Whitesands to Porthgain 3.1.20

What difference a day makes…………………………………………….

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We set off from Whitesands Bay in bright sunshine, past the headland with an impossible name “Trwynhwrddyn” and up onto St. Davids Head where we get a bit lost. At one point we find ourselves scrabbling up a steep slope between large, tightly packed boulders and the signs we come across are ambiguous. Eventually the path becomes clearer, following the cliff edge past small rocky coves.

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Ahead is what looks like a tor – a large, free-standing rocky outcrop, rising abruptly from the smooth gentle slopes of a rounded hill top. I’m hoping we don’t have to climb over it but as we get nearer I can see the path skirts it.

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On we go – this is a video of our small silhouettes climbing up the other side of a valley. Gives you some idea of our pace.

Just before Abereiddy the path joins a minor road – I am struck by the colours on the rocks here but maybe you have to be there. After long strenuous walks I often experience a heightened appreciation of colour and shape.

 

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And so we amble down into Abereiddy, hoping against hope that there may be a tea van, even though we have been told that such provision is seasonal. Alas – but it’s not far now to Porthgain and its famous pub the Sloop Inn.

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As we get nearer to Porthgain we spy two white, cone like structures which we later discover are marker beacons to guide ships in to the harbour.

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We begin our descent, normally a relaxing lollop down the hill straight to the pub, but to my consternation the path gets narrower, steeper and rockier. Checking my map I see there is an alternative footpath off to the right which would takes us gently down in a long loop but Damian is adamant that we need to take the quicker way, particularly when we are overtaken by a man of about our age, older even, who literally jogs down the path.

After a lot of persuasion I grit my teeth and using my walking pole slowly pick my way down the slope trying not to look at the drop beneath me – at one point I sit down and slide a few meters. So glad no-one is around to see me.

And then, turning a corner, we are here and the path morphs into a metal stairway, much easier to negotiate!

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We head straight for the Sloop Inn, ignoring the sign that says “no muddy boots” and no-one seems to care.

The following day, before driving home, we visit St. Davids Cathedral – here are some pictures.

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Distance: 10 miles

 

 

 

Solva to Nolton Haven 2.1.20

The forecast is rain and strong winds and as we sit in the car at Solva, there is indeed rain, great sheets of it sweeping across the windscreen. So we sit and dither, shall we try in the hope of it clearing up? Or shall we call it a day of reading and hot chocolate?Finally we agree on a compromise – we will try for half an hour and if it’s too bad we’ll come back.

The path is up through woodland where the trees keep the worst of the weather out – I start to feel better. Up we go onto the cliffs and that’s where the fun starts. The rain is light now but the winds are making up for it. Buffeted from all directions we plough through gusts of 30 mph winds, struggling to keep our balance and this can be scary on a narrow cliff path. To my surprise I do not feel fear but instead a mounting rage – I feel like I’m fighting the wind and that it is NOT going to win. As you can imagine, there are not many stops to take photographs – but here are one or two ….

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After a while as we get closer to Newgale, the wind seems to abate a little and we are able to take a better look around. The path takes us past a construction site where some lucky person is building a beautiful one story house. The wave like turf roof curves over huge picture windows looking out to sea.

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Below is the digital model from the architect’s website…………….what a place to live.

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Eventually we reach a spot with a view over Newgale Beach and head down for tea and mince pies in the local surfer cafe. The plan is now to take the bus back to Solva, pick up the car, drive to Nolton Haven and walk back to Newgale.

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And this is what we do, braving the rain and winds again to end up on Newgale Beach where we can walk to the village – this is Damian disappearing into the mist.

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So yes, we got wet but I am so glad we didn’t give up.

Distance: 8 miles

 

 

 

 

Whitesands Bay to Porthlysgi Bay 1.1.20

It’s New Year’s day and time for the annual dip – for some………. Whitesands Bay has it scheduled for 12 noon, in about an hour, so we cannot hang around for the vicarious thrill of seeing people throw themselves into the freezing waters of the Irish Sea.

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Some have already started…

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……and just up the coast in Aberdovey my sister in law and her mates are braving the water. RESPECT.

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Soon we reach Porthselau where another New Year’s Dip is happening – someone has lit a fire on the beach to warm people up.

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Overlooking the bay is a beautiful little cabin tucked discreetly into the hill – its grass roof blending perfectly with the surrounding vegetation.

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Our next bit of excitement is when we reach the lifeboat stations at St. Justinians – there are two, the blue is the new one, completed in 2016.

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As we stand and take photographs the lifeboat arrives, discharging a dinghy which is then hauled up the ramp.

