A long, tough day of inclement British weather and mixed spirits (though sadly, not of the gin and tonic type!).
We woke at 6.30am to brilliant sunshine and the prospect of a pretty long day's walking. Harri is usually meticulous in working out route distances ahead of us walking them, however work commitments up to the last minute meant that for once he didn't have time to properly plot our routes so our overnight stops were planned using Google directions (and road maps). Not something we will ever do again!!
I'd also made another massive mistake... wearing new and untested thick (and cheap) walking socks with my trail shoes yesterday was a really bad idea as it left my little toe (a hammertoe) very sore and blistered. Perhaps understandably, Harri and I had envisaged that flat walking would be so much easier than the hilly walking we're accustomed to in Wales that longer distances wouldn't be an issue. How wrong can you be? Those endless hard surfaces, with not a dandelion-filled meadow in sight, play havoc with your feet. My poor little toe resisted being squashed back into the same shoe that had done it so much harm the previous day but with just the one pair of shoes with me, I had little choice. It was that or barefoot walking...
We popped into the Lidl next door to grab some of their delicious croissants (the chocolate/almond ones are my favourite) and returned to our Travelodge room to eat. With no inkling that we were about to set off for a 30 mile stroll in sunshine, heavy rain and (almost) darkness, we lingered over a leisurely breakfast.
It was about 9am when we finally emerged to what promised to be a glorious day. We paused for a while to watch two boats passing through the lock at Portishead Marina and held our breath as a small dog, confused by the open lock gates (and temporary disappearance of the bridge), came close to plunging off the quayside to the waters and mud below.
The first point of interest today was the Royal Inn, though I only realised it was interesting when we read an interpretation board at the top of the hill above it. I pondered dashing back down for a photograph but even the shortest hill becomes Mount Everest with a large pack on your back so in the end I didn't bother.
The Royal Inn's curious claim to fame is being the only seaside hotel built by a public authority during the nineteenth century (it opened in 1831). The hotel also featured in Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ambitious plans to make Portishead the centre for transatlantic travel. A purpose-built pier would enable passengers to disembark from the transatlantic steamship, the SS Great Western (his ship), staying at the Royal overnight before heading onwards (presumably to London).
It never happened. Rather than flourishing as a tourist destination, Portishead expanded as an industrial port. A deep-water dock was built and when a pier eventually appeared (almost a decade after Brunel's death) it was used by steamers travelling to Cardiff, Newport and Ilfracombe. With the docks now gone and modern apartments and restaurants lining a yacht-filled marina, it seems that Brunel's vision for Portishead to be on the tourist map might yet be realised.
We rounded the headland to reach the esplanade and lake grounds, an area we've passed before on the Gordano Round and liked very much (there's an artificial lake, a lido and children's play area). We meandered past Battery Point, the closest land anywhere in the UK which large ships pass. There are great views across the Severn Estuary from here and if, like Harri and me, you know the Welsh coastline quite well, you can have fun spotting familiar landmarks like Aberthaw Power Station and Nash Point.
The coast path between Portishead and Clevedon is well-walked and easy to follow. It also remains delightfully close to the actual coast, which is always a bonus.
What wasn't so good was the huge grey cloud which was heading across the estuary in our direction... talking about directions or one at least, Clevedon's most recent claim to fame is providing the location for One Direction's latest music video (it was filmed on Clevedon Pier, described by late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, as 'the most beautiful pier in England'). While not a fan myself, I can see that the arrival of the world's most successful boy band might have caused something of a local stir.
By now, we were getting ever so slightly nervous about the weather. The wind was getting noticeably stronger and there was that cloud... yet in the other direction, there was sunshine and blue sky. We quickened our pace, for some reason looking over our shoulders every minute or so, as if we could somehow outwalk the storm cloud that was chasing us (just like Jake Gyllenhaal managed to do with frost in the very silly 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow).
If you haven't visited Clevedon, it's a great place with lots of interesting things to see (and an awful lot of benches). As we walked (for me, read limped) along the seafront, we passed a wonderful bandstand (built in 1887 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria) and a restored drinking fountain (also Victorian).
As I photographed them, Harri wandered off to find somewhere to stop for elevensies. Clevedon's planners clearly recognise the need to provide sheltered places to sit along the promenade - I couldn't believe my eyes when Harri found a row of benches facing away from the sea and protected from behind by a high wall.
We had miles left to walk and the weather was about to change for the worse, but for now we settled in a (relatively) warm place to enjoy some Lidl chocolate (it's the best).
England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.