Circular Walk from Dunster
another Greenlives Walk -

           OS Map of Dunster Walk                 Start of SWCP

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The walk lies just within the Exmoor National Park. Dunster is a mediaeval West Somerset village. Our track leaves from West Street, heading towards Dunster main village (but as it is a loop you can start at any point and return there)! Going East along West Street you pass a sign on the left to Grabbist Lodge. Look up to the hill above. Along this wooded ridge lies our steep and challenging path to Minehead. In the other direction, across the little river valley the much modified norman castle sits astride a steep tor, giving the village its name, 'the Dun on the Tor'.

Just before the traffic lights take the road on the left which goes behind Dunster's main shopping street, the ironstone parish church is to the right. Take the second road on the left, beyond the crisply modernised Victorian school building, the road climbing steadily past a cemetery and a clutch of immaculate allotments. The graveyard is also a Commonwealth War Cemetery, with just two First World War casualties. Turn left at a T-junction as the path begins to climb between more allotments and grave stones, go through a tall wooden gate into a wood.

Here you reach a choice of four paths, two signposted as bridleways. If you are sound of wind and limb do not hesitate but head directly up the steepest, narrowest of the paths, with scree and gravel skittering underfoot. This path climbs steeply through woods to the summit of Grabbist Hill, rewarding you on the climb with occasional glimpses, above the trees, of wide dramatic panoramas, clear from the summit, across to the Welsh coast and up the Severn Estuary. Roman invaders were broadly accepted by local tribes in the first century AD but you can see why the occupiers were anxious about the closeness of the more antagonistic Welsh tribes, so close across the water. The Romans built several small playing-card shaped fortlets (see aerial photo of one nearby)but the invasion never came. We could see two islands, Steep Holme and Flat Holme, visible through a summer haze, as were the two old nuclear power stations on the southern bank at Hinkley Point, soon (?) to be joined by a new one, if Chinese finance and French technology can be persuaded. To the South, across the valley of the Avill River, there is a long stretch of dense pine forest.

As you reach the gently rising path towards the summit of the ridge the views open up in all directions. Below on the coast Minehead is close by, its tiny harbour at the western end and a large Butlins holiday village at the other end of the beach, right next to the West Somerset Railway station. Steam engines take trains along the heritage railway line going east as far as Taunton. Looking west beyond Minehead you see the coastal ridge which the South West Coast Path follows as it begins the first few of its 1000 kilometre trail around Land's End to end at Poole Harbour in Dorset.

To the left (South) of our path the nearby pine forest across the valley is home to what are reckoned to be the tallest trees in England. Beyond the forest the bare hilltops of Exmoor rise in the middle distance, in August already covered with heather in bloom. These are the purple headed mountains mentioned in the creatonist Victorian hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. The hymns local author, Mrs. Alexander, rather exaggerated the height of the hills around here. (The previous verse of her hymn is even more challenging, she wrote of the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate, apparently God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate!)

The small path we are on joins a wider one, coming in from the left to follow, for around 3km, the ridge through heather and gorse, along what is a section of the Macmillan Way West Trail. At a junction of paths keep straight ahead with a stone wall alongside. Finally at another crossroads of paths turn right to follow a signpost 'restricted bridleway' to Minehead.

The route slips down a gentle wide track through mixed woodland. After about a km take the left fork and shortly after you come to an information board. Our path bears left and becomes a metalled road, leaving the National Park and heading down towards Minehead.

At Lower Hopcott you meet the A39 road; cross carefully and follow the small alley between houses. Turn right at the next residential road. Then very soon follow another alleyway to the left, past allotments. Turn right at Paganel Road and continue on, to turn left at Townsend Rd.

Continue to The Parade and turn right into the main shopping street (lots of eating opportunities here). Where the road meets the shoreline there is the marker at the start of the SWCP but to the right is the terminus of the West Somerset Railway. Steam trains run regularly in summer (about every hour or so) so you could take the train back to Dunster station, the first stop. (There is also a bus service to Dunster).

On leaving the train at Dunster station exit the car park and turn left onto a minor road towards the village. At the junction with Sea Lane turn left onto the Jubilee Riverside Walk which tracks beside the clear and fast flowing Avill River. Cross the stream and follow the bank around the bend to meet the main road, crossing it in an underpass. On the hill above is Conygar Tower an 18th century folly built by the Luttrell family (until recently owners of Dunster Castle, now National Trust).

Head uphill past the Exmoor National Park Information Centre (worth a visit) then into Dunster High Street and the iconic mediaeval Yarn Market, a reflection of the past importance of the wool trade to this area. You are back at the start of your walk, having travelled some 14km, only around 2km of the route on the train. And you have climbed (and descended) 1000 feet (over 300m).

Total distance walked 12.0km (7.5 miles) Ascent 310m Time 3 hours.

The North Downs Way is one of the official UK National Trails, running from Farnham to Dover, follows old routes and droveways. The total length is just over 245 kilometres (153 miles).

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Grabbist Hill

Dunster cemetry

South from Grabbist Hill

Giant toadstool

West Somerset heritage railway

Bridge over the River Avill

Dunster's Yarn Market