Day 96 Burnham-on-Sea to Weston-super-Mare 30 Oct 2017

Day 96 Burnham-on-Sea to Weston-super-Mare 30 Oct 2017

When I looked at the weather forecast last week, it suggested heavy rain for today, but it could not have been more wrong. It has been a glorious day – bright, sunny, warm and not a breath of wind.

I left my hotel (excellent dinner, dreIMG_2703adful service) to meet Jane at the Pavilion on the waterfront at 9.30. We had a dismal breakfast there – grease on toast – but that was the lowest point of the day.

The tide was far out and we walked across the firm, dark gold sands all the way to Brean Down. I knew that to cross the river Ax we would have to go a long way inland and we debated not climbing the headland because we would have to retrace our steps for a couple of miles, but the weather was so good, we were making such good time and the views promised to be so spectacular, that we decided to climb the steep staircase up to the long hogs back.

It was certainly worth it. The views were superb. IMG_2729All the way back to West Quantoxhead,  hazy in the distance, and the long flat expanse of Brean sands to the south, then the delightful villas of Weston to the north. The Down is the last outcrop of the Mendip Hills which we could see rolling away east. We descended and had a quick cream tea in the NT café at the bottom.IMG_2749

We walked back along the beach, planning to emerge onto the road towards Wick Farm where the path joins the road to cross the river. We undershot a bit and had to walk along the lane, which was astonishingly busy. Since my map was printed, the Sustrans route has been built, saving us from a long road bash as it is a firm track, a few yards away from the road. I was delighted to discover that the previously impassable crossing at the old sluice has now been modified to carry the path across the Ax. We strolled along, enjoying the sunshine, talking to the various dog walkers, and eventually emerged at the village of Uphill, with its ruined, church high above the road and the remains of quarrying underneath exposing the limestone rock, almost vertical, but dotted with Welsh (according to the sign) sheep, well adapted to steep rocky hillsides.

Then it was back to the bIMG_2771each and a long walk up to the middle of Weston-super-Mare, admiring the Holm islands (Steep and Flat) and Brean Down behind us.

Less pleasurable was trying to find my aunt’s house where I am staying, when the satnav refused to recognise the street name, although it has been there long before Google was ever born or thought of. After some fraught backwards and forwards along the same lane and a few dead ends, we made it.

14.4 miles. Legs are getting very achey – disappointing as only day 5.

All in all, a golden day.

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Day 95 Bridgwater to Burnham-on-Sea 29 October 2017

Day 95 Bridgwater to Burnham-on-Sea 29 October 2017

Today was one of those days when you seem to walk for miles and still get nowhere. It was little more than a re-run of yesterday, as I was coming up the east bank of the river Parrett. It took most of the day to arrive at a point opposite Steart Point where I was at 10am yesterday. The weather was better, not so windy and generally sunnier. In fact, I have windburn.IMG_2657

I did not start out in a very positive frame of mind. Lat night’s hotel, like all the rest was far too hot. I turned off the radiator (goodness knows why it was on, with the external temperature nearing 20 degrees) but the towel rail in the bath room was still pumping out heat, and the bedding was far too heavy. I do wish that hotels would put a sheet on as well as a duvet. Quite apart from the hygiene aspect of another layer between the various bodies and the duvets absorbing sweat, it would give the hotter amongst us a much pleasanter night. As usual, I took the duvet out of its jacket, but I still woke up every couple of hours.

The place was somewhat redeemed by breakfast. A good continental selection with high quality organic yoghurts and fruit as well as boiled eggs, vine tomatoes, cheeses, cold meats and pastries. I abstracted an additional pain au chocolate for elevenses.

The route starts out with a good couple of miles on the road, hard on the feet. IMG_2670It then winds backwards and forwards along the riverbank. Some interesting information about Bridgwater was on the various interpretation boards. Most of the towns in the area were once navigable by river to trading craft, and Bridgwater itself had a big export market for its bricks and tiles. There was once a castle here and there are some handsome early eighteenth century houses.

