Sunday 20th September 2015
Several weeks have passed since we actually completed this stage in the Somerset Coast Path. At somewhere between fourteen and seventeen miles long, it would become our longest single stretch to date.
Having lost our connection with the coastline at Kingston Seymour in the previous walk, we left the lay-by in Hewish with the aim of leaving the A-roads behind for at least the next twenty miles.
Following the roads for any distance is never a positive experience. It was hard to focus on anything but the passing traffic, with the local church detained beyond a mask of trees.
We soon left the A370 for a narrow road that leads drivers in to Wick St. Lawrence. Crossing the railway line, it was hard to ignore the apparent lack of grammar in the heading of this sign:
Yet, I’ve since noticed two other bridges with identical “errors” within the same region… One of which, I spotted only a few hours prior to writing this post.
What am I missing, here?
There wasn’t an awful lot to admire with tarmac beneath our feet (aside from an outdated phone number area code – 0934 – dating back around twenty years).
Not for the first time in Hewish, we made our way up and over the M5 motorway.
To the south, a huge cloud of mist appeared to be lingering over Weston-super-Mare in an eerie fashion… It possibly would’ve added to the atmosphere of Dismaland, which was running at the time we did this walk.
We took our first rest when a bench appeared conveniently – this was less than thirty-minutes in to the walk but, our excuse was that we had to allow a tonne of cyclists to race past, as this part of the route mirrored a portion of the local cycle route.
Soon after that, we left the roads for a succession of fields and attempted rhyne crossings…
On successive crossings, we encountered and fought to overcome TWO footbridges that were in serious need of repair, if not replacement! Treads were either missing or rotten halfway through. While, on the second bridge, one handrail was there to provide anything but support.
Assuming the worst was now behind us, we continued diagonally across the next field, navigating an electric fence (thankfully, not live) before following an undefined path diagonally across the next field, leading to a farm track and then to a gate…
On my own, I would’ve quite happily leapt over the gate and marched through the field with a false air of self-confidence. But as the herd drew closer and several could be seen head-butting each other, I took Anna’s concerns in to consideration and, together, we would turn back to find an alternative route.
This did mean again, having to brave the broken bridges and avoid minor electrocution. But had we continued ahead, we’d have had to cross several more rhynes and there’s no telling what state those bridges might have been in, had anything remained there for us to use at all.
Back on the path of narrow lanes and avoiding a second premature bench stop as we rediscovered a road junction we had already passed once on this day; there was no such danger as we walked on and in to Wick St. Lawrence.
We then followed a bridleway way through what almost appeared to be the ruins of Ebdon Farm…
Beyond the farmhouse, the rest of the place appeared to have been left to the elements. It was quite sad and I wonder whether this is an effect of farmers losing out to the big-name supermarkets?
Worlebury Hill, Weston-super-Mare.
As it was late morning and we were in need of a short break following previous events, we stopped to refuel momentarily. As we looked on towards Worlebury Hill, we realised that we were gazing at its northern fence, meaning that we could be back within touching distance of the sea within the hour.
We were making the best progress that we had made on the walk so far and with lunchtime fast approaching. Straight ahead, we could see the rise of Sand Point and Middle Hope, just beyond the church, Woodspring Priory.
Behind and in the distance, was the unmistakable outline of the Mendip Hills we both know so well.
If I don’t get a punch in the face one day, I know she’s going to thrown me in to a green rhyne – for this was the first time I’d been caught in the act of sneaking Anna in to my landscape photographs! 😉
It was a little unfortunate that the (unofficial) Somerset Coast Path doesn’t take you out as far as Sand Point peninsula… That may be for a very good reason though, as there is no direct public right of way, let alone a true coastal path.
With the salty sea air beginning to breach our nostrils, we crossed a relatively new footbridge that had apparently been installed by the Ramblers. I’ve since reported those other bridges to the council; I hope now that funding and volunteers will soon be available to ensure a safer right of passage for all who love the outdoors… But this is sadly, a common occurrence for anyone walking through Somerset.
We reached the beach on a day that saw the numbers out walking dogs and enjoying their time, in spite of the lifeless colour looming overhead.
Steep Holm Island, with the Quantocks/Exmoor on the horizon beyond.
We made brief stop here at Sand Bay, as we anticipated busy-ness and bustle around the corner, with the Dismaland attraction in full flow on Weston-super-Mare’s seafront.
First, we took a torturous path running parallel to the busy Toll Road; up and down Weston Woods, in what turned out to be far more than the short stretch we had anticipated.
