Our Route Along The Coleridge Way

The 2015 tour broadly followed the route of The Coleridge Way. Starting in Nether Stowey on October 3rd and then passing through Halsway Manor, Holford, Bicknoller, East Quantoxhead, Sampford Brett, Stogumber, Wheddon Cross, Roadwater, Luxborough, Luccombe, Porlock, and Brendon before ending at Lynmouth Pavilion on October 18th.

Nether Stowey Village Hall and The Old Cider House

Nether Stowey is at the far eastern end of The Coleridge Way. It’s home to Coleridge Cottage (now exceptionally well looked after by The National Trust) the house which S.T.C. and Sara lived under the sponsorship of Thomas Poole.

In Nether Stowey I stayed with Lyn and Ian at The Old Cider House. Nether Stowey is a village that’s clearly very proud of its Coleridge heritage, and Lyn and Ian are a big part of that community. Before my tour began I joined Ian at his local pub, The Ancient Mariner, where I was invited to play a few songs at the launch of Ian’s new Coleridge Way companion guide.

The Old Cider House made a perfect base for the night. Breakfast in the morning was particularly special; as well as a perfectly cooked breakfast we were treated to a generous bowl of Furmity; the oat and rum based breakfast that Coleridge himself would have started his day with. Pictures of Coleridge and the local area adorn the walls, and there’s even a collection of poetry on the walls of one of the rooms written by guests that have been inspired by Coleridge and their own journey along the Coleridge Way.

Perhaps the only thing that The Old Cider House excels at more than promoting the heritage of the area is ensuring that guests with dogs are looked after. I’ve never before seen a bed and breakfast so dog friendly that the dogs are provided with locally sourced sausages at the end of breakfast.

The Village Hall in Nether Stowey was where the tour began. I’ve done a lot of rural touring, so playing village hall venues is nothing new to me. The hall hire cost for Nether Stowey was on the high side, at £85 for the evening it doesn’t break the bank - and does include it’s own alcohol license - but it is definitely high compared to many other local venues. The kitchen fridge was broken, and the tables were all on the large side… but what the hall slightly lacked in amenities it more than made up for with it’s stage.

When I’ve performed rural tours as a solo artist I’ve often chosen to perform from the floor rather than the stage, as it draws the audience into the intimacy of the occasion. However with Lukas, Steve and David all joining me on stage we were more than able to fill the well maintained and beautiful stage.

The community spirit in Nether Stowey is wonderful. Jan, my contact for the village hall booking, was wonderfully accommodating. Colin the postmaster sold a good number of tickets for the evening from the village shop, and we drew a crowd of 66 for the night. The locally published Quantock Messenger was also fantastic at spreading the word locally.

Finally, a huge thank you has to be passed along to Coleridge Cottage. They not only stayed open late so that concert goers could have a look around the cottage, but they extended a special ticket policy to allow visitors to the cottage to return later in the week if they wanted more time to look around. Several volunteers form the cottage attended the concert; including one dressed authentically as Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself.

Having David Milton on evenings like this - in his official town crier robes - added a really special feel the event.

Halsway Manor

Halsway Manor is a the national center for folk arts, and whilst it sits slightly off the official route of The Colerdige Way there was no way I was going to leave it off the list.

The evening doubled up as the official launch for the album, so the 80 capacity hall sold out very quickly. At £150 - and with the venue running the bar, so keeping the profits, rather than us - this was one of the less profitable evenings… though because of the full band we were able to charge a slightly higher ticket price.

This evening of the tour was one that I always knew would draw a crowd from further afield, and I spoke to audience members on the night that had come from Leicester, Bournemouth, Poole and Sheffield.

Halsway Manor is often used for residential courses and as a result it has quite a number of rooms for accommodation. The rooms are clean, lovely and warm, and very convenient. You really can’t fake the atmosphere of a place like Halsway Manor; the library is a fantastic resource for folk lovers too!

The cooked breakfast was yummy, and the staff are all absolutely wonderful. All very well trained and very attentive. I’ve stayed at Halsway several times now, and it’s never been anything other than a joy.

Sometimes it’s nice to have an event that’s a bit more of a splash, this was one of those. With Neil King from FATEA acting as MC and a full 8 piece band we also had Alan Cole photographing the evening, and representatives from Take Art, The National Trust and the Coleridge Companion guide set up stands in the foyer to add to the Coleridge themed evening.

As the icing on the cake The National Trust were even able to supply an actor dressed as Coleridge himself!

Holford & District Village Hall and Coombe House Hotel

Holford was an evening that perfectly sums up the joy of rural touring. It’s a small and sprawling village. We had very low expectations. At £60 this was perfectly priced. The kitchen was new, everything was really clean and the provided tables were a great size for cabaret seating. Mrs Pullen who dealt with the hire had taken over looking after the hall from her husband, and was really helpful at every step.

