Village Life: Coleridge, conservation and the Quantocks
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This month Andrea Cowan takes a walk through Nether Stowey, described as the Gateway to the Quantocks and full of character
What better place to start than at the remains of an 11th century motte and bailey castle, situated just above the village. The view is spectacular, taking in Wales, Glastonbury Tor and including a bird’s eye view of Nether Stowey.
It is then just a walk down Castle Street, past the old school which now houses the library, to the heart of the village marked with a clock tower. This was where weekly markets were originally held, dating back to 1302, and where the village stock and lock-up stood. Two other principle village roads, Lime Street and St Mary Street, also meet at this junction, forming a conservation area.
The village is thriving with shops, tea room, post office and three pubs: The Ancient Mariner, The Rose & Crown and The George Inn (currently under renovation).
There is a range of architecture in the old village with some buildings, numbers 30-34 Castle Street, said to be of early medieval origins.
Nether Stowey has an interesting history, as much for its notable residents as its buildings. Eighteenth century Thomas Poole is a prime example: a self-educated tanner, Tom was a philanthropist, using his wealth to improve the lives of those in the area. This included opening the school, the second free school in the country, and setting up the Nether Stowey Women’s Friendly Society, to help the women of the village.
He was also a benefactor of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, encouraging the struggling poet to move from Bristol to live in the village. One of the main tourist attractions is Coleridge Cottage in Lime Street where Samuel lived from 1797 to 1800. It is now owned by the National Trust.
During his three years in Nether Stowey Coleridge wrote his most important works including ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Kubla Khan‘. His reason for moving here was to embrace a more rustic life, and he would regularly walk the hills for inspiration with his great friend, William Wordsworth.
The cottage is also the starting point of the Coleridge Way, a walking trail stretching 51 miles across the Quantocks, onto Exmoor and finishing at Lynmouth Harbour. Nether Stowey has welcomed walkers for hundreds of years, and last year received the official ‘Walkers are Welcome’ accreditation. This coincides with ‘Stowey Walking’, a scheme set up by local residents and business owners from the village and neighbouring Over Stowey to promote walking in and around the area.
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