Day 280 I met Seaside Steve on the way to Minehead

Monday 9 May 2016

Shurton to Minehead

18 miles

Old Ship Aground Inn

I set off early as rain was forecast and also I had decided not to pay an extra £6.50 for a continental breakfast. Another hot and sticky day. 

RN aircraft range at Lilstock (Brendon Hills in the background)
It was a pleasant cliff top walk past the Northern end of the Quantock Hills. 

the cliffs at the Northern end of the Quantock Hills
Just as I was approaching the end of the road from the village of Kilve I saw a tent pitched near the edge of the cliff. Sat with his head poking out was Seaside Steve (this is his trail name). He was walking the “trail” from Brean to Poole, so the whole SW Coast Path plus a bit. He had bad blisters so had decided to rest up for a couple of days near Kilve. Seaside Steve wild camps every night and takes his time walking (he expects to take 100 days to walk <700 miles so that is quite slow going) but he clearly enjoys it. He identified with me as a fellow trail walker, although I didn’t mention that I use campsites, hostels and B&Bs rather than wild camp. He told me about Trail Angels (people who help us on the trail) and Trail Magic (whenever you really need something it often appears). Had I not read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, about walking the Pacific Crest Trail, I might have thought Steve a bit mad but I decided either he’s an experienced trail-walker or he’s read the same book. Anyway, I may not be a proper trail-walker but I have definitely met lots of Trail Angels and been on the receiving end of a bit of Trail Magic. Seaside Steve also provided me with some tips on getting water on the trail (churches and the cistern-end of animal water troughs were his favourites) and a post card of himself that he normally sells to people he meets, but it was free to a fellow trail-walker. He then played me a tune on his homemade didgeridoo. He made a really good sound from a piece of plastic piping that he had carefully painted in Aboriginal colours. What a character; I walked on with a big smile. 

Seaside Steve playing his didgeridoo
At the end of Kilve Pill was a brick chimney with what looked like an iron funnel atop it. This was an oil retort that had been built in 1924 to convert shale to oil; unfortunately it was found to be not commercially viable. 

Kilve oil retort
Fortunately the tide was heading out so I was able to take the path around St Audrie’s Bay with only a 10 minute wait for the water to recede far enough for me to get around the rocks. 

waiting for the tide to recede at St Audrie’s Bay
The cliffs here are the same Blue Lias type as across the water in Glamorgan and make interesting patterns. 

who laid block paving on the beach?
Blue Lias cliffs in West Somerset
Doniford Bay is known for its Jurassic fossils, particularly ammonites, and I saw a few embedded in the rocks. 

ammonites on Doniford Beach (bigger than my size 8s!)
I was hungry so I thought of food and suddenly I was in front of Doniford Farm Park, which had a tea room. Now that’s Trail Magic! I stopped for afternoon tea, complete with Whortleberry jam. 

Laughing Kookaburras at Doniford Farm Park
Watchet was a pleasant little town. I briefly looked in at the Market House Museum, one of 3 museums in the town. Yankee Jack, a sailor and shantyman who wrote many well-known sea shanties, was from Watchet. 

Fishermen’s cottages in Watchet (the closest one belonged to Yankee Jack)
Watchet harbour was also the inspiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

monument to the Ancient Mariner, Watchet harbour
The West Somerset Steam Railway runs through Watchet and along the coast to Minehead. The mineral line was opened in 1857 to transport iron ore mined in the Brendon Hills to Watchet harbour. From there it was shipped to S Wales for smelting in the Ebbw Vale furnaces. Unfortunately the train wasn’t taking passengers today so I had to walk to Minehead. I did see the train as I was struggling along the shingle by Dunster Beach. 

A West Somerset Steam Train in front of Dunster Castle
The view of Minehead is dominated by the big top style tent at Butlins Holiday Park; however, around the other side of the bay the town seemed quite different. I was staying in a lovely inn on the quayside. 

