......... nestle between the Somerset Levels and the Bristol Channel offering walkers and nature lovers a dramatic landscape of deeply wooded combes (valleys) and open heathland. The area is bounded by a coastline whose rocks reveal the geological story of the environmental changes that have taken place; from a desert-like environment 23o million years ago, to warm, tropical seas 200 million years ago, to near Ice Age glacial conditions roughly 10,000 years ago. For hundreds of years this stretch of coast has relinquished a large variety of spectacular fossils which continue to be found today.
Between 1797 and 1800 the Quantocks were home to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the founders of the Romantic Movement. His friend William Wordsworth along with William's sister Dorothy also moved into the area to benefit from Coleridge's company.
"My walks were almost daily on the top of Quantock, and among its sloping combes. With my pencil and memorandum-book in my hand, I was....moulding my thoughts into verse, with the objects and imagery immediately before my senses."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817
Coleridge and Wordsworth were out walking down from the Quantocks to the small coastal harbour town of Watchet. As they walked Wordsworth discussed a book that he had been reading concerning Captain Snelvocke's dramatic sea exploits 70 years previously. In it he describes an account of his second captain shooting an albatross whilst they attempted to round Cape Horn in severe storms. The captain had taken the giant sea bird as a bad omen, and hoped that by killing it he might bring about a break in the weather.
By the time the pair arrived in Watchet, Coleridge was already well on the way to composing thoughts for his most haunting and famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".
Commemorative statue at Watchet.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.
Many once believed that albatrosses embodied the souls of lost sailors possessing magical qualities that could be harnessed to aid healing. To kill an albatross was a harbinger of the sea's wrath. The mariner's fellow sailors force him to wear the remains of the bird around his neck as a form of penance.