The local pub - the plough inn - only sold 4 tickets and we were expecting a complete flop… however we had 28 for the evening, including a number of people who were currently walking The Coleridge Way.

This was an audience with heart and gusto, and as the 3rd night of the tour was when we felt like we were really starting to hit our stride.

My accommodation for the evening was at Coombe House Hotel, a hotel far grander than I would ever expect to find in a small Somerset village. The room was beautifully decorated and the staff were delightful. My room featured a small and entirely unexplained little door in the wall. The kind that I expected to open and find filled with pixie treasure… unfortunately the resultant cupboard was empty - but I was assured that my suggestion to put a little sign saying “boo!” inside was being taken seriously :p

The hotel features a wide collection of stunning local artwork, including some pieces by Brian Gay and Liz McGrath that I was particular taken by.

Breakfast, as with everything else in the hotel, was beautifully presented.

An evening like this demonstrates that rural touring can easily pay the bills, with just 28 tickets sold this was one of the quieter nights of the tour, but add merchandise and bar profits and the night was still a great financial success.

Bicknoller Village Hall and Stilegate in West Quantoxhead

From the moment I picked up the phone to Bicknoller Village shop I knew that community spirit in the village was strong. Mr Thorpe went above and beyond to help sell tickets and spread the word. To the extent that he even hand deliver flyers to every house in the village!

Fairly early on we realized there was unfortunately a conflicting event in the village - a yearly village meal to support fundraising in the village. On any other tour we’d probably have reshuffled the evening, but because we were following the route of the Coleridge Way we couldn’t rearrange it.

The village shop sold 14 tickets, and we had 34 on the night (most of the others booking online).

The hall was £58 - perfectly priced - and gain the tables were perfect for cabaret style seating. The stage was good, and there was a really good sized green room for getting ready.

Bicknoller was a particularly nice evening as the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show played another track from the album and gave the tour - and Bicknoller - a good plug. We had the folk show playing as seating music, and murmurs of “who’d have ever thought Bicknoller would get a mention on the BBC!” were echoed around the room.

For this evening I stayed just outside Bicknoller at Stilegate in West Quantoxhead. Heidi at Stilegate was incredibly supportive. The facilities were incredible, it managed to be both secluded and homely in equal measures.

In fact, it was so nice that we decided to stay here for two nights! For both Bicknoller and East Quantoxhead.

Breakfast was wonderful, there was off street parking (not that there's much traffic in West Quantoxhead) and the views were absolutely to die for. I’d love to have been there at a slightly warmer time of year to really make the most of the patio opening onto the swimming pool - the idea of walking The Coleridge Way and then diving into a swimming pool on a hot summers day is more than a little bit appealing.

Heidi went above and beyond; here’s a good example of a very attentive B&B owner: on the first night we stayed we had a few glasses of wine from tumblers (just to finish the open bottles from the bar) while we unwound after getting back. That’s a fairly common event in B&B’s and hotels; drinking wine from tumblers, mugs or - in the worst scenarios - thin plastic cups.  On the second night, Heidi provided wine glasses! That is real attention to the needs of guests :)

We'd thoroughly recommend Stilegate if you're staying anywhere on this part of the walk.

East Quantoxhead Village Hall

East Quantoxhead is a stones through away from Bicknoller, and not technically on The Coleridge Way. But some the villagers had specifically asked if we could hold one of the concerts there - so we happily diverted slightly off the track. At £25 the hall was an absolute bargain; a wonderful and quirky old building in regular use - complete with bookshelves and a veer fridge that had recently been used to store some rather pungent cheese! The very leaky pipes in the bathroom could perhaps do with a bit of attention - but in community led halls like this such minor problems are just part of the character.

Tickets were sold by one of the villagers, and whilst we didn’t know what to expect when we set up the stage the evening ended up being completely sold out. The acoustics in the hall weren’t the finest that we had, but the atmosphere was great.

Again, we stayed with Heidi at Stilegate in West Quantoxhead for this one.

Sampford Brett Village Hall and The Old Rectory

Sampford Brett was the village where this whole project began. It’s the village where I live and The Coleridge Way literally runs past my front door. We’ve used the hall for rehearsals before, and the acoustics aren’t perfect… but we already knew this was a village with a strong community core.

I won’t lie; at £6 to hire for the evening this was by far the cheapest of the halls, although we did have to provide our own bar license.         

The evening was totally sold out, and the crowd were great.

We stayed at The Old Rectory Coach House… just because we could, and there was less laundry to do than there would have been if we’d gone the extra 150 metres home. The Old Rectory Coach House is the converted Coach House connected to The Old Rectory, and has two upstairs apartments. Fully self contained we had two bedrooms, a lounge and a kitchen for the night! Self catering meant there was no cooked breakfast, but with kitchen facilities we were able to cook our own.

