"A Place To Avoid In The Summer Months" Minehead by johngayton

Minehead Travel Guide: 22 reviews and 63 photos

In winter, spring and autumn Minehead is a relaxed little Somerset seaside town with friendly locals, characterful pubs , a couple of cheap, but good, bookshops (and a WH Smith) and a clutch of reasonably-priced cafes and restaurants.

The tree-lined High Street has a mix of National and independent shops and services which makes the town especially useful when I'm working at Lynmouth and the open-topped Quantock motor services bus journey is a delight in its own right as it first follows the dramatic North Devon coastline before heading inland through the lush rolling hills of Exmoor.

The town is home to the West Somerset Railway, the longest "Heritage Railway" in the country and is also the Somerset start point for the Southwest Coastal Path which incidentally is the longest continuous footpath in the UK.

Then there's the harbour with its quay (home to my two favourite pubs) - there has been a port here since 1380 which has had its ups and downs over the years and is now in an entirely different location to the original.

The town's main draw though is its beach and its Butlins holiday camp which results in a major influx of visitors in the summer months. Unfortunately I'm a bit snobbish about certain visitors and whilst there are plenty of perfectly nice people its the amateur hour, skinhead, tatooed drunks loudly taking over the pubs that puts me off.

It is a pleasant beach though, reconstructed at considerable cost after being washed away by storms in 1990. It took until 2001 before it was officially reopened and required 320,000 tons of imported sand with 1.1 miles of new sea wall and four rock groynes to protect it.

I do love the harbour area, and not just for the two excellent pubs (The Quay and The Old ship Aground). The harbour's heyday was in the 16th and 17th centuries when in addition to the fishing (mostly herring) fleet it was a significant port trading with places as far afield as Virginia and the West Indies. Cargoes included local wool, linens, coal, salt, hides and livestock as well as a significant traffic in wines from France and Spain.

The Industrial Revolution took the wool trade to the factory areas around the ports of Liverpool and Bristol and in 1791 Minehead was devestated by fire. The harbour lost its trading position and it wasn't until the town began to develop as a seaside resort in the late Victorian era that its fortunes began to revive.

In 1901 the Luttrell family, who had been responsible for the original 15th century stone harbour, built a pier to serve visiting cruise ships and steamers with much of that trade being day-trippers from the industrial areas of South Wales. This continued until the Second World War when the pier was dismantled to allow wartime coastal defences a fuller field of fire.

The present-day harbour still has the occasional visit by the restored steamers The Waverley and Balmoral (both of whom also make occasional trips to my Island - Lundy) but is mostly used by smaller pleasure craft and a couple of day fishing boats.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Characterful Old Harbour And West Somerset Railway
  • Cons:Butlins and Amusement Arcades
  • In a nutshell:Give It A Wide Berth Midsummer
  • Last visit to Minehead: Jun 2011
  • Intro Updated May 14, 2012
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johngayton

“The slow lane often gets you there faster”

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