Butlins at Minehead
the other side of Minehead, with the hills of Exmoor National Park rising out the back of the town
There had been spots of rain all afternoon but nothing much. Heavy rain was still on the forecast for overnight. 

looking across to Minehead and the Exmoor Hills from the Blue Lias cliffs near Watchet

WEEK 39 Newport, Gwent to Shurton, Somerset

97 miles walked

(total 2,263 miles walked)

I made it back to England! Hard to believe that I’ve completed Scotland and Wales now. I feel like I’m on the homeward leg, even though there’s still a long way to go. 

Crossing into England looking from the Old Severn Bridge to the New
A lot of miles in a short week – no wonder my feet were sore in my new boots! 

lots of bluebells this week, these ones in Uphill
What a hot and sunny week; the temperatures were way above average for the time of year. Very little wind all week (except on the hill tops) so it has made for some sweaty walking conditions. 

lots of footpath signs now I’ve reached England
This week has been spent skirting the edge of the  Severn Estuary, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is made up of an intertidal zone of mudflats, sand banks, rocky platforms and saltmarsh, and I’ve seen it all. 

saltmarsh, mudflats, one of many pill boxes, and of course that bridge!
The estuary has an immense tidal range (second biggest in the world) and a classic funnel shape that makes it unique in Britain and very rare worldwide. I have seen lots of wildlife (butterflies and insects as well as birds) and passed several reserves created to watch it. The birds clearly find the mudflats and the dirty-brown water more appealing than me. I did see first hand just how great is the tidal range. Certainly, around Weston-Super-Mare, Brean and Burnham-on-Sea (what a misnomer!) I often couldn’t see the water. 

me and Clare, my new celebrity best friend!

Day 279 The River Parrett Trail to Hinkley Point

Sunday 8 May 2016

Bridgwater to Shurton

13 miles

The Babbling Brook Pub

The strange hotel did a big breakfast so I left with a full stomach but still a sore toe. 

this isn’t very coastal!
The River Parrett Trail looked like the best way to get from Bridgwater to Steart, just opposite Burnham-on-Sea. I thought it would be a well-marked path, but it wasn’t. I spent a couple of hours skirting around crop fields beside a meandering brook. 

Today was hotter than ever; an oppressive heat without any wind (possibly >25 deg). The long grass remained soaking wet despite the sun. I was quite exposed all day so was forced to wear my rather fetching sun hat. 

approaching Combwich on the bank of the River Parrett
I passed through Combwich and then came across the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Steart Marshes. This reserve was not marked on my map as it is a new wetland created by breaching the sea wall to encourage tidal flooding. This is part of a plan to help reduce the flood risk in local towns. The sea wall breach meant that the coast path had been diverted and so I didn’t walk all the way to Steart but cut off the corner. 

a hide on Steart Marshes
I was back on the edge of the Bristol Channel and heading towards Hinkley Nuclear Power Station. 

Hinkley Point B Nuclear Power Station
looking back across Bridgewater Bay to Burnham-on-Sea
I can still see Brean Down
Again the path had been diverted due to ongoing work (I didn’t see any French signs anywhere). Follow the path diversion signs it said, but they soon disappeared and I was left to find my own way. Thankfully it was a Sunday so I could walk along an empty road. 

power lines stretching out from the power station
It was only mid-afternoon when I arrived at Shurton but I was ready to stop as the heat was taking its toll. I had a leisurely few hours catching up on my blog and washing my sweat-soaked clothes. I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner and was pleasantly surprised to find that this pub has a very good chef. My dinner was excellent. 

The Quantock Hills

Day 278 Following the River Parrett to Bridgwater

Saturday 7 May 2016

Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater

13 miles

The Old Vicarage Hotel

I didn’t get much sleep last night as the Haven Holiday Village has big fluorescent lights everywhere, and particularly around my tent. It was like daylight all night. To top it off the little girl in the next tent cried every hour through the night. 

