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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

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