the beach.

Across the Channel, industrial South Wales is clearly visible on most days and nights, while a few miles up the Channel on the Southern side is Watchet, the claimed site of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, and home to the Watchet flattie and a nice little museum run by the Friends of the Flatner.  (The little double-ended sailing and rowing dories peoople used to use on this coast were called flatties or flatners depending on where you were.)

The Channel itself runs far up past Bristol towards Gloucestershire, and is famous for its fast currents. While it is not thought to be very attractive yachting territory, a local marina is being built, and there is a long maritime tradition here, including fishing, and trade with the up- and down-channel ports, and with South Wales.

Minehead harbour

The harbour at Minehead faces East, away from the prevailing wind. However, it dries out each tide, and I would not say that it was exactly sheltered.
A boxy little cutter-rigged steel yacht lies on the sand in Minehead harbour.
The pier protecting the harbour is garnished with cannons left over from the Napoleonic Wars. The children squinting against the sun are mine.
A clutch of Minehead's pleasure boats await the tide, and their fishing passengers.
A rather handsome wooden-built canoe-sterned pleasure boat pulled up on the stony beach for the winter.




This is my favourite regular in Minehead harbour - a gentleman's dayboat, with lots of beautiful brightwork, and bilge keels to enable it to sit on the harbour bottom.

A rather nice Yachting World Dayboat in the dinghy park at Minehead's tiny Sailing Club.



Porlock Weir





A neat little plastic yacht; the fishermen's cottages behind it are literally on the beach.

Here's a beautifully kept Dragon, complete with wooden spars.






This design has the name Maurice Griffiths written all over it. I would guess it was a Golden Hind.

This was new when I visited last; hopefully someone will restore this burdensome something or other, or maybe it will be used as a home. There are one or two hulks at Porlock that seem to be inhabited.

An attractive traditional wood-built pleasure boat under repair. There's a great little glassworks just behind it; watching the glassblowers 'ganging' together to make their jugs, glasses and vases is a lesson in the way human beings can cooperate - as is sailing.


There is relatively little shallow water in the South-West of England, and many of the traditional boats that belong to this region have fairly deep keels; here's one that has been on the slip for several years. I do hope someone will come and care for it soon.
This is quite possible a two-sheeter. But why has it been fitted with these awful sponsons?



Here's the answer - a perfectly round bottom. This boat has no form stability. If I found the owner, I could tell him all about Gregg Carlson's Hulls program for modelling hull forms and investigating their hydrostatics, but I'm far from certain he or she would be pleased...

This Jackdaw eating ice cream cones on the harbour wall is a local celebrity.

A selection of local tenders of unknown origin.


Making and drinking cider, often rough farm-made stuff, is what this area is most famous for. (That's hard cider to you over - the - ponders.) Torre farm, where this was taken, does some particularly nice stuff. The beard's mine; the girlfriend is her own.


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