Burnham’s leaning church tower – only the door is vertical!
It started raining at 5 am and carried on until 10. I was tired and my left big toe was very sore so I was not in a hurry to leave. I eventually packed my wet tent away just after 10 and set off. I was trying not to limp; I think I must have bruised my toe somehow. Today was going to be slow going.

boats on the River Brue
Before I could walk up the River Parrett I had to head inland to Highbridge to cross the, much smaller, River Brue. Then it was onto the sea wall and a boring walk to Bridgwater. 

sluice gates at Highbridge (lovely brown water!)
I cut off the Pawlett Hams, avoiding walking around the largest bend in the river. 

looking back at Burnham from the River Parrett
The Parrett has a tidal bore, but unfortunately today was not a spring tide. The tide was out for most of my walk so the river looked quite small in the middle of a huge, muddy trench. I didn’t see much wildlife. 

the River Parrett – a muddy trench
Bridgwater didn’t appear to be a very exciting town. I followed the ‘rope walk’ into the town centre and across the iron bridge. 

Bridgwater’s iron bridge
am I in Holland?
My hotel was strange; only one man was on duty. He was mending a door when I arrived, was the receptionist and also cooked my dinner, and he was grumpy. Needless to say my spaghetti bolognese was not very inspiring. 

It had been another hot, sweaty day, although not too sunny. 

one of many pill boxes along the River Parrett

Day 277 Uphill and Up Brean Down

Friday 6 May 2016

Weston-Super-Mare to Burnham-on-Sea

20 miles

Haven Holiday Village (camping)

It looked like it was going to be another hot and sunny day when I left Claire’s house. I headed out of Weston via the small village of Uphill, which has an ruined Norman church atop its hill. 

St Nicholas’ old church, Uphill
Naturally I climbed the hill to take in the view. What a fantastic spot, with views back over Weston, inland over Somerset (which looked mostly flat with little conical hills), and out to Brean and Brean Down. 

looking back at Weston-Super-Mare
Brean Down from Uphill hill
As I dropped off the top of Uphill hill I walked over Walborough Down (which is very small) and stood on the little grass hump in the middle that was a Bronze Age burial mound. 

St Nicholas’ church and Brean Down
looking at Uphill hill from a Bronze Age burial mound
After such a great start then came 2 hours of boring, and dangerous, road walking to reach Brean. North Somerset council has not yet sorted a path across the Bleadon Level and a bridge is required to cross the River Axe. Without a path I was reduced to walking the narrow, winding, minor road, which is a main driving route to Brean. I did not feel safe as cars swerved to avoid me. Luckily there was a path some of the way. Unluckily that path was impassable so I had to backtrack and add an extra mile on the road. It was not fun. 

Brean is a town full of caravan parks and unusually, many of them seemed to take touring caravans. I stopped at the first one because there was a cafe and I needed a drink and some food. I got chatting to some of the caravaners and discovered that although they all have touring caravans, most people bring them here in March and take them away again in October. So not really using them for touring then, just as cheap second homes with communal facilities and a community spirit. The man I chatted to was from Bristol and retired so he only pops home every couple of weeks during the summer, and not even to mow the lawn as he lives in a council house so the council do that for him. He seemed happy. 

walking along the beach to Brean Down, Steep Holm not that far offshore
After a short break from the heat I hit the beach at Brean. It is a very long, lovely sandy beach but there’s just one problem, there’s no sea! The tide was out and it looked like the mud flats stretched as far out as Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel. 

more cars on the beach (some coal on the sand)
I headed along the beach, past all the parked cars with people sat on chairs next to them eating picnics or throwing balls for their dogs, and made for Brean Down at the end of the beach. I noted that where some seaside towns have yacht clubs, Brean has a landyacht club. 

walking along Brean Down (horses cutting the grass)
Brean Down is a Carboniferous limestone outcrop at the western end of the Mendip Hills. I climbed over 300 steps to the top but it was  worth it. It was too hazy for good photos but I could see for miles: across to Wales, Flat and Steep Holm, Weston, all along Bridgwater Bay and far inland. Wow. 

