Kilve to Combwich 20.9.19

The ruin of Kilve Chantry, founded in 1329 is now a listed building “at risk” and it certainly looks that way. There are tea rooms next door but we are just starting our walk, so out of the question…..

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On reaching the coast where we turned left a couple of months ago, we now turn right, heading off in the direction of Hinkley Nuclear Power Station.

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From running along the top of the cliffs the path crosses freshly ploughed fields – flocks of chiff chaffs dart up from the hedgerows and fly off with a cute bobbing motion. And we can soon see the power station in the distance………………….

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Further on, the path turns into a car wide dirt track and then a high viz arrow directs us off to the left of this coastguard station and closer to the coast.

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Next we are faced with 100 yards of loose stones that are very difficult to walk on……..

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I am hoping that we can continue to walk along the coast in front of the power station but this is not to be…………..mere mortals are being turned inland on a 2 mile diversion.

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…………….this is where we could have walked……………………………………………….

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Ah well – by this time we are in need of a rest so we find a newly planted orchard to rest our weary bones. All around us are young fruit trees and as we walk around the highly fortified perimeter fence, I realise that all around the power station large areas have been planted with young trees – 12.000 of them apparently. Is this to keep away prying eyes or thwart a potential terroist attack? It certainly makes it difficult to take photos. This is as close as we can get, on the far side of this enormous campus.

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The first plans to build a series of new nuclear power stations in the UK began in 2008. Since then there have been numerous disputes over financing of construction work, environmental concerns and viability of the Hinckley Point project. However, despite opposition, not least to Chinese investment, it is now estimated that the power station will be providing electricity for the UK by 2025 – at an estimated cost of £22.9bn. However, a report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in 2016 found that there were viable alternatives.  These include wind and solar farms, connecting the UK grid with other countries and gas fired power stations – a combination which would not only be cheaper but also meet climate targets. This was ignored.

We walk past a car park where a fleet of busses stand ready to ferry people to and from the site and for those that stay, there are accommodation blocks for 1,000 workers. But all is not well.

“In August 2019, it was reported that among the staff working on the site there had been a surge in suicide attempts, a rise in the number of people off sick with stress, anxiety and depression, and an increase in workers suffering from mental distress. Officials from the Unite union reported that they have been told of 10 suicide attempts in the first four months of 2019. A report by the Guardian newspaper explained that the main causes of the distress appear to be loneliness, relationship breakdown and the struggle of being sometimes hundreds of miles away from family” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinkley_Point_C_nuclear_power_station

Last but not least the power station is now responsible for adding an extra 2 miles to our journey and we are beginning to feel it.

Coming back to the coast we turn right towards Stolford hoping that the village may offer  a tea shop. Alas! we are left with our half bottle of warm water and a couple of pork pies – I start to worry as I know there is nothing but a banana between here and our destination and we still have a couple of hours walking to do. Onwards – over a patch of very unusual sea defences.

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Not quite sure how they work…………..but later research tells me that they are a Dutch design known as Hillblock which can reduce wave energy by up to 30%.  The project was funded by EDF, the owners of Hinkley – obviously protecting their interests and keeping the neighbours happy.

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From here we follow a dirt track which runs alongside the edge of the marshland. This  will eventually fold out into the nature reserve known as Steart Marshes, recently created as a buffer against rising sea levels.

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The trail seems to go on forever, it is hot and we are thirsty – with very little water left. Apart from disturbing people in the few farms we pass, the only source of water is the toilet block at the carpark and that is a couple of miles away. I wonder whether they may be a tap in the church. But the church is closed……

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I try to distract myself with the names and pictures of birds one can expect to see from the beautifully made hides that line the trail.

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Eventually, we reach the toilets and they are closed! I am starting to feel like Ralph Fiennes in the film The English Patient, where he struggles across the desert, dehydrated and desperate to find help for his injured wife (well not quite).

So, we eat the banana and head off down the River Parrett Trail to Combwich. Close to the village we start to see dog walkers and I allow myself to fantasise over a pint of cold lager.

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The pub in Combwich is heaving with people attending a 50th birthday party but there are a lot of extra bar staff so we order and make a quick exit. As we sit and savour our drinks outside, we feel the first few drops of rain. It has been a long quite exhausting walk but at least it was in the sunshine.

Distance: 16 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridgwater to Combwich 19.9.19

I remember the impressive spire of the Church of St. Mary from the last time I was here in 2017. That time I was heading north up the east side of the estuary but today my path is up the west bank of the River Parrett ……………………if I can find a way out that is….

