Wednesday, May 28, 2014

England Coast Path - Clevedon to Weston

Marine Lake will be transformed if a Heritage Lottery Bid is successful
Marine Lake will be transformed if a Heritage Lottery Bid is successful
With our elevensies rapidly devoured and the sky getting greyer and greyer, we reluctantly hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs and set off again.
Clevedon is home to the largest tidal pool I've ever seen. Marine Lake is located at the far end of Salthouse Bay and from certain angles it looks like a huge infinity pool with the open sea as its backdrop. The pool opened in 1929 and was very popular until the 1960s when package holidays abroad took off.
For decades, Marine Lake was neglected; then, about ten years ago, its fortunes began to change as Clevedon Town Council and other groups began to recognise its enormous potential for sailing, canoeing, open water swimming and model boat sailing. Grant-aided repairs were made in 2012, and the outcome of a £980,000 Heritage Lottery Fund bid is currently awaited.
I must admit that to my inexperienced eyes the pool looked wonderful, but apparently there is a leak in the outer wall of the lake, which means that the water level drops at low tide, making substantial parts of the lake unusable until the next high tide.
The Marine Pool with Clevedon Pier in the distance
The Marine Pool with Clevedon Pier in the distance
If the bid is successful (fingers crossed) the walkways will be improved, the paddling pool refurbished and beach huts and showers added. I think it's brilliant when historic landmarks like this one are restored and brought back into use and, if Clevedon gets its grant, I'd like to return to see the transformation for myself (and perhaps take a dip).
It's a shame we didn't have time to linger in Clevedon because I would have loved to have popped in to the Corrister and White boutique cafe to say hello to Diane (we worked together for years) and treat myself to one of her delicious cup cakes.
And so we left Clevedon, steering ourselves for a long inland detour (such is the slow development of a national coast path) and, judging from the colour of the sky, an imminent soaking. We'd barely reached The Lookout when the heavens emptied; within minutes we were soaked. In half an hour, we'd gone from wandering through a charming Victorian seaside resort in glorious sunshine to staring down at a muddy inlet in torrential rain. And my poor little toe was hurting badly.
The weather changed as we walked around Clevedon Pill
The weather changed as we walked around Clevedon Pill
We plodded on, very wet and (in my case) miserable. A cycle path across the River Yeo at Tutshill Ear is proposed and will hopefully be in place within the next few years but until it is, walkers have no choice but to head inland (no hardship on a warm, sunny day but rather less appealing in the rain).
If anyone ever tries to convince you the life of an outdoor writer is glamorous, I can assure you it's not! Not in the British climate anyway. On days like today, with my trousers clinging to my legs, my hair soaking and my toe in agony, I almost long for the relative comfort of my old office. Almost. But no matter how bad the weather, stopping was not an option - our car was back home in Wales and we weren't exactly in the middle of commuter land. We'd have to walk miles to stop walking miles so it made sense to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Returning to the coast after a long inland detour
Returning to the coast after a long inland detour
On we trekked, our spirits sinking lower and lower. Of course, we don't suggest that anyone else walks from Portishead to Weston in one day; in his book, Harri is splitting the route into two day sections: Portishead to Clevedon and Clevedon to Weston. It's just that we needed to cover the whole walk in five days due to other commitments. It seemed a good idea at the time... when we were talking about it... in the sunshine...
We finally returned to the coast near Woodspring Priory. By now, the wind had died down and it was once again sunny.Had we not been so tired, we might have noticed the gorgeous scenery.
Coast path walking proper on the
Coast path walking proper on the headland above Sand Bay
The grassy slopes of Middle Hope and the headland beyond are coast path walking at its best - undulating grassy paths with gorgeous views across the sea and the dry stone walls that I love.
We descended to the northern end of Sand Bay, where a ladies-only running group enjoying an evening run made me despair that I'd ever be able to move that fast again (I think I was hobbling by this point).
Sand Bay is another interesting place. It was the site of one of the earliest Pontins holiday camps, opening in 1947; during its peak, it had 300 chalets spread over 17 acres. Several changes of ownership followed and the site has once again opened under the Pontins brand in 2014, though now it is adult-only.
In the 1980s, the beach was raised to prevent flooding; as a result, it now has two levels, one at the original height near the sea and a grass-covered higher level beach adjacent to the road.
Weston Woods lifted our spirits temporarily
Weston Woods lifted our spirits temporarily
Earlier in the day, Harri had told me we'd be entering Weston via a lovely woodland trail running parallel to the toll road below and I was really looking forward to this final stretch of our walk through Weston Woods (the trees were planted on Weston Hill in the 1820s by the lord of the manor to create a private game reserve, however 80% were felled during World War I).
By the time we reached said trail, the sun was setting over the Bristol Channel and my limp had become a mile per hour hobble. It was great to escape man-made surfaces for a while though and my mood cheered as I enjoyed the dappled patterns created as the flame-coloured sunset broke through the trees. A century after they were razed for military purposes, the woods are once again thriving and providing worn-out walkers with an uplifting end to a very long day.
At last, we descended a stony track and emerged in Weston.
The scary causeway that separates the open sea from Weston's Marine Lake
The scary causeway that separates the open sea from Weston's Marine Lake
The very last hurdle of the day (apart from finding a chip shop that was actually open!) was crossing the very-scary causeway across Weston's Marine Lake (yes, another Marine Lake which coincidentally was also created in 1929). The causeway separates the sea from the artificial lake behind and has been an important part of Weston's sea defences for over 80 years (a refurbishment programme has taken place in recent years).
I don't know if it was tiredness or the fast-dimming light, but I found the experience so terrifying that I managed to summon up my last ounce of energy to rush across at top speed. Goodness knows, I must have looked a pretty scary sight myself, hunched over with a huge backpack and a pronounced limp!
It was 9.30pm when we finally arrived at the Premier Inn which was to be our home for the night... and it wasn't a moment too soon. Twelve hours of walking is pretty tough, even in a landscape renowned for its flatness.
And we had to do it all over again tomorrow!

England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.

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