looking down on Brean beach
Steep Holm and Flat Holm not too far away
Weston-Super-Mare and Birnbeck Island
At the end of Brean Down was the remains of a fort built in 1870 to repeal any potential French invasion. It certainly seemed to me that Milford Haven was much better protected than the Bristol Channel. 

the Mendips (beach on both sides of Brean Down)
I had to walk back along Brean beach, past Berrow, and on to Burnham-on-Sea; about 6 miles along the sand. 

a very long beach walk from Brean to Burnham
Burnham sits at the entrance to the River Parrett and once had 3 lighthouses to guide ships up the Parrett to the port of Bridgwater. The best was a 9-legged wooden tower on the flats. 

the wooden lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea
I camped at the Haven Holiday Village, which seemed very busy. I was able to launder my sweaty clothes before an evening out. Carole and Ollie, who I met on Skomer, live in Somerset and drove to Burnham to take me out for the evening. It was great to see them, and I was very impressed by Ollie’s excellent puffin photos from Skomer. 

Carole looking out to sea (where’s the beach gone?)

Day 276 Portishead, Clevedon and Weston-Super-Mare

Thursday 5 May 2016

Portishead to Weston-Super-Mare

19 miles (+ bus)

Claire and Terry’s house (Laura’s friend)

It was a very early start to leave Wales for the final time on this trip. My watch said 7 am when Laura dropped me off near Portishead and I walked along a cycle path, past huge car parks for new cars, to Portishead Marina. This used to be home to 2 coal-fired power stations; now it’s the home of luxury yachts and apartments. 

Portishead Marina
There was a path that skirted the edge of Portishead and went along the cliffs to Clevedon. This was a really nice walk. 

Woodhill Bay, Portishead
a not-very-impressive pool by Black Nore (the Severn Bridge almost visible in the background)
It was developing into a hot, sunny day so the views across to Wales were a bit hazy. There were lots of woody bits and plenty of bluebells. At one point I disturbed a deer and a buzzard. 
looking across to Wales

lovely cliff path to Clevedon (plenty of bluebells)

Black Nore lighthouse, Portishead
Clevedon had a look of Victorian elegance. I stopped at the first cafe for some refreshment and to use the facilities (North Somerset council charges to use its public toilets). 

approaching Clevedon
I had decided to get the bus to Weston-Super-Mare as there was no coast path from Clevedon and I would have to walk inland and cross the M5 twice to get there. That seemed too boring. This way I spent an hour wandering around Clevedon. 

Clevedon’s Victorian pier
The Victorian pier was built in 1869 and Clevedon claims it to be one of the finest in England; it does look pretty. 
Clevedon
Further around the sea front is Marine Lake, a bathing pool built in 1929 and saved and refurbished last year. I suppose these lakes are the only places to bathe as I’m not sure it’s possible to do so in the estuary; it’s either mud flats or muddy water. 

Clevedon’s Marine Lake
Marine Lake and the pier
On the small hill at the end of the bay is a lookout that was built mid-19th Century to view sugar ships coming up the channel from the West Indies. 

a view of the pier from the lookout
I caught the bus by the old Curzon cinema, reputedly one of the oldest continually-running cinemas in the world. 

Clevedon’s Curzon cinema
The only obvious road between Clevedon and Weston is the M5, so that’s the bus route between the towns. 

Weston-Super-Mare’s golden beach
It was 1pm and very hot and sunny when I arrived at Weston sea front. There was so much beach, and it was busy – lots of older people and parents with young children enjoying the sun. There was a fairground, a pier and donkey rides to be enjoyed, but not by me. I applied suncream and sun hat and walked along the promenade. 

why not park on the beach? (Brean Down in the background)
The tide was out and I couldn’t see the sea. I walked past the pier and Weston’s Marine Lake, and around to Birnbeck Island at the point of the headland. The old pier to this island, and the old IRB station were just wrecks waiting to be dismantled or fall into the sea. Such a shame. 