The route was littered with bovines, but all were pleasingly placid and lolling at the far ends of their respective fields. I did just arm myself with a plank of wood from one of the numerous bonfire heaps that are in preparation for 5th November, but my precautions were unnecessary.IMG_2689

The path wound inland to Highbridge, where I crossed the River Brean, and then went along the prom at Burnham-on-Sea. I am sitting with my feet up in the pub I am staying at. They are rather achey, I am sorry to say.

All adding up to an average, or ‘tin’ day.

Day 94 Shurton to Bridgwater 28 Oct 2017

Day 94 Shurton to Bridgwater 28 Oct 2017

It was getting light as I left this morning. With no decent breakfast to be had at the place I was staying, I had arranged a slightly earlierIMG_2577 meeting with my friend Vicki and her dog, Bracken, at Combwich, to make up for it at lunch. To get back onto the coast, I had to go cross country. It was deeply uninspiring. Quite a long stretch was thought the fields of one of those farmers who clearly don’t want walkers on their land, but won’t actually break the law by closing paths: signs obscured with carefully untrimmed brambles; broken stiles and gates are tied shut with binder twine with tight knots. This resulted in a few tedious backtracks as I got stranded on the wrong side of the dykes that separate the fields.

IMG_2575The weather was very different from yesterday. A cold wind, and overcast. I reached the path around 8.45 and followed it along tracks and ridges to Steart point. The last 1.5 miles out to the point is very dull indeed. The high rushes on both sides made it impossible to sea the sea, and the path was made of large shingle – clearly not designed by any one who actually does long distance walking. 5 minutes in shingle n the beach is ok, but over a longer stretch it is painful and slow.

Hence, wherever there is an alternative, people have come off the main tack. At Steeart there was little to see except more reeds. I then turned inland. Strictly, although I was on the England Coast Path, I was walking beside the river Parrett.  The Steart Wildlife Conservation Trust has done a fine job of recreating salt marsh and mudflats. They breached the sea wall in 2014 and already the place is teeming (or teaming as they have on their signs!) with life. However, being the end of October, and chilly, there was little enough of it visible.IMG_2618

About half an hour north of Combwich, I met Vicki and the dog. He was having a whale of a time  even though he had to remain on the lead for much of the way. We walked back to the village for lunch, then carried on along the river path. It was pleasant, but uneventful. My companions turned back around half past two, the bright sunshine we had enjoyed for an hour after lunch having disappeared.IMG_2629

I carried on – two cow-filled fields were negotiated, but although they looked at me, and in one I took a stout post from the floor in case of incidents, nothing excited them, so they let me be. There was then a detour along the road for a mile or so, before turning back onto the river path which carries on into Bridgwater.

The town has a very interesting maritime history. It was a port from Roman times, and there were once big docks here. In the seventeenth century, it was the scene of several Civil War incidents, and a failed attempt to shoot Cromwell by Lady Wyndham, wife of the royalist colonel holding the town. She hit his aide instead.  Thirty or so years later, James, Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of Charles II, was proclaimed king in the town. The failure of his claim led to the battle of Sedgemoor and the Bloody Assizes.

The loss of the railway station under the Beeching cuts reduced the use of the docks, and further damage was done by the collapse of the canal wall in 2011. The town is now rather faded.

Got to hotel to find a young woman doing some very complicated organisation with the receptionist over several rooms. She mentioned doing a show later.  I pricked up my ears – a bit of stand up might be just the thing, but then she said it was burlesque. And thought maybe I might not like it. I replied that I did not think I was her target audience.  ‘Not at all’, she said, ‘our oldest audience member is 90!’ Hmmmm.

18 miles on the nose.  Today was a silver day – thanks to the company. Day rankings

Day 93 Watchet to Shurton 27 Oct 2017

Day 93 Watchet to Shurton 27 Oct 2017

I’ve decided on a new ranking scheme for each day – depending on a a range of variables, weather, my mood, views, difficulty, wildlife etc. Day rankings

Today was a bronze day – one up from the standard day. It could have been a silver, but for the incident…

I caught up on sleep last night and was ready to leave by 7.30am as it was just getting light. My B & B was B1 only, so I walked down to the esplanade for breakfast, intending to be the first customer at 8am. Sadly, there was nothing to be had until 8.30. I didn’t want to wait and had had a large dinner as well as lunch yesterday, so I contented myself with a takeaway coffee and an oat crunch biscuit as a substitute for porridge.IMG_2503

The path makes a short climb behind the steam railway, then drops down onto a beach. I was completely mesmerised by the rock formations. It was almost like seeing the creation of the world as the beach had different layers of rock ranging from red sand to shale, then cobbles, then slabs of rock with deep grooves at an angle like frozen waves, which must eventually break up into the large cobbles.

