Stage 38, 3rd April: Minehead to Combwich
With easy walking expected today, it was a pleasant surprise that it was exactly what was delivered. The short promenade of Minehead was dominated by the big tops and chalets of Butlins. Everything resembled a travelling circus and to me was all a little bit tatty and tacky. It was a relief to get out-of-town and head across to Blue Anchor where half a dozen anglers were dangling their rods from the roadside chasing cod, whiting and anything else with fins. I did think their efforts were a little half-hearted as they stood idly chatting all dressed up in their heavy winter gear with their car doors open and copious amounts of hot coffee and comfortable warm shelter inches from their rods. I love fishing, particularly fishing from wave-lashed rocks, so the thought of fishing from the comfort of a car just isn’t on my radar.
At the north end of the bay I found the pathway blocked by temporary fencing and with the ammonite symbol of the West Somerset Coast Path absent, I invented my own diversion via a slippery track, some overgrown woods and a muddy field or two.
Watchet was another run down and slightly sad place that needed a little bit of love and pride reinstalled. I couldn’t decide whether it had any identity or notable attraction to encourage visitors or investors, so I suspect it will just continue to remain an obscure seaside village with potential.
With the path vanishing again I resorted to head along the verge of the busy A39 watching every approaching vehicle closely and ducking into the hedges to avoid the occasional truck cutting things a little too fine. More by luck than judgement, I finally rediscovered the ammonite logo near West Quantoxhead. I thoroughly enjoyed the vista as I spent a few minutes to munch some lunch whilst sitting on Doug’s bench overlooking a valley surrounded by rolling green hills and filled with a couple of grand mansions, a very English church and a herd of deer peacefully grazing in a lush field. Thanks Doug.
After a brief fossil hunting break on the foreshore at East Quantoxhead I was looking forward to having a nose around the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. However, I was thwarted by another fenced off path and a ridiculous diversion pushing me miles inland and not even vaguely close to the place. The notice on the fence told me that the path was diverted for 6 months from May 2012 for Hinkley Point C development work, but with 2014 well under way I could see little sign of any work and the signs looked a little more permanent to me. Rain was now blowing in sideways, so I resorted to five miles of grim streaming wet roads into Combwich with a note that staff at EDF Energy clearly knock off at 4:30. The Le Mans start I heard as hundreds of cars splashed away from the plant actually made me worry whether they were all running for their lives to escape a radiation leak.
Stage 39, 4th April: Combwich to Brean
I knew that the stretch around Bridgwater Bay required another venture inland, this time via the River Parrett Trail. Yesterday the West Somerset Coast Path was given a grand introduction and offered exciting potential as it took over from the SW Coast Path. In truth it was poorly signposted, occasionally vanished mysteriously and then petered out near Hinkley never to be found again.
I had a long wet grassy stroll across the dyke tops surrounding some of the recently flooded Somerset fields which seemed to be recovering if still very soggy. The song of the ever-present but never visible Skylark followed me all the way up the winding south bank of the river to Bridgwater where a stretch of busy road out-of-town took me back to the same scene 50 yards across river on the north bank. I cut inland to walk the lanes through Stretcholt and Huntspill. Spring was very much on the agenda as the air felt warm and still. Hedges and trees were beginning to show green sprigs of life and the Skylark’s high twitter was replaced by the birdsong of many indistinguishable feathered pals.
The lanes became a nondescript urban road into Highbridge and then a path through a housing estate took me towards Burnham on Sea. Mums and toddlers were out in force in the afternoon warmth. The sound of idle gossip and children playing was a pleasant but very different sound to my ears.
With the stick of another Feast in my hand (well – they are cheap), I made my way onto the sand of Burnham on Sea (photo) and got up a really good stride over the ripple mark tops along the six miles of beach above Berrow Flats. It was a long haul with the tide exposing sand banks a good mile out. Ahead I could clearly make out Cardiff Bay, to my left Hinkley Point was easier to see than it was yesterday. Minehead and the end of the SW Coast Path was still visible and all my thoughts were good ones as I reflected on what I’d done so far and what was yet to come.
TOTAL DISTANCE: 742.4 miles TOTAL ASCENT: 150,090 ft