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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Walk 182 Highbridge to Weston-Super-Mare (Somerset)

Walk 182 Highbridge to Weston-Super-Mare (Somerset)

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

Map: L/R 182
Distance: 15 miles or 24 km approx
Difficulty: Easy, apart from a climb up Brean Down
Terrain: coastal path/sandy beach with options to walk on the road in parts
Access: Parking in Highbridge and Weston
Public transport: Regular train link between Highbridge and Weston.

Follow the cycle route out of Highbridge and then the path alongside the River Brue towards the coast. At the start, along the road from Highbridge station, look out for the statue dedicated to Major Frank Foley (1884-1958) who was born in the town. He rescued thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution in World War 2 and had them resettled in Britain or Palestine.

On the outskirts of Highbridge, on the River Brue. is Highbridge Wharf. In the 19th century it became a busy port exporting local goods such as cheese, tiles and bricks (there were once nine brickyards in the area). Imports included timber from Scandinavia. Men called 'timber runners' would carry planks on their shoulders to the timber mill. It was a well paid job but work was dependent on ships arriving. After the Second World War the wharf proved too small for the new generation of ships.

Follow the track around and along to Burnham-on-Sea. From here you can see Stert Island - a nature reserve for which you require permission to land. Every summer swimmers race from Burnham to the island and back again. Look out for the brown bricked boathouse on Burnham front. It was built in 1995 as the result of a challenge for the TV programme Challenge Aneka (Rice). A rescue hovercraft is housed here adapted for soft sand or mud.

A bit further along is Burnham Pier reputed to be the shortest in the UK. The rise and fall of the tide here is quite dramatic and is one of the highest in the world. It can rise as high as 12 metres during the Spring equinox. In 1607 the village was engulfed by a huge tidal wave which killed many people – many saw this as divine intervention at the time.

Burnham is yet another place that claims a connection with Jesus and Joseph of Aramathea. They are reputed to have landed near here at an area called Paradise before visiting Glastonbury.

Further along is Burnham Pavilion which was built in 1911 – it was the first marine construction in England to use a method now known as reinforced concrete. Look out for St Andrews 14th century church tower which leans about one metre – this happened soon after it was erected. Inside there is a 12 metre altar piece carved in 1686 by Grinling Gibbons.

As you walk out of Burnham you will notice 3 lighthouses, one near to the church. This original lighthouse, called the Round Tower, is now used for holiday lets. It was built in the early 1800s when a vicar levied tolls on passing ships and used the money to sink two spa wells. This never caught on as the waters were said to have an unsavoury odour. (isn't this the case with most spas). There is a wooden lighthouse on the beach with nine oak legs built in 1832 and a third Trinity lighthouse nearby.

The walk continues along Berrow Sands and dunes which are sites of special scientific interest for a variety of wildlife. Just past Berrow village there is a path to St Mary's Church known as 'The church of the sand dunes' – if you visit there is an unusual stained glass window which depicts a cat as part of a scene.

The miles of flat walking come to an end at Brean Down. It is well worth walking to the point of the headland - taking note of the warnings to stick to the paths and away from the dangerous cliffs. People have been active here since the Stone Age. The main feature now is the well preserved Brean Down Fort which was built in 1870 as part of a chain of forts to protect the Bristol Channel against a possible French invasion. Visitors are free to wander in and around the buildings. It was manned in 1900 when a soldier committed suicide when he fired a shell into a gunpowder magazine and caused a huge explosion. The army left in 1913 but returned in World War 2 when the site was used for testing possible new weapons. Information boards erected by the National Trust give lots more information.

Leave Brean Down and carry on to Uphill Beach. This was formerly the site of a Roman fort where lead and silver from mines in the nearby Mendip Hills were shipped out. It was also a port used by Royalists in the Civil War.

Continue along to Weston Super Mare (Latin for upon sea) which developed from a village in the 19th century to become a major seaside resort with a rail station and two piers. Out at sea are the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm. Trips can be arranged to Flat Holm which is a site of Special Scientific Interest and includes some historic buildings.