I was walking very slowly as the surfaces were so uneven and slippery, when I felt a warm wet sensation in my right hand. I leapt in the air, the fear of God in me, and gave a shriek. I turned around to be faced by a large dog which had crept up on me – not a clatter of class so be heard. Its owner gave a perfunctory apology and mentioned that it is as well to be aware of one’s surroundings at all times. Thanks – top tip. I refrained from sharing one about the proper training of dogs.

The England coast path is not well signpostedIMG_2521. Although there are signs pointing down to the beaches, it is not easy to know when to leave them. I saw one slip coming down and a lady walking a dog told me take it, and walk through the little hamlet behind the caravan park. With no other clues, I took her word for it. The path climbed a cliff then dropped down onto another beach with even more fascinating rock formations than the first.

It was obvious that the tide, if it came in, would be right up to the cliff, but there were no alternative route signs or warnings before you went onto the beach. Fortunately, although the tide was turning, he sea was a good way out. Enquiries of a lone angler led me back off the beach along another track which undulated gently. I could see a large herd of cows in the distance, but there was no point in borrowing trouble. The path might not go anywhere near them, and in any case, at this time of year, they should be docile.

To my right I could see a beautiful Tudor mansion nestled into the trees. Down to the shore again, then up a little path with a gate at the end and the way marker. I was just opening the stile when I heard the pounding of hooves. Yes, the cow telegraph was in operation and the whole herd was thundering towards me. I clanged the gate shut again as they pressed against it. They weren’t big, but they were young bullocks, and there were an awful lot of them. There was no way I was walking through them.  I looked at the map. There was a considerable detour, but I saw no alternative. I walked down a lane, then along a track and turned back up. Doing three sides of a square, it was not clear whether the path led back into the same field, but it was a big field with a hill in the middle. Hopefully, I would not encounter the beasts again.IMG_2559

Of course, the path did go back into the same field, and I could see the blighters, walking back around the base of the hill. Fortunately, there were two other people coming from the direction I wanted to go in. If I were quick, I could enter the field at the same time as them, and we could give each other mutual support. They got into the field before me, and walked along the far side, where I would have walked if I had not detoured. The beasts thundered towards them. The walkers had sticks and were waving them furiously. In cowardly fashion, I thought I would just nip unobtrusively through the field corner whilst the bullocks were occupied elsewhere, but one looked round and saw me. Half of them kept the other walkers pinned up whilst half began to trot in my direction. I went as fast as I could without running, and nipped through the gate, feeling hot breath on my back.

I was depressed to find that the gate, only of wood, had no proper fastening, but it was enough to e stymied the bullocks. I shot sideways behind the hedge to take myself out of their sight. They set up a halloing and a harrumphing. I felt a bit guilty about the other people, who I could hear desperately shooing them but, peeking through the hedge, I could see the mob that had followed me still hanging hopefully around the gate. I scurried sideways to cross the field out of their line of sight in case they cracked the gate opening.

I could see Hinckley point coming ever closer. The map shows the path going around the edge of it, which was my plan, with a detour of a couple of miles inland to my accommodation. IMG_2563However, the path was closed and brought me the west side of the power station, down a track into Shurton. I arrived at 1.30, having done an easy 10 miles, rather than the 12 I planned, but there is no point doing more this afternoon, as I’d have to backtrack and then repeat it tomorrow. I am planning to  meet Vicki and her spaniel tomorrow for a walk down the Parrett river.

 

Day 92 Minehead to Watchet

Day 92 Minehead to Watchet

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.

IMG_2446Somerset 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.IMG_2466

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.IMG_2494

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.

