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Combe Martin

Combe Martin beach

Combe Martin is a resort situated in a sheltered valley on the western fringe of the Exmoor National Park. The large village is located close to some of the most stunning coastal scenery in the area. There are spectacular views across the bay to dramatic headlands beyond and the small, peaceful cove has changed little over the years. Boats are still moored in the harbour, although there are probably more pleasure craft than fishing boats these days.

At low tide there are large expanses of golden sand accessible in addition to a sheltered sandy cove, making the area ideal for family holidays. The nearby countryside and coastline has numerous footpaths and bridleways for walking and riding.

Combe Martin claims to have the longest main street of any village in the country the street winds along the valley for more than two miles. The Pack of Cards Inn was built in 1626 by George Ley of Marwood, to celebrate a large win at cards. The building has 52 windows (one for each card in the pack), 4 floors (one for each suit) and 13 doors on each floor (one for each card in the suit). The whole structure is said to resemble a pack of cards in a heap.

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St Peter ad Vincula church, Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula church
About a mile inland is the church of St. Peter ad Vincula a red sandstone building. The southern door of has a Sanctuary Ring. The Sanctuary Ring was clutched by fleeing criminals who were thus able to escape arrest and imprisonment, providing they confessed their crimes and left the country. The practice was abolished in the 17th century. This is a tranquil setting with a small stream running by the churchyard wall.

Each year on the Spring Bank Holiday Combe Martin celebrates the traditional ceremony of the Hunting of the Earl of Rone. This is a traditional pagan hobby horse procession, followed by a chase through the woods in pursuit of the Earl. When he is caught, he is placed backwards on a donkey and led in a procession to the beach where he is finally dumped in the sea.

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Combe Martin beach Combe Martin beach
From the 13th until the 19th century, both silver and lead were mined in Combe Martin. In addition, iron ore was mined from the beach beneath the Little Hangman, a 700 feet high hill close to the village. Manganese was also mined not too far away. Nothing remains of these enterprises today apart from a few lonely ruins.

The views from both the Little Hangman and the higher Great Hangman are well worth the effort. These are the high points of the edge of Exmoor, offering views of the moors and the coastline.

A short way along the coast from Combe Martin is the tranquil village of Berrynarbor, a regular winner of both the Britain in Bloom and Best Kept Village awards. The narrow streets of the village are free from the more obvious signs of tourism and both the church and the stone arcades are worth visiting.