A good half-hour or so later, we were on to a pavement, looking down over the ruins of Birnbeck Pier – actually, there is currently a petition in place, calling for action to save the pier.
Brean Down, Somerset.
We stopped for our lunch nearby and were in no hurry to move along.
Arriving at the seafront of Weston-super-Mare, we made a decision to stick to the paved higher ground. Not only would we avoid the people and any incoming tide but, well, if you’ve ever walked any distance along sand, you know it’s hard work. I was already anxious of the time – but we’ll get to that later on!
The Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare.
Weaving our way through the slow-moving hordes of grey faces, we passed the former site of the Tropicana; most recently home to local boy Banksy’s latest art installation, Dismaland.
There was a queue for admission but it was truly horrendous in length!
What shocked me more still, was the addition of beach huts behind the sea wall.
With one car back in Hewish, my car was awaiting us in Brean. The clock was ticking and yet, we weren’t as close as we might have hoped to have been by now… We still needed to get beyond Brean Down for any hope of completing the walk in good time…
Where the road took a bend to the left, we dropped down to the sand to continue our walk. It was up in the sand dunes where I had decided to sneak off for a quick wee – having to duck and kneel awkwardly, in order to conceal my dignity from the passing public… Those dunes weren’t as big as I could remember from exploring them as a kid!
This southern section of beach was much quieter and almost relaxing, compared to the tourist trap to the north.
Leaving the beach, we arrived in the village of Uphill – on a very familiar path that we have both known as the end to the annual Mendip Challenge, held in June each year. If we were following our book to the letter, we’d have stayed on the beach a little longer and followed the coastline a bit further on.
But by now, I was in charge, increasingly tired and anxious, while also aware that we wouldn’t have been able to cross the tiny mid-filled estuary that is still designated as a public right of way and looks to be the most direct and efficient route in to Brean… This is why I chose to stick to the West Mendip Way; a path we know very well.
About this time, we were close to Bleadon Levels Nature Reserve. But for a lack of complete coverage on Google Street View, I probably could’ve identified the car park and saved ourselves thirty-minutes of bother later on…
We passed a field with sheep and a couple of alpacas after following a rather uninspired cycle path along a fairly busy road and all appeared to be going well…
Then, we fought our way through this monstrous overgrowth of brambles and pain. As we squeaked and squirmed past every bundle of branches, the path appeared to diminish. It was 200m of the most unpleasant walking I’ve ever had to endure (No.2 would be climbing hills in the Cotswolds on a winter night, close to 21.00 with hail and snow beating down). With each step, we were increasingly mindful as the unstable bank of the local rhyne found its way directly beneath our feet.
We found our way out through Wick Farm easily enough and then it was on to the minor roads. By which time, it was already 19.00… We had less than a mile to walk but when we met at this car park at the arranged time of 9.00 that same morning, Anna (who arrived first) had found the gates were locked. As I arrived, they were suddenly open but you already know where this is going, don’t you, reader…
Yep, the gates were locked with my car left beyond reach. There was no note on the windscreen and no sign of life around the ‘adventure park’.
After moments of panic, self-pity and a phone call to our saviour; we heard sounds that suggested movement beyond the padlocked gates. With Anna’s encouragement, I leapt over and eventually, we were met by a smile-less man clinging on to a large bunch of keys, locking the door behind him. In a moment of bewilderment, I tried to ask calmly whether he might have been able to open the gates… To which he informed us that he did not have the keys for the lock and that the gates would open again at 9am the next day. Our mouths ablaze, we watched in silent fury as he crossed the gravelled car park in the direction of a neighbouring house.
We leapt back over the gates, awaiting the arrival of our ride home. Then, we heard new footsteps and an unrecognised yet distinguished voice:
“Can I help you?”
I struggled to find the words amidst a rise of irritation that someone could ask a question she already clearly knew the answer to! It was plain as day; her husband had gone in, grumbled and out came the tirade that perhaps the other half of this relationship was unwilling to release.
It was a poorly-thought-out plan of mine to leave a car parked here when we knew we’d be walking a good fifteen-miles and especially when we encountered locked gates at 9am. I’m not trying to plead my innocence hear. But the five-minute tirade we received felt a little unnecessary. Even though she eventually admitted that we ‘weren’t the first‘ to have made such a mistake… I was extremely surprised and grateful when the padlock was forced open and I was allowed to drive us both back to the start.
If ever you find yourself walking in Somerset, I have but this to suggest:
Be prepared to bring your own bridge; a cordless hedge trimmer wouldn’t go amiss and do not, under any circumstances, park at any site bearing a name that resembles the title of one of George Orwell’s best-selling tomes!
Thanks for reading.