With so many dull murky days this year, I’m taking the opportunity to walk a further section of the Somerset Coast Path during one of those brief windows of fine weather between two areas of low pressure. Storm Doris is now heading out across the North Sea which gives a lull in the turbulent weather.
The Somerset Coast Path is currently an unsigned route between Lynton and Bristol and over the past couple of years I have been nibbling away from it from the Bristol end and so today my plan is to walk the section between Bridgwater and Burnham on Sea. It is just a short drive to the seaside town on Burnham on Sea from where I am staying. The bus service 21 is a frequent half hourly service and I time it really well for the journey to Bridgwater.
So what has Bridgwater got to offer? Sitting on the tidal River Parrett it is quite an historic town and dates back some thousand years. The outcome of the English Civil War in the town could have been very different when an assassination attempt on Oliver Cromwell just missed him but killed his aide de camp. Later, in 1685 during the Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed King at Cornhill in Bridgwater but his luck ran out whilst en route to the nearby Battle of Sedgemoor when a musket was accidently discharged just prior to surprising the opposition. During the 1700’s industries such as glass-making and the production of bricks and tiles were important in the town. Bridgwater was the first town to petition the government to ban slavery.
To start my walk I am setting off from the Town Bridge which spans the River Parrett along its eastern bank. Like the River Severn the river has a tidal bore which reaches the height of two feet in favourable conditions. The walk along East Quay is quite pleasant but like so many towns, to gain open countryside one has to walk through some industrial areas and this is the case for the next half mile before I can gain the river side path once more. In my favour is that the England Coast Path has just been completed all the way to Burnham on Sea and so I am walking on some virgin territory which until recently was out of bounds. Prior to this, there was no alternative but to walk beside the busy A38 out of the town.
I follow the good riverside embankment all the way to Dunball Wharf which is the upper limit of sea going traffic. With such a tidal range, ships lie on the river bed when the tide is out. Today the quayside is empty and having negotiated my way through old dockside buildings I am at last in open countryside.
With a good dry surface I can set a steady pace along the embankment and soon I leave the drone of traffic on the A38 and M5 to a distant memory. It’s so good to be out on such a fine sunny day. It might be cold with a stiff westerly breeze but all I can hear is skylarks overhead and I feel that spring is just around the corner.
The miles tick by as I walk alongside this tidal river and the tide is still out making the river fairly shallow between its steep muddy banks. I just wonder if I will see a tidal bore today so I keep an eye peeled to see if there is a wall of water coming up the river. It might be a flat walk skirting around Pawlett Hams but views to the nearby hills of the Quantocks to my left and the Mendips to my right are always a remainder of the landscape around me. Furthermore I can see a faint outline towards the hills in South Wales.
Between Bridgwater and the Severn Estuary there is only one riverside community along the River Parrett and that is the village of Combwich which lies on the western bank and having got eight miles under my belt I decide to stop for lunch opposite the village by dropping down the embankment on the side away from the river which is out of that cool breeze. This is when you can appreciate the day and there is even a bit of spring warmth in the sun and those skylarks are still there overhead.
Setting off beside the River Parrett the river soon becomes much wider and the tide has turned and the estuary is beginning to fill but no tidal bore today. In three miles I come to the large sluice at the mouth of the man made Huntspill River which stretches inland as straight as a dye.
Ahead lies Burnham on Sea but to get there I need to trek inland a good mile to cross the River Brue via the New Clyce Bridge sluice. Beyond this point the coastal path suddenly becomes busy with dog walkers as I enter the suburbs of Burnham on Sea. Inland, what was countryside is now a sea of caravan parks as I march towards the centre of the town. I am now losing the bright sunshine as the cloud begins to thicken heralding the next Atlantic weather system. At least it’s been a great day for walking.
Now Burnham on Sea is probably not high on places to visit as most people travelling down the M5 motorway are heading for Devon and Cornwall but Burnham on Sea has been welcoming visitors for at least a couple of thousand years. Legend has it that it was the landfall for the only visit to Britain by the young Jesus who was accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea who was en route to Glastonbury. In the eighteen hundreds the town took on the title ‘Gateway to the Continent’ as the jetty served as a staging point for the steamers coming across from South Wales where passengers could disembark for the onward journey by the railway across Somerset and Dorset and beyond but this trade ceased when the Severn Railway Tunnel was opened in 1886. In 1607 the area along with several other Somerset coastal communities was devastated by a tidal surge which was believed to have been caused by a Tsunami.