Ashley Combe Lodge on Coleridge Way
At the end of the public highway coming from the West Porlock direction stands the thatched Ashley Combe Lodge, gateway to the Ashley Combe Estate, whose mansion was the summer residence of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace.
The Ashley Combe Estate once formed part of the properties of the philosopher John Locke, subsequently passing to Peter, afterwards Lord Chancellor King. His descendant, William King, was created first Earl of Lovelace and married (Augusta) Ada, daughter of Lord Byron. It was William King who in the 1840s turned the former hunting lodge into a mansion, after which the estate came to be named. The gardens were a major feature of the property and contained a number of substantial brick and stone structures including an Italianate multi-level arched garden, towers and turrets, bridges and three tunnels. The tunnels enabled vehicles to access the house without spoiling the magnificent view towards the sea.
William Lovelace was very supportive of Ada’s science interests and fellow mathematicians like members of the Crosse family and Charles Babbage were frequent houseguests. The ‘Philosopher’s Walk’ was the family name given to the terrassing along which Ada and Charles Babbage walked when discussing science questions. William continued his own passion for engineering and building at several family properties. At Ashley Combe he intended to build Ada a perfect studio to pursue her scientific work. Remnants of a small but now derelict bathing house can be seen adjacent to the foreshore below.
The last family member to live at Ashley Combe was William’s daughter-in-law Mary, whose great nephew Noel Anthony Lytton and his sisters Anne and Winifrid spent many happy summers there. During the War the house was let to Dr. Bernardo’s until the 1950s. The 4th Earl of Lytton considered Ashley Combe as a potential home for his young family, but came to the conclusion that the large mansion was totally impractical and incapable of being adapted to modern and more modest requirements. He then set the house up as a residential Country Club, but found it not successful, possibly being ahead of its time and too remote for post war tourists. Eventually the risk to the unsafe and unoccupied mansion became uninsurable and the house was demolished in 1972.
Going through the Lodge gate cars can use this private estate road for a small fee to connect to the A39 as it traverses the top of the moorland between Porlock and Lynton. Walkers heading for Culbone, pass along the seaward side of the Lodge and continue on the coastal path. To the right below the path are the former stables which served Ashley Combe. They were converted to a pair of semi detached cottages in the 1960s and one of them is now a self-catering holiday cottage. Just beyond them the expansive view opens out across the Bristol Channel, towards Gore Point, Porlock Bay and South Wales; at low tide one can get a particularly good view of some of the many medieval fish weirs which probably gave Porlock Weir its name.
Carrying on in the Westerly direction the path zigzags steeply up the hill before levelling out at higher level; the reason for this is a landslip which in 1983 caused the previous footpath and nearby area of hillside to become unsafe. The Estate offered a permissive access on its own land to enable the re-routed coastal path to continue.
Visitors to this magical area can imagine the lines from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.