Tuesday, May 27, 2014

England Coast Path - Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay

We crossed the original Severn Bridge then walked miles to the imaginatively-named Second Severn Bridge
Approaching the imaginatively-named Second Severn Bridge on the English side
Whenever we walk along the south east Wales coastline between Llantwit Major and Worm's Head, we find ourselves pondering on the way the English coastline (opposite) creates an illusion that the open sea is upriver and vice versa.
The reason is simple: the Somerset Levels (scene of such devastating flooding last winter) are so flat they barely register on the horizon, so from across the Bristol Channel it appears the ocean is endless. Of course, Wales's mountains prevent the same confusion occurring from an English standpoint (although they frequently 'disappear' in low-lying cloud).
There's something appealing about exploring a place that's felt familiar for so long, yet remains unexplored and for us, the stretch of coastline between the Severn Bridge and Minehead - more than 110 miles - certainly fell into that category.
We crossed the River Avon on our first day
We crossed high above the River Avon on a motorway bridge
As always, Harri had a hiking book in mind. His idea was to link up the two longest waymarked trails in the UK - Wales Coast Path (870) and South West Coast Path - creating around 1700 miles of coastal walking. We'll publish the book ourselves later this summer in various digital formats.
The England Coast Path will eventually provide 2,795 miles of continual coastal walking, but well-managed access to all of England's coastline is still several few years off so we knew we were facing a challenge.
Our proposed route would start in the middle of Chepstow and finish in Minehead... and we had just five days to walk it all (the book will split the walk into ten days).
Harri's plan was to utilise existing waymarked long-distance trails as much as possible:
One of the Somerset pills that sent us heading inland
One of the Somerset pills that sent us heading inland
We knew there'd be gaps and that we'd have several large rivers (Avon, Ax, Parrett) and pills to navigate (taking us farther inland than we would have liked), but on the map it appeared do-able in five days.
Brean Down to Minehead is earmarked as a priority for development of the English Coast Path (Natural England) so we anticipated that this section of our route would be straightforward, even if we encountered problems elsewhere.
So how did we get on?
Well... we've walked most of the route in our allocated five days. We had no choice but to stop at Watchet as we feared missing our pre-booked train from Taunton to Newport otherwise. That leaves us with the final eight miles to Minehead yet to walk.
The beautiful Somerset coastline with Minehead in the distance
The beautiful Somerset coastline with Minehead in the far distance
The route itself is varied but interesting, passing through Severn Beach, Bristol, Portishead, Clevedon, Weston, Burnham-on-Sea, Bridgwater, Watchet and Minehead, as well as several smaller villages.There are rivers (large), rhynes (reens to we Welsh) and pills to circumnavigate as well as motorways to cross (the M5 twice and the M49 once). There are promenades, marinas and beaches, piers, headlands and endless stretches of beach. There is even a nuclear power station (Hinkley Point B), although the diverted footpath keeps you well clear of the actual site).
Following the (lengthy) border fence around Hinkley Point
Following the (lengthy) border fence around Hinkley Point
Some sections are breathtakingly beautiful, others boast interesting rather than picturesque landscapes. Like any coastal walk, some miles are a pleasure to walk, others less so.
Later in the summer, we'll return to walk those last eight miles and then we'll publish the ebook at camau.co.uk
For more about each day's hiking, keep reading this blog.

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