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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Walk 180 Minehead to Watchet (Somerset)

Walk 180 Minehead to Watchet (Somerset)

(Third leg of English coastal walk – Lands End to Bristol)

Map: L/R 181
Distance: 7 miles or 12 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, mainly flat
Terrain: path and some road
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Steam train connects the two places, also buses.

Walk out of Minehead past the Butlin's complex and alongside the golf course.

Near Dunster Beach is a World War 2 pill box made from pebbles from the beach and bonded with concrete. A mile or so inland is Dunster with its impressive castle. The well preserved medieval village and National Trust run castle are both worth a visit. There are superb views of the coast from the castle. Dunster was the birthplace of the hymn 'All things Bright and Beautiful', written by Cecil Alexander when he was staying there. On the beach are chalets and the mouth of the River Avill – there used to be a harbour here from Saxon times where wool was exported.

Further along is Blue Anchor. A pleasant enough beach overlooked by caravans on the other side of the road. Presumably named after the pub here. After the path leaves the pavement it soon starts to go inland for much of the walk to Watchet. The final bit of the walk can be along the road or along the pebbly beach which was rather hard on the feet but you can admire the interesting rock formations on the land side.

Watchet is a pleasant, interesting place. The Vikings once sailed into the harbour and later it became a busy port dealing in iron ore. Trains, on what is now the heritage steam railway, carried the ore mined in nearby hills to Watchet Station and then it was carried to the quayside, then on to Wales. It was eventually closed when cheap iron ore was imported from Spain. The harbour was once so clean that cricket was played on the sands when the tide was out – it is more muddy now. With plentiful supplies of wood in the nearby Quantock Hills paper making has been a feature of the area since the 17th century.

Look out for the local church dedicated to Saint Decuman (a new one to me) who is thought to have died here in the eighth century. Sammy Hake's Cottage is another interesting building with a front door only 5 feet high. He was a local character. If it is open, Watchet Market House Museum is worth a visit to find out more about the area. There is an old 'lock up' at the rear. Local traditions include the yearly Lantern Festival involving children with candle lanterns made out of such vegetables as mangel-wurzels and swede.

Further along the sea front at Watchet is a sculpture called The Ancient Mariner - in memory of the poet Coleridge who lived at nearby Nether Stowey. (His house there is National Trust and an interesting visit). He was inspired to write The Ancient Mariner when visiting Watchet Harbour and chatting to an old sailor about how boys on ships trapped albatrosses when they were at sea.

Try to make some time to look at Watchet Station with its iconic original platforms and steam trains.

Photos show Dunster Beach and The Ancient Mariner sculpture at Watchet.


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