Disclaimer: these holiday cottages are run by my in-laws - Jan and Phil - who also sold the tickets in the village and did a fantastic job.

The gardens (and the outdoor pool!) are particularly stunning, and everything is for walkers.

Despite the local nature of this gig there were still people in attendance from Yorkshire; and just to throw me off guard and make me panic about the quality of my research this was an evening where there was a member of Coleridge’s family in the audience!

Stogumber Village Hall and Wicke House

Stogumber was another venue that deviated ever so slightly off the route of The Coleridge Way. For the last few years Stogumber Festival has been a local highlight - with a combination of classical, jazz and folk music it’s drawn artists such as Cara Dillon and Steve Knightley in has headliners in recent years. I’ve also played there myself, and this year had a guest slot at the festival to promote the Coleridge tour.

Now, here’s the thing about rural touring: it relies on the villages getting behind the concert. On paper this was an easy night; the village has a strong core of music lovers and well attended concerts are a regular event.

Unfortunately, for whatever the reason, the village entirely failed to get behind this event. Which was a real shame. We drew a crowd of 21 on the night, with people coming as far as Nottingham, Oxford and Wells…. but there was almost no support from the village itself. The shop, which kindly offered to sell tickets, unfortunately lost them all and didn’t let me know - so of the four people from the village who did come two said they’d been unable to buy tickets when they’d tried. We’d expected about 50 for the evening, so this was one of the very few nights were numbers were a real disappointment.

At £70 the hall cost was on the high side but included a license… however the ambience of the evening was slightly marred by another room in the hall being used by the snooker club - not something we’d been told about in advance, and not something that worked very well. To top off the list of gripes we had to wait to be let into the hall, and this was the only occasion for the whole tour where we were let in late (which isn’t the kind of thing that helps when you’re already feeling a bit stressed!).

So, on to the positives:

Those that came had an amazing night; the sound was perhaps the best of all the nights.

Accommodation was provided by the wonderful Wick House, a lovely large warm room, and the best food we had over the 14 nights. A great big farm style cooked breakfast with black pudding and the perfect poached egg.

Wicke House are very used to walkers (hence the big breakfast!); particularly with Stogumber being so well situated for the Quantocks.  They run a service dropping and collecting people on walks so you don’t need to plan everything to be circular and can see more of the amazing countryside.

Moorland Hall at Wheddon Cross and Exmoor House

Wheddon Cross is a funny place. It’s essentially just a blind crossroad at the top of a hill with exposed and dramatic views on all sounds. It’s a very good central point for walking from.

At just £50 the hall was an absolute bargain, a big hall - but with a partition wall and acoustic paneling, a portable stage, and a lovely kitchen. All immaculately clean and well looked after.

We were a little worried when we arrived because the power went out… which we eventually realized was a power cut affecting the whole area. It came back on, but for a while there we thought the event might end up unplugged.

Eric went above and beyond, staying right to the very end of the evening and helping us pack away the chairs and tables! There was a lovely Coleridge reference in the stained glass window.

The local community really got behind the event, and we had 43 guests on the night.

Our accommodation was at Exmoor House; an extremely walker friendly guest house. There was a wonderful reading room with hundreds of books on the local area, walks, and history. They even had cards and a variety of games - to unwind after the gig reclining on a comfortable sofa and drinking wine was a wonderful end the evening. Whilst we didn’t have the chance to take it up they even offer Reiki!

Breakfast included home made bread and local exmore honey. Phone signal was patchy, and we didn’t get around to asking if they had WiFi - but in some ways it was really nice to be unplugged for the night and just to enjoy the isolated surroundings we were in.

Off street parking big enough for the van is always a bonus too!

Roadwater Village Hall and Trinity Cottage

Roadwater is a village hall that hosts a very active local amateur dramatics group; The Roadwater Players. From day one it was a venue we were excited about! At £50 it was perfectly priced, and the lighting was amazing!

Lighting in village halls can be a bit of an unknown. Some have garish strip lights, some have lovely soft side lighting, some have stage lights, many have just a few light bulbs. Roadwater Village Hall had a plethora of DMX controllable lighting which meant our sound engineer had a field day.

The village store sold 18 tickets themselves, and we had 54 on the night - including guests from as far away as Cockermouth. The audience were well used to being entertained and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves - the support from the village was fabulous.

We stayed at Trinity cottage - which wins the prize for both the most comfortable bed of our 14 night trip Along The Coleridge Way... and also probably the prize for the most eclectic crockery. The views were lovely, and there was off street parking for the van, which is always really nice when you're touring. The lanes are quite small around Roadwater, but we managed to negotiate them all in a long wheelbase Volkswagen T5!