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….after a few confusing directions I end up by the canal, which I cross over a narrow metal bridge and then skirt the marina up to the main road following the England Coast Path sign.

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Walking under the A39 I remember what fun I had trying to get down to the river last time I was here but this time it is straightforward. I soon leave the town behind, although the opposite bank is lined with office blocks, a hotel and further up the industrial estates of Dunball Wharf .

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My trail – the River Parrett Trail is well marked and takes me through a series of gates through fields with grazing sheep. One of the gates sports a stern message.

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I meet no-one for miles and the landscape is flat and almost monochrome – it is a little soporific walking in the hot sun. This is why I am slightly taken aback when I come to a gate that is obviously part of the trail, but is locked with a combination lock. I dither for  a minute and then just climb over – why would anyone do that? The next gate is the same so I climb over again, hoping that the next gate won’t be the one I can’t hop over. Very strange.

My next tremble is when I come to a sluice with no obvious route around it…..until I notice a path off to the right with another locked gate – I am beginning to feel a letter coming on…..

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This overgrown path takes me down alongside what could be mistaken for a piece of modern art and indeed I can’t see its purpose.

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By this time I have realised that, unlike the South West Coast Path, this section of the England Coast Path is not used very much. My assumption is confirmed when I go through the next gate (not locked thank goodness) and am faced with the “path”. Perfect for twisting an ankle.

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By this time I can see my destination Combwich (pronounced Cummitch) quite clearly but as I approach the village I am directed off left down to the road where re-surfacing is going on.

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I ask for directions to the pub, up past the church and then down to Combwich Pill.

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There is one other person in the pub where to my surprise Leonard Cohen is being played.  I order a plate of chips and a drink. This has been a short, uneventful walk – Damian arrives tomorrow for the long one.

Distance: 8 miles

 

 

Kilve to Blue Anchor 1.9.19

We are dropped off at Kilve church and walk down the lane to the coast path.

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……..where an information board tells us about the practice of glatting on Kilve Beach.

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Someone could not resist a quick sabotage of the photo so here is one from the internet. I’m afraid I cannot eat eels at the best of times and a conger eel……………..just look at what I found………

Congers are predators and can attack humans. In July, 2013, a diver was attacked by a conger eel in Killary Harbour, Ireland, at a depth of 25 metres. The eel bit a large chunk from his face. The diver reported the creature was more than 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in) in length and “about the width of a human thigh” Eeeeeek………

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Today we are walking along the edge of the Quantock Hills that are famous for being England’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The dramatic sky looks like rain but the forecast says otherwise.

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Off to the left is a grand country house but it is not shown on the map…………..

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We follow the England coast path through fields and along the pie crust cliff edge – the dramatic beach striations reveal themselves as the tide retreats.

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At one point we come to two or three fields of maize standing to attention in neat lines. I may be a bit slow on the uptake but I suddenly realise why the African/Caribbean hairstyle is called “corn rows”.

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At St. Audries Bay we meet one of those signs ……………..

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……..but fortunately there are a few people on the beach walking dogs or looking for fossils and they seem to know that the tide is going out and will turn again at 1 pm – plenty of time.

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At the end of the beach is a spectacular waterfall – wonderful to stand under on a hot day I would imagine, although the top of the cliff doesn’t look too secure.

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Around the corner is a metal staircase to take us up to the top of the cliffs – from here the path winds around a holiday park and then joins the road into Doniford.

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We are by now gasping for a cup of tea but when we reach Watchet harbour there is such a lot going on that it takes a while before we find the right place. The harbour front is full of colourful stalls and happy crowds – this must be a regular Sunday market.

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…………..and in the midst of it all is this – a sombre reminder of the wages of sin –  The Ancient Mariner (Coleridge’s poem was written while he lived with his wife in Nether Stowey, a village 10 miles away).

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………..the desperation and sorrow in his face is chilling.

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Time for a nice cup of tea, which we find in a delightful little tea house on the corner.

The path out of Watchet follows the main road west out of the town and then branches off to take us up onto the cliffs again. From here to Blue Anchor are long stretches of mud and sand and it’s pretty monotonous walking but the clues cast mesmerising shadows.

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Eventually we reach Blue Anchor and I get a chance to take some photos of the station.

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…………….priceless……….