As you walk along the promenade look out for a beach shelter which has text etched into the windows by a local artist – they are meant to be read in conjunction with the landscape seen through each window. Further down is the aquarium then The Grand Pier which was opened in 1904. It was designed to be one to five miles long. In 2008 it was destroyed by fire and reopened in 2010. John Cleese and Bob Hope lived in Weston when they were children.

The centre of Weston has a strange construction called The Silica which was built in 2006. To the north side of Weston there is a sea installation called Without Earth Under Foot, put here in 2010. It is a constellation of phosphorescent material where energy is absorbed then gives off a luminescent glow at night. Quite striking if you get a chance to see it.

To the north of Weston, near the woods, is the 1867 built Bimbeck Pier which links the mainland to an island of the same name – the only pier in the UK to do this. Sadly, it was closed due to storm damage in the nineties and looked derelict.

The final destination is through Weston Woods to Sand Bay. A path through the woods means that you can avoid a dangerous road. A quiet place, and if you can manage a further mile or two you can look at Woodspring Priory which was founded by a knight in 1230 and is now owned by The Landmark Trust for letting and occasional viewing. A bus runs back from Sand Bay back into the centre of Weston.

Photos show: Frank Foley memorial, Highbridge; St Andrew's Church, Burnham-on-Sea; a view of Brean Fort; The Silica in Weston-Super-Mare; Bimbeck Pier to the north of Weston.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Walk 181 Bridgwater circular walk (Somerset)

Walk 181 Circular walk centred around Bridgwater and Combwich (Somerset)

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

Map: L/R 182 – make sure you have the latest map (floods and work at Hinkley Point have altered the routes of some paths)
Distance: 13 miles or 20 km approx but much depends on access due to overgrown and closed paths.
Difficulty: Easy, mainly flat
Terrain: path and some road
Access: Parking in Bridgwater
Public transport: Not possible although there is a bus service from Combwich back into Bridgwater.

Parts of the coast may be accessible between Watchet and Hinkley Point but I found many of the paths overgrown or closed around the power station. The distance above could be longer or shorter depending on how far you can go. I got a bus to Combwich to save walking twice on the same part of the River Parrett.

Start in the centre of Bridgwater, formerly a busy sea port. The tall, slender spire of the 14th century St Mary's Church is a significant landmark. Look out for the statues of Admiral Robert Blake and Guy Fawkes. Blake was very important in Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth Navy. Bridgwater has a radical past and Fawkes has been commemorated for centuries here in the yearly carnival. The battle at nearby Sedgemoor in 1685 was where the Monmouth rebellion was crushed. He had a claim on the English throne but was captured and executed by King James 11 after the battle. Bridgwater was the first town to petition the government to ban slavery. The town was a major manufacturer of bricks up to the 1960s and there is a Brick and Tile Museum that can be visited.

Follow the River Parrett out of the town. There are only a few rivers in the world that have the right conditions to form a bore. This is caused by a strong tide pushing its way up a narrowing channel coming up against the current of the river. The Parrett bore can reach over 0.6 metres in height travelling at about 5 mph. In the past the bores were skilfully used to carry boats upstream.

On the way out of the town look out for the 19th century crane which was restored by local organisations in 2004. Keep following the path along the river to more rural surroundings. A stile to a footpath with the seriously off putting message 'Bull in field', comes up on the left. Is this legal? A bit further along I came across a herd of very frisky cattle. They followed me along the path taking it in turns to charge across in front of me. I was glad to get over a stile and out of that section.

A few miles along the river is Combwich with its small harbour. It served as a port for the export of local produce and the import of timber until it silted up in the 1930s. The walk from here starts well enough but gets overgrown on the way to Steart where there is access to the coast through a nature reserve. From Hinkley Point nuclear power station can be seen. It is the subject of a major redevelopment in the near future.

On the way back there you can cross the newly developed Steat Marshes Reserve which connects with the River Parrett walk. It was in the process of being developed when I was there so it is important to use an up to date map.

Photos show: statue of Guy Fawkes in Bridgwater and the 'dodgy' stile on the River Parrett