Thursday, September 29, 2011

Channel hopping

Looking down towards the Severn Estuary from Portishead
The hot weather’s coming in from India, my 16-year old daughter informed me earlier this week, interpreting the term ‘Indian Summer’ a little too literally.

Whatever. The source of this week’s delightful spell of autumn sunshine is immaterial, the important thing is it’s here and it’s a great excuse to ignore the housework and other home-based tasks and head for the great outdoors.

Once we’ve decided we’re definitely going hiking, the conversation in our house goes something like this:

Harri: So where do you want to go?

Me:    The seaside.

Harri:  What about doing something local? We could walk from the house.

Me:     I want to go to the seaside.

Harri:  I thought you might like to try this new circular walk I’ve read about.

Me:     I wanna go to the seaside.  I wanna go to the seaside.

Harri:  So you’d prefer to go to the coast?

No prizes, then, for guessing that we’ve walked most of the Welsh coastline within two hours’ drive of our home – and we’ve done lots of it several times.

Keen to keep me happy while venturing to new pastures, Harri put on his thinking cap and after extensive research, i.e. checking out our walking bookshelf, he suggested doing the longer loop of the Gordano Round in North Somerset

The route involved a long stretch of coastal walking so I agreed. Unfortunately, there was just one little problem – the walk started in Portishead.

Now, for the past 30 years – and based on the verbal say-so of just one disenchanted former resident – I’ve imagined Portishead to be an ugly and industrial place; somewhere to keep away from at all costs.

I couldn’t have been more wrong and I hereby retract all my previously stated views about it.

Portishead is a lovely place, very reminiscent of Minehead, with the same interesting high street shopping and a magnificent, sweeping esplanade (which we viewed from our higher position on the coast path). 

Like other resorts along this stretch of the Severn Estuary there’s a lot of mud at low tide, but on the whole, it’s a very pleasant coastal town, with a marina, a lake, independent shops, distinctive architecture, and plenty of woodland and green areas.

The stretch of coastline towards Clevedon is much easier on the legs than Amroth–Pendine; it’s also popular with dog walkers so keep glancing down to avoid a close encounter with the squelchy stuff.

During the morning, we got talking to an interesting older man who told us how he’d sold his permanent home in the area some years back to buy a £40,000 camper van, and how, on the night of the purchase, he lay awake in bed wondering, ‘what have I done?’  He’s had a great and varied life since, living in different European countries and enjoying the sort of freedom most people only dream about.

Afterwards, Harri and I pondered the UK’s national obsession with bricks and mortar. The Thatcherite dream of home ownership has blighted millions of lives and condemned many people to mundane (and often badly paid and insecure) jobs for one purpose – to service the massive debt that is their mortgage. Why are we Brits so prepared, so enthusiastic, to sell our lives, our energies, our souls, in return for four walls and a patch of grass?  Anyone selling a camper van?

Staying on the subject of over-priced property and frenetic lifestyles, there was evidence of both in Swiss Valley, a stunningly pretty area near Clevedon, where you take your life in your hands just trying to cross the road.  

Fortunately, crossing the split-level section of M5 motorway in the Gordano Valley was easier, though looking down at six lanes of fast-moving traffic from the high-level footbridge was a teeny bit vertiginous (a good word, that one, and acquired in Madeira where almost every hike is vertiginous). 

Nearing the end of our 15-mile loop, we stopped for a thirst-quenching glass of Aspinal’s cider outside The Black Horse, a drinking hole of the very best kind.

Hiking and cider drinking. Could a more pleasurable way of passing an Indian Summer be known to man or woman?

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