Day 91 – Porlock to Minehead 11th July 2017

Day 91 – Porlock to Minehead 11th July 2017

It was just as well we did the little bit extra yesterday rather than finishing at Porlock Weir in line with standard route, as we had to be in Minehead to meet our luggage and catch the bus to Taunton. All the other days we have dawdled, but we managed a respectable speed of 2.2 miles per hour today.

There was a gentle start from picture perfect Porlock across the flood plain, via Bossington, which also looks like it fell off a chocolate box – all thatched cottages and roses rambling. IMG_2410

We then turned into woodland at the foot of the hill, followed by a long, steady pull upwards for at least a mile. Once on the top, we had a choice between the ‘rugged’ path, which went up and down the combes, closer to the water’s edge, or the cliff-top path, with the view. We elected the top path – partly because it would be quicker, and partly because we had plenty of woodland yesterday, and wanted the views.

In fact, there was not a lot to see, as rain set in around 9.45. It was not heavy, but it was persistent and the sea and sky blended into grey. Wales, which we have been able to see for several days, disappeared from view. There were a few Exmoor ponies chomping quietly and quite a few cows. Only heifers though, so no bother with them.IMG_2429

The final 2 miles wound down through woodland again and we arrived promptly at 12.15. We had a quick bite in The Old Ship Aground, which had very kindly agreed to take our luggage in, then a whistle stop photo opportunity at the end of the South West Coast Path before a 10 min wait in pouring rain for the bus. Now on the fast train to Paddington.

Today is my birthday, and I am able to celebrate it with a truly great present – finally completing the South West Coast Walk – 630 miles from Poole. But still only a fraction of my whole scheme!  We covered 7.4 miles.

Day 90 – Lynmouth to Porlock 10 July 2017

Day 90 – Lynmouth to Porlock 10 July 2017

We had an absolutely superb meal last night, and managed to be in bed by 10.30. It rained heavily during the night, but by breakfast time it was beginning to clear. We walked along the sea front at Lynmouth then climbed up through woodland to the cliff top.

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We passed a small church at Countisbury and, since both of us like old churches, decided to go in. Saxon in origin, the church is very plain, and now at quite a distance from any village.

The hymn numbers from yesterday were still on the board. We checked the first, and, astonishingly, it was the hymn I think of as my own – ‘Eternal Father, Strong to save’ sung to the tune named Melita. Of all the possible hymns that it might have been, it was that. I am sure it was a sign – although for the life of me, I am not sure exactly what of.IMG_2356

Rachel, who is a talented singer in one of the big London amateur choirs, began to sing, much to the delight of some German walkers who wandered in. Rather less dignified for Rachel was the failure of her trouser zip. I have been forbidden from adding any photographs illustrating the mishap.

Shortly after, we took a short cut – the kind of short cut that ends in long delays. The Germans were following us, and we compared notes, agreeing that the map suggested a path outside a field edge would bring us back to the main route. We ended up in a thicket of bracken, so dense that we had to give up and retrace our steps to the point where we had left the main path. It must have added at least a mile to the whole day.

The route then dropped down onto a valley, before joining a road a road, then into a long stretch of woodland, the flies were dreadful, crawling all over us, in our faces and hair, and driving us completely potty. We had to tolerate this through several miles of woodland, not compensated for by its general prettiness, lined with foxgloves. We were amused to see a mower of some sort that looked as though it had just been abandoned in the middle of the bracken – the driver was probably driven mad by the flies.IMG_2381

There is a choice of routes here, and we elected to take the upper one along the cliff top. Longer, but easier and slightly more direct, with the aim of avoiding the flies. After several uneventful miles we dropped down again into woodland, and then we entered Alice in Wonderland territory – there were numerous signs for Porlock, but they pointed in different directions – we would follow one, then come to another pointing back in the direction we had come. No matter how far we walked, the signs continued to say 1.5 miles.

At last, we caught sight of the edge of the village through the trees and, ignoring signs, headed for it. Porlock is a lovely little town, and our B & B is gorgeous. I have a vile horse fly bite from our encounter with the cows yesterday. They disagree with me, and it has swollen up into an angry red lump. 14.5 miles