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.
A lot of miles in a short week – no wonder my feet were sore in my new boots!
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.
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.
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.
The strange hotel did a big breakfast so I left with a full stomach but still a sore toe.
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.
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.
I was back on the edge of the Bristol Channel and heading towards Hinkley Nuclear Power Station.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I cut off the Pawlett Hams, avoiding walking around the largest bend in the river.
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.
Bridgwater didn’t appear to be a very exciting town. I followed the ‘rope walk’ into the town centre and across the iron bridge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had to walk back along Brean beach, past Berrow, and on to Burnham-on-Sea; about 6 miles along the sand.
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.
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.
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.
There was a path that skirted the edge of Portishead and went along the cliffs to Clevedon. This was a really nice walk.
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.
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).
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.
The Victorian pier was built in 1869 and Clevedon claims it to be one of the finest in England; it does look pretty. 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.
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.
I caught the bus by the old Curzon cinema, reputedly one of the oldest continually-running cinemas in the world.
The only obvious road between Clevedon and Weston is the M5, so that’s the bus route between the towns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I could see the old Severn Bridge; a bit hazy in the bright sun.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
It turned out to be a really fun afternoon and they were good company.
It remained sunny all afternoon as we walked along the estuary, past Severn Beach and under the M4 bridge (for the second time today).
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.