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………there’s tea and biscuits and pots of jam for sale. Books and magazines too………

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……………..and after a short wait, here comes our train, a steam train this time! Hurray!

 

Distance: 12 miles

 

 

 

 

Blue Anchor to Minehead 31.8.19

The South West Coast Path is done but now there is another path to follow, as we still have some time and energy left. The ammonite emblem directs us along the promenade and up to the station, where we catch a train to Blue Anchor, some five miles up the coast – the plan is to walk back to Minehead. The fortunes of the West Somerset Railway have ebbed and waned over the years, and it has been pulled back from the brink of extinction a few times. Currently it has fifty paid staff and a key input from 900 volunteers. Running both steam and diesel trains up the twenty mile line to Bishops Lydeard, it is the longest heritage railway in England. Unfortunately for us there is no steam train for another two hours so we take the old diesel train.

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Two stops up the line is Blue Anchor where we are met by this slightly worrying sign – but the sea is miles away so we hobble off down the pebbled beach.

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It is hard work walking on the pebbles, not helped by a strong headwind but around Dunster it changes to mud and stones and then later to proper sand.

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For a quarter of a mile a row of quite substantial beach chalets stand guard………..

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We have now reached an area called The Warren where the path skirts the golf course at Minehead. This warning is a new one on me………………………………………..

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And last but not least we arrive at the gates of the Promised Land………………………

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I think I’m right in saying that my parents were very scornful of a Butlins holiday but that could just be me. Looking at it now that I am a parent (and grandparent) I can definitely see the allure for families. Offers include indoor and outdoor pleasure pools, a circus, live entertainment (including a weekend of live electronic music), a funfair, family friendly restaurants and if you ever need to escape the pressure of so much fun there is a long sandy beach and woodland walks in the hills above the town.  Talking of which I also discover that the stainless steel scallop shell, placed at regular intervals along the front, is an attempt by the local authority to tempt the inmates of Butlins out into the streets of the town. There is a mile of them starting from the entrance to Butlins all along the promenade to the harbour – the Maritime Mile Trail.

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Distance: 5 miles

 

 

Porlock to Minehead 31.8.19

Golden Gate Park in San Fransisco is the only other place I have seen such glorious Dahlias – our BnB lady tells us she feeds them with chicken pellets. Although a little on the showy side I find myself admiring the size and colour of these beauties. We are in Porlock by the way, a very pretty village with two good pubs and extremely good homemade pork pies.

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This morning we follow an old lady’s advice and cut down through a lane that leads out to the coast path – we are going in the opposite direction from yesterday’s walk. At the end of the lane we turn right across flat featureless marshland and very soon afterwards it begins to rain – heavily. We clamber into our wet weather gear and shimmy on – as if.

I personally hate walking in waterproof trousers, ungainly gait, restricted movement, irritating swishy noise and as soon as you take them off it usually starts to rain again –  but I am always so thankful I have remembered/decided to take them with me.

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We are heading in the direction of a small village called Bossington and then up an extremely steep hill to Hurlstone Point.

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From the top we stop to catch our breath and see where we’ve come from. It’s a grey day but at least it has stopped raining.

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From Hurlstone Combe the official coast path splits into high and low road – we take the low as I would rather walk through green fields and moorland than take the “rugged route” which probably involves walking on a narrow path round the sides of steep cliffs, not my favourite kind of walking, especially on a windy day – and yes I know I’m a coward.

The path over Selworthy Beacon is wide and flat and although it is a little monotonous we make good progress.  We are though a long way from the sea.

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On the approach to Minehead there is a network of woodland paths leading down to the town and it is very easy to take the “wrong” one. From Culver Cliff we do unintentionally veer off from the coast path and find ourselves coming down close to the harbour.

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And then suddenly we are there! The end of the coast path – 630 miles through Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset – a really important milestone on my walk. There has to be a photo……….or two…………or three.

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We celebrate with a cream tea which (I kid you not) is probably the worst cream tea I have ever eaten. Ah well………………it is what it is.

Distance: 10 miles

 

 

 

 

 

Purlock to Countisbury 30.8.19

Instead of grassy paths across the top of cliffs or narrow lanes through deeply wooded valleys, our walk today starts off on the stony beach round the back of Porlock and continues across flat marshland and fields until we get to Porlock Weir.

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Damian has one of his Dr. Doolittle moments………………

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Just outside Porlock Weir this sculptural breakwater catches my eye……………………….