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Some time later, just as my patience is wearing thin, the huge lifeboat wiggles its way onto the ramp in reverse and is also winched slowly up into the hanger.

There is a slight drizzle around now and it is time to don waterproof trousers – a frustrating operation which tests one’s balance and patience even with long zips up the sides. They are also horrible to walk in restricting gait and speed but better than wet trousers of course.

The eastern shore of Ramsey Island off to our right follows us as we walk across the top of the cliffs, with the occasional heart stopping peek down onto a series of dramatic rock formations and caves. “Ogof” means cave in Welsh so we walk past Ogof Mary, Ogof Goch, Ogof Felen, Ogof Cadno and weirdly Ogof Mrs. Morgan. Further research indicates that in 1912 the Morgan brothers of Abercrave and a friend, were exploring caves in the area, so perhaps they discovered this cave and decided to name it after their mother or wives – who knows.

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Eventually we reach Porthlysgi Bay, where we finished yesterday, and stop for a rest. We sit on the beach and watch little birds deftly flipping over pebbles to look for food and later find out that these birds are called Turnstones.

From here we take the now familiar path over the fields and down lanes to St. Davids and a hot bath.

Distance: 7 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solva to Porthlysgi Bay 31.12.19

We are in Pembrokeshire in Lower Solva, a village with a small harbour, which sits at the head of an inlet leading out into St. Brides Bay. It’s a grey day with rain building up in the clouds, but the forecast says dry.

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Following the path up on to Morfa Common we head west along the cliffs towards St.Davids, the smallest city in Britain, courtesy of its cathedral. Slabs of dark granite cliff sweep down into the sea protecting small inlets where smugglers would unload their goods. Solva was a known centre for smuggling where even the local Baptist chapel was lit using candles made of smuggled tallow.

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As we get closer to St Davids, a stern looking building appears on the horizon – the house appears to have its own chapel. Visitors are welcome so we go in to have a look.

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A sweet old lady with a strong Irish accent is busying about and tells us we have missed mass by 5 minutes. I wonder just how many people had attended in such a small space. She also tells us that the house is used for retreats and after a bit more chat she wishes us a good day and scuttles out.

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The chapel is dedicated to St. Non, who was the mother of St. David (the patron saint of Wales for the uninitiated) and she has her own well where the water is said to cure all manner of ailments. I do not know whether the idea is to submerge your afflicted body part or drink the water but I was not about to do either.

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Here she is again…….

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From here we head back down to the coast path through Portclais and following the advice of a local, decide to head for Porthlysgi Bay. There are some terrifying drops on the way.

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Porthclais has an ancient harbour and even on a dull day the colours and formation of the rocks on the sides of the cove are startlingly beautiful.

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Eventually we reach Porthlysgi Bay from where we’ve been told there is a footpath cross country up to St Davids.

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We find the wide grassy path that leads up to a minor road and follow it into the village/city. On the way Damian is smitten by a herd of young bullocks.

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This is our first sight of the cathedral……………….

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And here is the centre of the village – I am so glad we are here in December and not at the height of summer.

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We check in to our accommodation, have dinner and after a few New Year’s greetings to family and friends we are asleep by 10.30pm. New Year’s Eve for us is not what it used to be!

Distance: 9 miles

 

 

Llanstadwell to Herbrandston 3.11.19

And tomorrow is another day………………it could not be more different, blue sky, sunshine and the promise of a little rain in the evening when we’ll be tucked up somewhere warm and dry.

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From the village we turn left up the minor road and then right along a wet muddy path guarded by a colony of wind turbines turning lazily over our heads. They emit quite a loud hummmm and although I know they are absolutely necessary, I still wouldn’t want to live too close.

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We are now approaching a large oil refinery which has to be skirted, with the help of a couple of cage bridges. The first one is pretty high up and I have to make sure I’m staring straight ahead. This is Damian’s cautious approach, followed by a surge of confidence.

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What I assume to be an oil tanker is moored off the jetty to our left ……….

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……..and beneath us rows of pipes stream down the hillside.

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We walk past jetties and industrial installations, curiously attractive in the sunshine.

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……until the path turns away from the coast, over another, bigger, cage bridge and then up to the minor road leading into Milford Haven.

Walking through the residential streets of the town is a little tedious but the sun is still shining and there are clear views over the water to the gigantic Pembroke oil refinery where in June 2011 a storage tank exploded killing 4 maintenance workers and seriously injuring one more.

Further up the promenade we walk past a memorial to this accident – I don’t quite get the symbolism but I do like it as a sculpture.

