Last Updated on September 25, 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
Nestled in a bay on the fringes of Exmoor National Park, Porlock Weir is a beautiful fishing village with centuries worth of history and surrounded by the sea. Here’s a guide to Porlock Weir, its history, and the fishing community’s beautiful surrounds!
About Porlock Weir
District: West Somerset
Region: South West England
OS Grid Ref: SS863479
Location of Porlock Weir
Porlock Weir is a picturesque hamlet situated some two miles west of the inland village of Porlock and set within the stunning Exmoor National Park, the least visited National Park in England. It’s part of the Porlock Manor Estate and can be found in West Somerset on the Bristol Channel.
It is important to note that Porlock and Porlock Weir (as their names denote) have been inextricably linked throughout history. Porlock means place of the port and Porlock Weir has probably always been its harbour. Weir, in this case, pertains to the stakes and traps that were sited along the shore to catch fish.
On a fine day, it’s possible to see the Welsh Coastline. The best views of the coastline are, in fact, to be found high up on Exmoor itself just before you make the steep descent down Porlock Hill.
Porlock Weir is just 18.3 m above sea level and consequently is at constant risk of flooding during stormy weather. Most of the hamlet is grouped around a small harbour and a few cottages are built virtually on the beach. These three cottages are accustomed to the sea rising up through the floor and the Bottom Ship Inn (photo below) dispensed with carpets years ago to make cleaning up after storms a simpler process!
History of Porlock Weir
One of the most unusual things that can be seen at low tide is the remains of an ancient forest that, millennia ago, lay some five miles inland. During the 19th century a number of worked flints were found in this submerged forest dating from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age) periods showing that the area was inhabited from at least 2200BC and probably much earlier.
Porlock Bay as seen from Porlock Weir
Porlock and Porlock Weir have been intertwined throughout history. Once known as Portloca, Porlock has been recorded since the 10th Century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (a collection of historical records written in Old English) mention that Harold Godwinson and his brother sailed from Ireland with nine ships and landed along the coast.
They may well have landed at Porlock Bay in 1052, having the intention of raiding the local area. This same Harold went on to become King Harold in 1066. The unfortunate man that, as children, we all learn at school was shot through the eye with an arrow!
Porlock Weir Harbour
It’s not known exactly when a formal harbour was constructed at Porlock Weir but the Rolls of the Bailiff for the manor of Brendon mention the ‘making of the Weir of Porlock’ in 1427. These weirs were used to trap fish, such as pollock, bass, sprats and salmon, along the shoreline. Fishing was an important industry for all coastal areas at this time and Porlock Bay was no exception. The fish was sent as far afield as Exeter.
By the 17th century, smuggling had become so widespread along the Somerset coastline that the Surveyor-General of Customs for King Charles II visited the county including the harbour at Porlock Weir. The small ports were notorious as hubs for smuggling goods and often with the blessing of the local law enforcers.
Why collect taxes for the crown when you could receive a portion of it for yourself?! The West Country was so far removed from the corridors of power and most probably received little or no benefit from the taxes accrued.
There’s no definitive date as to when the present day harbour was constructed. However, it’s thought to date back to the early to mid 19th century. It’s at this point in time that Porlock Weir was perhaps at its busiest.
Fishing remained important, particularly that of herring; and local timber from Embelle and Culbone Woods was exported to the South Wales coal mines for pit props. Coal, from those very mines, and limestone were imported from Wales to Somerset.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, oyster farming became a significant industry. The oysters were dredged from Porlock Bay and then held in weirs known as ‘perches’ around the Porlock Weir area before they were sent off to market.
This industry came to an abrupt end in the 1890’s. Allegedly, a fleet of dredgers from a rival area stripped the oyster beds clean. The good news is that since 2012 a company called Porlock Bay Oysters has started to reintroduce oysters. Today, the harbour is mainly used by yachts and other leisure boats.
Things to do nearby:
Culbone Church – Just 11m in length, this tiny little chapel sits just a dozen or so congregation and is often said to be the smallest church in England.
South West Coast Path – The Coastal Path is the longest National Trail England has to offer, stretching over 600 miles. One of the best things to do near Porlock Weir is simply to hike onto the moors an admire the stunning views from Bossington Hill.
Doone Valley – This pretty and secluded destination is an absolute must-see for anyone who has read/seen R D Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.
Selworthy – Pretty and filled with small thatched cottages, this villlage is located within the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate. (Pictured below)
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