Can there be a more soothing and relaxing scene than boats resting safely in harbour, wrapped around with a cloudless blue sky? I often see the ‘Brigadoon’ moored in the harbour at Porlock Weir and I wonder whether Porlock Weir inspired its name. Brigadoon is an enchanted, mythical village in the Scottish Highlands which remains unchanged and invisible to the outside world. However, one day every one hundred years Brigadoon became visible and could be visited by outsiders. Outsiders could only stay if they love one another enough to give up the outside world.
Porlock Weir, with its small, compact harbour, has an uncanny resemblance to Brigadoon. In an area reminiscent of Scotland, surrounded by forest and sea and accessed by small roads, it will be invisible to people rushing through the area. The casual visitor, looking at its seventeenth century cottages, its fifteenth century harbour and its appealing community may see it as an enchanted place. But, there is far more to it. Gazing gently at what, or who, is before us and allowing ourselves to be drawn in to the scene enriches and enlarges our very being. It also builds a thirst to discover more, so that we can see more. This is the difference between tourists and pilgrims: tourists go through a place, whereas pilgrims allow the place to go through them. Life is too short for us always to be pilgrims: life is too rich for us always to be tourists.
Gazing at Porlock Weir takes me to a long, vibrant history and its potential for the future. Porlock Weir is dominated by the sea. Roman legions and Viking ships carrying war and commerce have sailed past, negotiating the tricky current of Porlock Bay. Boats set out fishing for herring from here and traps were set for catching salmon and beds for breeding oysters. Harold Godwinson, who later became King of England and was defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, raided this stretch of coast.
During World War II, German submarines plied their way beneath these waters under the watchful eye of the military pillboxes whose remains are on the beach. Locals claim that submariners landed at Porlock Weir by night to replenish their fresh water tanks from Exmoor streams. Boats have crossed from here to Wales trading in timber and coal. It was in this harbour that in 1899 the Lynmouth life-boat Louisa was launched to rescue the crew of a ship in distress off nearby Hurlstone Point. The Louisa was carried overland for 15 miles because a severe gale prevented the life-boat’s launch in Lynmouth.
The Brigadoon, quietly standing to attention with other pleasure craft and bobbing in a gentle breeze, is the inheritor of a proud history. At the same time, it is a witness twenty-first century activities. While former fishing storage shacks are turned into shops and cafés, paddle boarders appear in the harbour from around the bay; surfers negotiate a challenging stretch of water when the waves begin to tower high and families catch fish and crabs from harbour and beach.
The sea and harbour have drawn people who have influenced wider society. Ada Lovelace, nineteenth century mathematician and computer pioneer had a home close by and would have to pass through Porlock Weir on her trips to London. Her heart, mind and soul would have been fed by the atmosphere here. Nineteenth century Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his famous poem ‘Kubla Khan’ after a dream in a nearby farmhouse. The sea, rivers and chasms in the poem would have been given shape by scenery local to where he walked and stayed.
Porlock Weir has been the well-spring of spiritual and cultural wealth. And so it continues.
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