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Down the busy main road we walk, heading for the Marina and tea and cake.

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Suitably refreshed we head up west over the road bridge and up into the streets of pebble dashed Hakin where Sunday washing blows merrily in the breeze. Damian tells me that that there was a time in Scotland when hanging out your washing on a Sunday was a mortal sin (metaphorically speaking).

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The Pembrokeshire Coast Path now skirts another vast industrial plant – this one for the storage of liquid gas. We walk on the pebble beach under one of the substantial jetties.

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The beach is deserted apart from a woman and her little son who are passing the time in that old age tradition of throwing pebbles into the water. I wonder where they’ve come from as they were certainly not behind us and to come the other way would be a few too many miles for the little boy. I surmise that she must be a family member of someone working at the plant.

A short way off the coast is a small island known as Stack Island where in the mid 19th century a fort was built to defend Milford Haven from any attack by Napoleon the 3rd.

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Today it is up for sale for the price of a one bedroomed flat in London but you would need a few bob to make it habitable.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5811693/Historic-Stack-Rock-Fort-island-sold-400-000-one-bed-London-flat.html

After a while we leave the industrial scenery behind, rounding South Hook Point and heading north to our final destination, the village of Herbrandston.

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A small beach appears and in the distance we can see the few caravans and summerhouse of Sandy Haven.

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For my/our next walk this is where I/we will have to get the tides right to make sure our crossing is made at low tide. There were previously stepping stones taking walkers over the inlet but they have been replaced by a concrete path – a shame.

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Local dog walkers are out in their wellies, chatting in groups, although quite a few are heading back home as the first drops of rain fall. We have another mile to go up a tarmac road to the village and arrive at the pub more than a little damp.  And the pub is closed! Fortunately it is only a short taxi ride back to Milford Haven where we’re staying the night.

Distance: 10 miles

 

 

Llanstadwell to Pembroke 2.11.19

There is rain and there is RAIN and today we got both…..oh……. plus high winds.

Our walk starts innocently in the pretty village of Llanstadwell and although we know the forecast says miserable it is not raining when we leave.

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The narrow road winds up through the village where I am pulled up short by the sight of a small Victorian fireplace set into the outside wall of a house – nasturtiums crowd around to take a look.

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Out in the bay three tugboats are lined up expectantly – perhaps waiting to assist ships out of or into Pembroke Dock

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A couple of miles on the rain starts and it is now I discover I have forgotten to pack my waterproof jacket (of all things!). A taxi is summoned and Damian spends 15 minutes in the local cafe drinking a cup of tea and chatting to the friendly waitress while he waits.

Take 2 ……….From here we turn off right from the road onto a narrow path through a patch of woodland that runs up the west side of the estuary. It is still raining but our umbrellas (a recent idea) keep most of it off. It is quite cosy hearing the pitter patter of the raindrops on the brolley.

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Coming out onto the main road again we cross a bridge over the marina……………………..

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…..and then it’s a trudge along the A477 to the start of the Cleddau Bridge.

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Just as we set foot on the bridge it starts hammering down – tropical, torrential rain, and I spend the next 10 minutes cursing myself for not putting on my waterproof trousers. My jeans are soaked from the top of my thighs and downwards and I can see from the change in colour of Damian’s trousers that his are also drenched – oh dear.

Eventually the rain eases and we follow the route of the Welsh “Coast” Path through acres of miserable housing estates and down to the Martello tower at Pembroke Dock.

Originally built to defend the port from a French invasion in the mid 19th century this remarkable building is now up for sale for £70,000 – there is local opposition.

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On we go and now the wind has picked up. So much so that turning a corner I suddenly find my umbrella almost ripped out of my grasp by a sudden gust, which snaps two of the stays…….ah well.

Through the almost deserted town (who in their right mind would be out on such a day, especially with the prospect of an international ruby match on the telly), the path turns left through an area of muddy fields called Sykemoor. This is a relief after the mean streets of Pembroke Dock and the rain is holding off. This is not the end of the story however because all that rain has to go somewhere – usually the lowest point in the landscape. An exploratory poke with my walking pole tells me these boots are not made for walking …..what to do?

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The hero of the day is Damian, who finds a way down and up a very slippery steep slope to the right of the gate, clambering over a barbed wire fence to emerge victorious on the other side. He even comes back to show me the way!

And so, very muddy and wet we eventually join the tarmac road which follows the bank of the river down to Pembroke Castle. There we find a lovely warm cafe where we sit and steam, wolfing down slabs of Bara Brith with hot tea. Bliss…..

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Distance: 8 miles

 

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