• Start: Dunster
  • End: Dunster
  • Country: England
  • County: Somerset
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer OL9
  • Difficulty: Medium
Google Map


Stride out in the festive winter air with your family on this bracing Christmas walk, courtesy of Exmoor National Park Ranger, Tim Parish

Exmoor National Park Ranger, Tim Parish, champions the Somerset walk that gives spectacular views

Stride out in the festive winter air with your family on this bracing Christmas walk, courtesy of Exmoor National Park Ranger, Tim Parish

Dunster is one of the best preserved medieval villages in the country. This walk takes you up to Conygar Tower for spectacular views over Dunster, Minehead and the Bristol Channel and then into the village to explore some of the historic buildings. There are some short uphill sections to the walk (ideal for burning off the Christmas excesses!) but it is suitable for all the family.

A large amount of Dunster and the surrounding land is owned and managed by the Crown Estate. The Estate belongs to the reigning monarch, but it is not their private property it cannot be sold by the monarch, nor do revenues from it belong to the sovereign. However, neither does the Government own the Crown Estate it is managed by an independent organisation headed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, and the surplus revenue from the Estate is paid each year to the Treasury for the benefit of all UK taxpayers. More information can be found at the National Park Centre.

Conygar Tower, which you will encounter on this walk, was built as a folly in 1775 by Henry Luttrell, the owner of Dunster Castle. Designed by Richard Phelps, it stands 18 metres high and is built from local sandstone. Despite the holes on the inside wall, there is no evidence it ever had floors or a roof. The word Conygar derives from Coney, a medieval word for rabbits, as at that time the hillside was used for breeding rabbits for food.

Boots on? Lets go!

1 Start at the main pay and display car park in Dunster. This is just off the A39 before you enter the village. Exit up the steps by the toilets and head towards the National Park Centre. This is a great place to find out more information before setting out (limited opening hours between November and April). Head towards the village and after 20 yards turn right, across the road and up a footpath signed towards Conygar Wood. Head straight uphill, following the path between hedges, to a kissing gate. Beyond this is a T-junction.

2 Turn left at this point onto the circular walk. You are now in Conygar Wood, which is owned and managed by the Crown Estate. After a short distance you will reach a spectacular viewpoint over Dunster. Continue along the path, steadily climbing uphill. Keep to the left until you reach the next signpost, where you should turn right following the tower symbol. Climb to the ridge line and turn right, still following the tower symbol, until you reach Conygar Tower.

3 Step inside and enjoy the views over Dunster and down the Bristol Channel towards Steep Holm, Flat Holm and Brean Down. When ready, retrace your steps down the ridge, but rather than turning left at the signpost, continue straight on. The path is a little more uneven for a stretch, before descending some wooden steps and passing under a stone arch. These were built as part of the folly along with the tower. Drop down the path to a T-Junction, where the circular walk is re-joined.

4 Turn right and follow the circular walk. Passing between two wooden posts the track widens out into a larger platform, with a number of tracks leading off. Turn sharp left, going downhill along a vehicle track. After 20 yards, branch left opposite a large oak tree onto a level track and enjoy the views to Minehead and North Hill beyond. The path contours along the base of Conygar woods, eventually coming out onto a broad stone track. This is Dean Lane, one of the old routes into Dunster.

5 Turn left and follow this track uphill. As you pass over the brow ahead you will see Butter Cross. This is a 14th-century market cross that used to be in the high street. Just before reaching the cross turn sharp left along a footpath that passes through a kissing gate. Cross the field to another kissing gate and out onto a tarmac lane. Head straight on between the tall stone wall and wire fence to reach the road at a pink cottage called Priory Thatch.

6 Turn right onto the road and follow this past the tithe barn on the left and under a stone arch. Take time to look into the medieval dovecote on the right and the memorial gardens on the left. Continue along the road, passing under another archway. Turn left through a lynch gate and into the churchyard.

7 Dunster Church is ahead, and well worth a visit. It contains a fine example of a rood screen, while the tower has a clock that plays a different tune at the hours of 1, 5 and 9. Opposite the main doors of the church take the right-hand path onto the road next to Parham House Brides. Take care, as this is a busy road with not much room for pedestrians. Continue straight ahead for 20 yards until you reach the entrance to St Georges Street. Cross the road and pass through some wooden gates towards the castle. After 30 yards the lane widens out to form the entrance to Dunster Castle. The castle is closed from 1 November until Easter, but the gardens and shop are open from 11am to 4pm. Visit these as you wish, but when ready, contour round towards the National Trust car park following the broad tarmac road.

8 Pass through the car park and then a metal kissing gate next to the cattle grid. After 20 yards turn left off the road through a small wooden gate. Head uphill to a second wooden gate, passing through to continue uphill along a grassy path. Crest the hill and drop back into the car park where you began.

There is more of Dunster to explore along its high street, packed as it is with a wide selection of shops, cafs, pubs and restaurants. Follow the main road, as at the beginning of the walk, but continue straight on past the Luttrell Arms Hotel. In the middle of the high street is the famous Yarn Market see if you can spot the hole in the rafters made by a cannonball during the Civil War.

Fact File

Getting there: Dunster is well served by buses from Minehead and Tiverton. For parking, there is a pay and display car park as you come into Dunster from the A39. This is where the walk starts, but National Trust members may choose to park for free at Dunster Castle and start the walk from point 8.

Distance: 3.5km (2.1 miles)

Time: Allow two hours

Terrain: Largely on well-made paths and tarmac, but sturdy shoes are advisable in winter

Map: OS Explorer OL9

Refreshments: There are many options in Dunster village

Latest from the Somerset Life