Guest Post By Heather McCombie
We fell in love with Exmoor many years ago when we used to stay at the old farm at Greenaleigh Point, spending lazy days gazing at the ever changing patterns of the sea and sky. When our worst fears were realised and the farm was sold, we resigned ourselves to never finding anywhere else we could become quite so attached to. But we found Pilgrim Corner.
Pilgrim Corner is one of a number of quaint whitewashed, thatched cottages in the oldest and most charming part of Minehead, at the foot of Church Steps, and just a short walk from the track which leads to our beloved Greenaleigh. To one side is a tall sandstone building which used to be the town’s ‘poor house’, and Pilgrim Corner adjoins ‘The Old Sweet Shop’, a similarly pictureseque cottage which is also now a holiday home. Other cottages fronting on to Church Steps have evocative names like ‘Old Lantern’ and ‘Smugglers’ Cottage’, and the imposing tower of St Michael’s church looms above this historic little enclave, visible for miles around at night, when it is floodlit. The bell ringers practise on Friday evenings, and the sound of the bells drifting through the air as dusk falls amplifies the sense of returning to slower, simpler times.
The special appeal of the Greenaleigh cottage was the external space and stunning views across the Channel, but Pilgrim Corner in a sense has the best of both worlds, with its historic setting and a beautiful garden rising up at the back, but also an exceptionally attractive interior space – something which is very important to us as a family. For us the cottage is not somewhere just to have ‘a holiday’, but also a tranquil environment in which to get away from normal routines and, to an extent, carry on our normal lives and activities.
We have four grown up children who accompany us in various combinations (and we’ve had eight stays at Pilgrim Corner so far) so a good arrangement of the internal space is pretty important, together with good Wi-Fi and a bit of space to work if needed. Open plan living is not really for us – we like smaller, individual spaces so that people can do their own thing!
So what do we do when we stay at the cottage? There are so many beautiful walks just from the cottage – and it’s nice not to have to get the car out. The walk to Greenaleigh is the favourite, and there are a number of different paths which crisscross the hillside and end up there; two separate paths lead to Greenaleigh beach, and beyond the farmhouse the footpath continues to the ruins of the Burgundy Chapel. The South West Coast path continues upwards from the farm, soon giving spectacular views.
A walk down to Minehead Quay from the cottage is another favourite, particularly at night when the harbour lights flickering across the water make it look especially enchanting. Further afield, our favourite visit is to Cleeve Abbey, one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in the country. It is tucked away in Washford, well off the beaten track and therefore almost always very quiet and peaceful even in high summer. There are some well-preserved medieval wall paintings, and a rare tiled floor dating from the 14th Century.
A short distance beyond the Abbey is the Tor Cider Farm, which has an excellent café and shop, and a few farm animals in pens to entertain children (and adults!). Dunkery Beacon and Hurlestone Point are favourite outings, and atmospheric in all weathers – from spectacular views stretching for many miles across the sea, to ethereal mist and visibility of a few yards on an autumnal day. The heather seems always to be in full bloom – and there is usually a bracing wind. We often shop in Dunster for candles, presents for friends, and oats from Dunster Mill to take home, or in Porlock which has a gallery, craft shop and a PO doubling as an excellent ‘outdoor’ shop. We like the tranquillity of Saint Dubricius Church, and the sense of local history it evokes.
Some of the more energetic members of the family like to go for runs from the cottage up to Selworthy Beacon – but not me!
On winter holidays in cold weather it’s very enjoyable just to stay in the cottage, with the log burner blazing. The process of lighting the fire and tending it is a real pleasure in itself. I swear we get through a whole bag of logs daily during January visits! – which means frequent trips to the farm shop to replenish the log basket, and perhaps to pick up some treats too. The dining table in the rear lobby is big enough for two people to set up laptops, and for someone else to keep a jigsaw out. I am a calligrapher and always take practise to do, either here, looking out over the garden, or on the kitchen table. The lounge window seats are favourite spots for reading and watching the world go by at a very leisurely pace.
The cottage has a special charm in the winter when the days are short, and the glow from the lantern across the path casts a magical light which peeps through the shutters. After supper strolls up Church Steps in the crisp air are the perfect prelude to evenings by the fire. Some of the younger generation have been known to use the hot tub even in the middle of winter, and I’m told that the view of the stars from it on a clear night is magnificent!
In short, a stay at Pilgrim Corner is therapeutic in every way.
All photos courtesy of Heather McCombie. Not to be reproduced.