Nestled along the South West Coast Path and within Exmoor National Park stand two magnificently preserved dead trees in Porlock Marsh. They have to be the most photographed trees in the whole of the National Park and are a must see when visiting this part of the county.Whether you have set off from Porlock Weir or Bossington, you will stumble across these incredible ornaments, a somewhat bizarre but at the same time mesmerising mark on this historical part of our Somerset coastline. The trees remind me of an ancient monument standing here in solidarity and serenity as if they were planted here on purpose, for me to photograph, though of course I know that they perished due to the unexpected arrival of seawater almost 30 years ago.

The marshland in which these preserved trees are located has changed over the years after a severe storm in 1996 called Storm Lili caused the breach of the shingle ridge between the sea and the original freshwater flood plain behind it; resulting in the catastrophic failure of one ecosystem whilst indirectly creating another. As the saltwater washed into the marshes and mixed with the freshwater flowing down from the Exmoor hills a salt marsh was created – a new habitat for rare coastal plants and wildlife to merit the area’s accreditation as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 2002.

There’s a lot of Somerset history in this area and as you walk along the coastpath it is easy to let your mind wander back to times of our ancestors. Once known as Portloca, Porlock has been on record since the 10th Century with the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle stating that the Saxon King Harold of 1066 and his brother voyaged from Ireland with nine ships and landed at Porlock Bay. They made quite the arrival by burning the town to the ground before then marching their way to London. Fast forward to the 17th century and the smuggling of contraband tobacco was rife along the Somerset coastline; becoming so widespread that the small ports such as Porlock Harbour, with its temporary discreet hiding places, were notoriously known for stripping Customs of a lot of revenue!

Great British Life: The pair of skeleton trees grace the shores of Porlock Marsh The pair of skeleton trees grace the shores of Porlock Marsh (Image: Daryl Baker)

Getting the shot

Back to today and I have wanted to capture the skeleton trees at Porlock Marsh for many years, but time and tide wait for no man, and that was certainly the case for me. However on this day, it so happened that I changed my location last minute due to the unpredictable weather elsewhere on Exmoor. I had pulled the car over, quickly checked the tide times on, and found that luck could finally be on my side for capturing the elusive skeleton trees!

The perfect conditions for the most sought-after reflection shot need the combination of a high tide with a low wind speed. But you do need to be careful and manage your time carefully; after all this particular part of the coast path is tidal.

If you’re after this shot you’ll need to work quickly, thinking about the filters you may want to use, and also the settings required for the best possible exposure time for this image. ( I used a tripod with a combination of a polariser and neutral density filters to achieve a slower exposure time, with my camera on settings ISO 100, aperture f11 and a shutter speed of 5 seconds) Though, if you are using a smartphone you could try using a lightweight tripod and the 'Slow Shutter Cam' app to achieve a similar result.


Car Parking: If approaching from Porlock Weir there is a pay & display car park TA24 8PB. If you start in Bossington you can park at the National Trust car park TA24 8HQ

Places to eat: There are several eateries in Porlock Weir including Porlock Bay Oysters, The Ship Inn and Locanda on the Weir. Head to the thatched cottage of Kitnors in Bossington for a cup of tea and piece of cake in the garden. (Check opening hours before you set out) : The Somerset coast is tidal, please check tide times.