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Porlock Weir is sleepy this time in the morning – we have a quick look round before heading up behind the main hotel to skirt the edge of a patch of woodland to come out onto the road once more.

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But we are not allowed onto the road – the sign on the gate says “no walkers” and for cars, motorbikes and motor homes there are toll charges and warnings.

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P1040615For those like me who have never heard of non-feasance or misfeasance the word means a transgression, especially the wrongful exercise of lawful authority. I can think of a few instances where this word may be used in the circus that masquerades as a government at the moment.

No – we are sent off to the right and up into the damp dense woodlands of Yearnor Wood that shuts out the sunshine for a couple of miles, but eventually opens up into the tiny settlement of Culbone – presided over by the smallest parish church in Britain.

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The church is dedicated to the Welsh saint Beuno and recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. It is just 35 feet long, with the nave taking up 21 feet of that length and even though there is no road access, there are still regular services. These two windows below are believed to be 1,000 years old. And there is obviously no electricity………………………………….

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Apart from the church there are two other buildings in Culbone, both of them houses – here is one of them.

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I do love walking through forests but what follows is a bit too much of a good thing. We plod along through Culbone Wood then Embelle Wood and Yenworthy Wood. We can see nothing through the dense covering of trees with only the occasional patch of dappled sunshine and a lucky find!

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Until eventually the terrain changes and at a junction we meet this monster.

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This machine can apparently fell, strip and saw into neat logs, whole swathes of forest with only one man at the wheel. As we investigate, a horrendous roar starts up to our left which sounds as if some mighty pre-historic animal has just discovered our presence and taken objection.

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Sure enough up the hill trundles one of these machines – we scramble up the nearest bank as it sways and snorts its way around the tight corner and past us. What it leaves in its wake is a mile of unpleasant trudging through churned up mud and puddles.

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Eventually we leave the logging industry behind and move into calmer territory. The Sisters Fountain is a natural spring which was enclosed in stonework in the nineteenth century and named after the daughter (or daughters, or nieces, depending upon who’s telling the tale) of the first owner of the Glenthorne estate.

There is a legend that Jesus drank here, as a youth, when he passed this way with his uncle, the Phoenician tin trader Joseph of Arimathea, on their way to Glastonbury. Joseph is said to have struck the ground with his staff, prompting the flowing of the holy water. We stop for a while in this quiet peaceful place.

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The walk from here now opens up a little allowing us views of the coast for the first time for hours.

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………..and soon we are walking on a path lined on both sides by a dense cover of rhododendron bushes planted in the mid 19th century as part of the Glenthorne Estate – it must be an amazing sight to see them in flower in Spring.

On further investigation however I learn that the plant is responsible for the destruction of many native habitats. The reason for this is simple. Where conditions are suitable, Rhododendron will out compete most native plants. It will grow to many times the height of a person, allowing very little light to penetrate through its thick leaf canopy. This effectively eliminates other competing native plant species which are unable to grow due to insufficient light. This in turn leads to the consequent loss of the associated native animals. Who would have thought it?

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By the time we have reached the end of Glenthorne Cliffs we are both very tired and thirsty so it is with joy that we discover a tea/drinks/fruit stop organised by some enterprising souls who live nearby.

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Moving on we walk through the strangely scabbed hillsides of the Foreland – the path is endless, I use my pole a lot to get me up the slopes, I feel a hundred years old.

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………….until finally we look down on the wonderful sight of Countisbury Church and then it’s through the church yard and out the other side to the pub.

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Distance: 14 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countisbury to Lynton 29.8.19

The path at Countisbury runs behind the church, so we walk straight through the churchyard and out the other side.

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We then follow a wide track across the top of the cliffs and can soon see Lynton in the distance.

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Coming down into Lynmouth however is a little more complicated – one sign points up the hill, the other down. We go down, hoping that the wonderful cliff railway is still working – this will take us up a steep cliff from Lynmouth to Lynton.

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Lynmouth town and harbour are not too busy – it has that end of season feel – in fact our taxi driver told us that the population of the town in winter is not much above 50! I can hardly believe that………..

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Anyway – to our relief the cliff railway is running so we wait in line for our turn. The lift is totally water powered and if you’re interested in how it works here is a link which explains the mechanism much better than I can.

https://www.cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk/about-the-railway/how-it-works/

What the website does not tell you is that the water is drawn from the river high above the town and that it is gravity which sends it down the pipes. The clever Victorians had worked out just how high they needed to go when laying the pipes.

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Distance: 2 miles