Weston’s Marine Lake (Steep Holm in the distance)
Birnbeck Island and wrecked pier
Worlebury Hill separates Weston Bay from Sand Bay to the North and I walked around it, via a path through the woods. Sand Bay looked quieter and had dunes behind it, but still no sea. 

Sand Bay
I stopped briefly at the pub for a cool drink and then headed up and over Worlebury Hill, through the woods and past the remains of an Iron Age fort, back to Weston Bay. 

the tide right out at Sand Bay
I was staying with Laura’s friend, Claire, who had kindly offered to put me up for the night and cook me dinner. At the end of a long hot day I was glad to be inside for the evening and must have consumed a couple of litres of water. 

Art by Bikesy in Weston Woods

Day 275 Rambling across the Severn Bridge to ENGLAND

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Caldicot to Avonmouth, Bristol

15 miles

Oli and Laura’s house, Cardiff

The New Severn Bridge in the morning mist
Such a beautiful morning, very sunny but then it got mistier as we approached the Severn Estuary. Oliver dropped me back at Caldicot and I got straight on the coast path, crossed the M4, and headed for the new Severn Bridge. It didn’t take long for the most to burn off. 

walking under the bridge
I passed underneath the first bridge (built in 1996) and immediately came upon the village of Sudbrook; built to house workers constructing the Severn railway tunnel 1873-86. It took 3000 men to build this 4-mile long tunnel. The original pumping station is still in use. 

the old rail track through Sudbrook
Sudbrook Pumping Station, still in use
looking back at Sudbrook Pumping Station and the new Severn Bridge
Black Rock picnic area is the site of the only remaining lave net heritage fishery. People wade out into the Severn and catch salmon in nets that look like a bigger version of one a child would use. 

the Black Rock Lave Net Fishing Hut
I could see the old Severn Bridge; a bit hazy in the bright sun. 

walking towards the old Severn Bridge
I started walking along the estuary towards it but soon the path veered inland across farmers’ fields. One farmer was out sheering his sheep, blocking a gate I needed to get through. He was very friendly and rounded his sheep up into a smaller pen to allow me to get past. It was only after I’d gone past that I realised I was on the wrong path. Oops. Well I couldn’t go back so I had to adjust my route slightly but it wasn’t a problem. 

The New Severn Bridge…
…The Old Severn Bridge
I walked through the village of Mathern, with its statue of the Celtic King Tewdrig of Gwent. He defeated the Saxons in battle near Tintern but was mortally wounded and died on his journey to Flat Holm. Mathern Church was built where he died and the village grew up around it. 

King Tewdrig in front of Mathern Church
I made it to the bridge. A magnificent suspension bridge opened in 1966, a long time after the train tunnel. I walked across it and into England. (It’s actually 4 bridges.)

Crossing the bridge to England
I noted that the sun was shining and hoped that was a good portent as it rained on me when I reached Scotland, was sunny when I crossed from Scotland to England, and grey when I entered Wales. Those initial weather signs would each be good descriptors for the weather I encountered afterwards. I hope it’s the same this time!

the only welcome sign I could find – on the motorway
I walked across the M48 tolls and into the service station, where I sat down to wait for people to join me for my first walk in England. My ex-friend, Sally, had written to the Radio 4 Ramblings programme and so Clare Balding and her producer, Lucy, were coming to walk with me. I was not looking forward to it and had roped in Laura to join us. 

preparing to walk with Clare and Lucy
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with cars we all set off from Aust to an industrial estate on the outskirts of Avonmouth. We were following the Severn Way Path so that made navigation a bit easier having left the Wales Coast Path behind.  

another way-marked path to follow
It turned out to be a really fun afternoon and they were good company. 

me and Clare pretending to look at the map (after I persuaded her to put the costa coffee cup down)
recording in progress
It remained sunny all afternoon as we walked along the estuary, past Severn Beach and under the M4 bridge (for the second time today). 

the new Severn Bridge from the English side
Clare, Lucy and Laura with the old Severn Bridge in the distance
Because of the uncertainty of today I had arranged to spend one last night with Oli and Laura, so I was driven back into Wales one last time. Laura and I went straight to the park for an icecream to celebrate a fun afternoon. 

who needs the Golden Gate Bridge when we’ve got this one?

