EXMOOR COTTAGE HOLIDAYS
Challacombe is a traditional rural "dispersed settlement" (a settlement of scattered farmsteads rather than a nucleated village) about 10 miles from the north coast of Devon with a population of about 150 people in 50 dwellings. Most of the parish is within the protected landscape area of the Exmoor National Park.
Challacombe varies in character from lush sheltered valleys with small enclosed meadows, to wide open moorland with spectacular views. The Chains are the highest point in North Devon and form a natural watershed. The rivers Bray and Barle both start on the Chains, a couple of miles apart, but join the sea nearly 100 miles apart, with the Bray flowing to the north coast of Devon and the Barle flowing all the way to the south coast via the river Exe.
Challacombe has been occupied for thousands of years. The surrounding hills have standing stones from the Neolithic period, ring barrows from the Bronze Age and a large Iron Age hillfort (Shoulsbury) with spectacular views over the Taw estuary. The name Challacombe (from Saxon for "chilly valley") was first recorded in Domesday in 1086 when there were five small manors: Celdecombe (Challacombe, now Barton Town), Burietescome (Buscombe), Waleurde (Wallover), Witefele (Whitefield) and Radeode (Radworthy). All are still farms today (except Radworthy which was abandoned c1850) but agriculture practice has changed from being mostly arable to livestock. Barton Town was the largest manor and the Holy Trinity church built nearby in the C13th still dominates the skyline. The focus of the village moved in the early C19th to East Challacombe, or Challacombe Town, which now hosts the village shop, the Methodist Chapel and the unusually named Black Venus Inn.
There are lots of interesting walks and places to visit in Challacombe. There is a lovely walk from East Challacombe to Barton Town, which takes in a ford with a footbridge; a packhorse bridge; a beech forest; ancient meadows and the Holy Trinity church, that still retains some of its C13th tower and an early stone font. The tower was recently rendered and the lime plaster is a stunning bright white. Near the church are some earthwork remains of former houses and an impressive banked road, which now leads nowhere.
On the other side of the valley is the spectacular Shoulsbury hillfort, enclosing about five acres with double banks and ditches, and containing a Bronze Age barrow, with a Neolithic stone set nearby. By legend it was occupied by St. Petrock in the C6th, and defended by Alfred the Great against the Danes in the C9th. A sword from the Civil War was found there in the C19th. Its unusual name (perhaps from the Celtic god Sulis and Saxon burh meaning "fortified") suggests a prehistoric origin. Its size, commanding position, and nearness to the Harepath (the Saxon "war road" across Exmoor) suggests this may be where the Celtic king Geraint surrendered to the West Saxon king Ine in 710 AD. Perhaps Geraint stayed in the village - the Saxon name Waleurde of the nearby farm means "farm of the Welsh".
The highest part of the parish is known as The Chains, at 480 metres above sea level. The great Mesolithic ridgeway across Exmoor, thought to be part of the only continuous ridgeway from England to Cornwall, runs along the top of The Chains, passing numerous groups of Neolithic stone sets and Bronze Age barrows. Below this is Pinkery Pond, source of the river Barle and thought to have been made to feed a canal that was never built; and charming Challacombe reservoir, above which is the source of the river Bray and the abandoned farmstead of Radworthy.
The Chains have the largest group of prehistoric monuments on Exmoor, which were probably in use for over two thousand years. The seven foot high Longstone at the head of the river Bray; a possible mortuary platform nearby (where bodies were exposed to the elements, or excarnated) and the enigmatic Quincunx (five stones arranged in the same pattern as the five on a dice) all date from the Neolithic period (around 3000 BC). When approached from the valley below, the Longstone points straight up into the sky, no doubt marking the birth of the river Bray. The Chapman Barrows, a large group of burial mounds from the Bronze Age (about 1500 BC) occupy the ridge of the hill and are visible for miles. Each began as a ring of stones (a ring cairn) used for excarnation, perhaps for a few generations, and when decommissioned, a large mound was built over the top. Incredibly, each mound is made from turf and topsoil from about 10 acres of cultivated field, which field must have been rendered useless for hundreds of years afterwards.
For a small rural community, Challacombe has excellent local amenities. The traditional Black Venus Inn serves award-winning home-made food, fine wines and real ales. It has a games room with a dartboard and pool table, and a small play area in the garden. Challacombe Stores stocks a variety of guide books, snacks, groceries, alcohol, lovely home-made cakes and take-away meals and is also a Post Office and local Information Point. There is a public telephone outside and 'phone cards are available in the shop.
Other facilities in the village include Exmoor Cottage Holidays self-catering holiday cottages at Town Tenement Farm, five stone-built cottages in delightful grounds, all with log fires; spa and treatment rooms at Home Place; and Webbers Travel minibus and taxi service. The Methodist Chapel has a service at 6.30pm on the first Sunday of each month; the Holy Trinity Church has communion service at 11.15am on the second Sunday, and Evensong at 6.30pm on the fourth Sunday.
Sketch map of Challacombe indicating roads, footpaths, and open access areas (shown as a guide only, please refer to OS map OL9, or online Exmoor Map)
Challacombe people are very community focused and every year hold the Challacombe Ashes (Challacombe vs The Rest of the World) and the Challacombe Sheepdog Trials which started in 1980 and now attracts competitors from all over the South West. Challacombe has its own community website with lots of information about local history and events. Lastly, but most important of all, Challacombe people are very friendly and visitors can be sure of a warm welcome.
Challacombe is the perfect base from which to explore Exmoor and the spectacular coastline of Somerset and North Devon.
Within half an hours drive are the wide sandy beaches of Woolacombe, Saunton and Croyde; the picturesque coastal villages of Lynton, Lynmouth and Porlock; the historic harbour at Ilfracombe and most of the best sights on Exmoor, including Tarr Steps, Dunkery Beacon, Heddons Mouth, the Valley of Rocks, Horners Wood and Countisbury Hill.
There are lots of attractions nearby suitable for children and adults, including Exmoor Zoo, Arlington Court, Watermouth Castle, Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park, Ilfracombe Aquarium, Dunster Castle, Woody Bay Steam Railway, and the tallest tree in England.
You can enjoy Challacombe yourself by staying at Exmoor Cottage Holidays, a group of lovely characterful cottages converted from a former farm, all with log fires & enclosed gardens.