Going way back in time …
Withypool has a fascinating and colourful history. This ancient settlement was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book, but there is evidence of settlements as far back at the Bronze Age. A stone circle can still be seen at the top of Withypool Hill, and two Brightworthy barrows are still in evidence on Withypool Common.
At the latter end of the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer, famous for his blatantly bawdy (but brilliant) Canterbury Tales verse, was in charge of Withypool as part of his duties as forester of the North Petherton Estate.
In its 300 year history, The Royal Oak Inn just across the courtyard from the Royal Oak Cottage has also had its fair share of famous visitors over the years.
The inn played host to R.D. Blackmore while he was writing Lorna Doone in 1866. And the great equine and hunting artist Alfred Munnings had a studio in the attic.
During the 1930’s the plot thickened when the Royal Oak Inn was owned by Gwladys and Maxwell Knight, the spy-master and radio broadcaster, upon whom the character ‘M’, James Bond’s boss was based.
The week before D-Day, General Eisenhower came to Exmoor to review some of his troops, and took the opportunity to visit the Royal Oak Inn where he planned some of the Normandy invasions. Nearby Woolacombe beach was used to simulate some of the manoeuvres.
There are letters and photographs on the wall of the inn relating to these, and other famous historic guests.
More recently Prince William dined at the Royal Oak with friends from the area after attending the 2006 Tetrathlon at nearby Molland. Not his first, and hopefully not his last visit to Withypool.