Day 274 Walking the Sea Wall to the Severn Bridge

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Newport to Caldicot, Monmouthshire

17 miles

Oli and Laura’s house, Cardiff

Oliver kindly dropped me off just on the outskirts of Newport, by the power station. It was early. 

a lovely pub in Nash with chimneys that reminded me of Barrow-in-Furness
Just past the power station was Newport Wetlands Reserve and I walked through it early in the morning all on my own. 

Newport Wetlands Reserve, power station in the background
It was a lovely place; reedbeds in old lagoons that were once used to dump coal ash from the power station. It was beautiful and peaceful. I heard the boom of a bittern and saw a bearded tit. 

the East Usk Lighthouse
looking back at the entrance to the River Usk, both East and West lighthouses in view
The Reserve stretched quite a long way and along the bank of the estuary. I had to walk inland to Goldcliff in order to get around Chapel Pill and then I walked past the Goldcliff Lagoons. I stopped at one of the bird hides and found a ranger inside. We got chatting as we watched the waders and he lent me his telescope. He was watching for crows and buzzards because last year these predators killed all the avocet, lapwing and redshank chicks. I helped look for crows and, when two appeared, the ranger got out his laser to annoy the crows and cause them to fly off. 

Chapel Pill heading into the Severn Estuary
Chapel Pill heading inland
I made it back onto the sea wall and it wasn’t long before I got my first glimpse of the new Severn Bridge. 

walkih the sea wall towards the new Severn Bridge
Nearly there, nearly made it around Wales. First I had to cross the M4 a couple of times and get the train back to Cardiff from Caldicot. 

crossing the M4 by the tolls
The New Severn Bridge

WEEK 38 – Swansea to Newport

76 miles walked

(total 2,166 miles walked)

Easy walking and planning this week as I was hosted by Oliver and Laura all week (and Meirion and Ann on Monday night). This meant I carried a light pack all week and dispensed with my walking poles. 

Strange weather this week. Fortunately I didn’t see the snow that lots of the UK received, but I did have my fair share of rain and hail. None of it dampened my enthusiasm for the walks though. 

my favourite photo of the Blue Lias cliffs
My favourite section of the week was the Blue Lias cliffs of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast; simply stunning. I also like Cardiff Bay and it was nice to share walking the Newport Transporter Bridge with Oli. 

Oli on the Transporter Bridge
I spent all week alongside the Bristol Channel staring across at North Devon. The Severn Estuary does seem to extend out a long way and is muddy brown; rather different from the blue sea of last week. The channel was clearly well defended during WW2 as I have passed lots of pill boxes this week. 

looking across the Bristol Channel towards Weston-super-Mare, the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm in view

Day 271 to 273 Rest Days

Saturday 30 April to Monday 2 May (Bank Holiday)

Rest Days

Oli and Laura’s house, Cardiff

An opportunity to spend the Bank Holiday weekend with Oli and Laura was not to be missed. Besides, it rained pretty much non-stop from Saturday evening onwards. 

Lots of eating, some drinking and plenty of relaxing. I took the time to go shopping in Cardiff for new boots (the same ones as my previous two pairs). The pair I got in August were cracking around the toe joint (a recurring issue) so I managed to get them replaced, despite the obvious wear. I had my feet measured again in Cotswold Outdoor and this time I left with a size bigger as the assistant was convinced mine were too small. So now I have size 8 boots (or boats!), and I wear size 6.5 shoes. I also replaced my inner and outer socks and my superfeet insoles; the only thing I didn’t replace was my feet!

I must not get used to only walking half a week!