We were exceptionally well looked after. Definitely the most comfortable B&B bed we've ever had.

Luxborough Village Hall

Oh dear. I really didn’t want to have to write this one! There were two nights of the tour that were a bit of a flop, and this one of them.

For every venue we found a local champion in the village to help sell tickets and spread the word… Luxborough was somewhere that we were unable to find accommodation or anyone local to help. Which was a real shame - and sadly marred our expectations for the night. We didn't find anyone willing to put us up for the night so returned to Sampford Brett again for the another night at The Old Rectory Coach House.

On paper Luxborough is a small village with a recently renovated hall. You’d presume that the hall had been renovated because the community were actively using it. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case. Every now and again you come across a hall that people are trying to run as a profitable business rather than a community asset. The hire charge was £100 (with no license) and they even tried to impose a “per chair” charge of 50 pence per chair we used! The tables were an eclectic selection and all too big for cabaret seating, and the kitchen may have been fairly new but it was also filthy.

To top it all off; the acoustics in the room - owing to the high and odd shaped ceiling - were pretty awful.

Perhaps we just found Luxborough on a bad month, but it's not a venue we're likely to return to... that said: it's still a lovely area of countryside to walk through!

Luccombe Village Hall

Practically perfect in every way! Luccombe village hall is tiny. I mean really, really tiny. We completely sold out - with 22 people crammed into a room. There was a moment we weren’t sure we’d be able to set up the stage - with myself, Lukas and Steve performing and David Milton doing his poetry reading.This was one of those venues were having such a compact wireless PA setup was absolutely invaluable - there would never have been room for a standard mixing desk!

Also - this hall won the prize for the most comfortable chairs. The hire costs were just £30, the tables were the right size and with a capacity of just 22 people we sold out very quickly. There were visitors from North Wales and Exmouth as well as a group from the village.

Porlock Village Hall

Porlock Village Hall is lovely - at £49 it was a great price, and we had the flexibility of two halls to choose from. A small hall and a far larger one; in the end we opted to fill the small hall - primarily because the acoustics in the large hall were quite difficult. The small hall was sold out with 55 guests, including visitors from North Wales.
Right from the word go our contact at the hall was hugely supportive; they helped advertise locally and sold 28 tickets from the visitor centre - a real testimony to the fact that village support is the difference between make and break for evenings like this.

The only problem we found with Porlock when organising the tour was that because it’s such a thriving tourist destination we weren’t able to find anyone willing to provide us with free accommodation to support the project (remembering that this ‘support in kind’ was a condition of getting the Arts Council funding). I spoke to several people running B&B’s most of whom were quite indignant at the idea of putting us up for the night, even if it was in exchange for advertising and cross-promotion. Perhaps there would have been someone if I’d got through the right place or person, but I could only take so many rejections before I gave up.

In more positive news we were delighted that our van survived driving up Porlock hill despite having a slightly dodgy clutch at the time!

Brendon & Countisbury Village Hall

This was another of those slightly odd venues, but we always knew it might be! With 28 guests on the night there was almost nobody from the village itself. The hall itself was quite dishevelled; dirty floors, dead flies, broken curtains… and obviously not in very regular use. There’s a few things that you do come to expect when hiring village halls, and a basic level of cleanliness is one of them.

That said; it was a fantastic gig! A nice sounding room, a well stocked bar, and a warm feeling knowing we’d drawn in visitors to Brendon from as far away as Bristol and Derby.

Lynmouth Pavilion and Lorna Doone House

When we started organising the tour it was nice to know right from the start that the last night would be an easily sold out success. We chose to use the recently refurbished Lynmouth Pavilion who were able to offer guests a meal before the concert too.

At £200 (without us running the bar) this was by far the least profitable night of the tour, but it was a lovely way to finish.

Amongst the highlights of the evening were guests from Northumberland who had decided come to walk the Coleridge Way in order to arrive at Lynmouth for the last night of the tour.

The food and drink were fabulous at Lynmouth Pavilion as were the staff, and the view as absolutely incredible!

Acoustics were a bit tricky owing to the high ceiling in the Pavilion, but we managed to get a good sound out of the room in the end, and the 80 strong audience helped add to the great atmosphere.

We stayed at Lorna Doone House, a venue were I’d stayed previously when visiting Lymouth - it’s such a gorgeous setting right on the river. There’s an abundance of accommodation choices but Lorna Doone House will always be first on my list for being welcoming, comfortable, accommodating and amazingly well situated.

Huge thanks must also go to Exmoor National Park Authority and the Lynmouth Pavilion Project who helped facilitate the generously sized display stand in the Pavilion as well as helping to promote the overall tour.

The morning after the final night we were able to walk up the river to Watersmeet, what better way could there be to end a tour like this that walking in such serene surroundings.

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