Today has been a gentle reintroduction to carrying my own bag. Since I am by myself the cost of luggage transfer is too high, at least for this stretch where the route is blessedly flat after the relentless ups and downs of Devon and Cornwall. I also appreciated having an easy day as I was a little liverish this morning. Last night, I did a talk and signing of my book, ‘The King’s Pearl’ http://amzn.to/2uIjPDd which was finally published in September. Several friends came to give me moral support, and we had supper after, resulting in a late night, and a rather heavy head.
But as there is no peace for the wicked, I was up just after 6am to catch the 9.06 from Paddington to Taunton. Amazingly, Paddington was running smoothly, and the train was only 2 minutes late at Taunton. Since I was at the front of the train I had to run along the platform to catch the bus link to Minehead. There is only a five minute gap between official train arrival and bus departure, which is frankly optimistic. A gentle bus drive through the Somerset countryside decanted me in Minehead at around 12.15. Ravenous, I went into a cute little upstairs restaurant and had an excellent lunch.
Somerset has now completed its stretch of the England Coast Path. The route runs along the prom, then around the edge of the West Somerset golf links, before dropping down onto the beach at Dunster. Inland, the enormous mediaeval pile of Dunster caste dominates the countryside, while to the seaward side, the coast of Wales was visible. It was a dull and cloudy day, so the opposite shore was not very clear, although the Porth Talbot steelworks are easily identified.
The West Somerset steam railway runs along the coast, and from time to time I could see great clouds of steam billowing up behind the houses.
I misread the map just after Dunster, thinking I could go further along the shore than I could, rather than following the path up onto the road to skirt behind the Blue Anchor pub that gives its name to a little hamlet. I debated pressing on along the beach, but although the tide seemed miles out, the map showed a very high tide mark so, unfamiliar with the speed of the tide in the Severn Estuary, I backtracked and took the path along the top of the cliffs. It eventually dropped down to the shore again, and I was glad I had not stayed down, the whole area was a mass of ankle breaking cobbles. My very least favourite waking surface. I inched over them, until I reached the harbour at Watchet. I had a false dawn when I saw steps leading onto what seemed to be the prom, but they dropped down again into another morass of cobbles and slimy rock pools.
Watchet has an interesting history. Originally a Celtic settlement, then taken over by the Saxons. A Welsh saint, Decamon, tried to convert the pagan Saxons, but they martyred him by cutting his head off. This is all rather beautifully represented in a pebble mosaic. There is also a fine statue inspired by Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he apparently wrote whilst in staying in nearby Nether Stowey.
My favourite memorial was to Yankee Jack, a local mariner who lived to the astonishing age of 94 sailing the world under sail and even running the Yankee blockade in the American Civil War. His last voyages were under steam before he retired to become the town crier. His greatest claim to fame was his voice and knowledge of the old sea shanties. Recorded directly from him for posterity by Cyril Sharp. My hotel is by the steam railway station. I hope they don’t start too early, as the hooter is very loud.
I am now in the nearby pub, having supper, and listening to two astonishing conversations. To my left middle-aged men are talking about brothels, and to my right a man is brilliantly worming his way into his father-in-law’s will to cut out the man’s son. A smooth combination of flattery, self- deprecation, ‘umble pie and delicate insinuations about the unsatisfactoriness of the son. 7.9 miles.