Thursday, May 29, 2014

England Coast Path - Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater

The wooden lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea
The unique wooden lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea stands on nine oak 'legs'
I think you can pretty much judge a place from the first few people you encounter. Fortunately, Burnham-on-Sea seems to be one of those places where people will stop and give you the time of the day, which was a relief because by the time we reached the seaside resort we desperately needed cheering up.
It was hard to believe that a few hours earlier we'd been strolling through Uphill in glorious sunshine. Now, after several miles of blustery Bristol Channel winds, we were cold and desperate for any kind of shelter.
Rounding a bend in Bridgwater Bay, we at last spied Burnham's iconic wooden lighthouse in the distance.
The 36 feet low lighthouse, as it's called (I think, referring to its proximity to the estuary), is one of three lighthouses in Burnham, but the only one still active. It was built in 1832, at the same time as the High Lighthouse, and was put out of service between 1969 and 1993. Its lights were re-established when High Lighthouse was permanently discontinued. It's a lovely-looking structure and not at all like our typical British lighthouses.
Our initial plan was to find a bench and eat our lunch al fresco... it was May afterall. Unfortunately, despite finding an empty bench, it was too exposed for anything but shivering.
We headed into Burnham's main shopping street, determined to locate a cafe. Harri, however, immediately spotted The Victoria Hotel, which proved to be a great choice as it's one of the friendliest pubs we've visited in a long while. I stuck to a cuppa (amazing value at 85p, and with a biscuit thrown in) and Harri had a pint. We talked to each other for a while, but gradually got chatting to the cheery landlady and before we knew it, other customers had joined in the conversation.
Boats on the River Brue
Boats at the mouth of the River Brue, near Burnham-on-Sea
There seemed to be an air of disbelief that, having walked there from Weston, we now intended to continue to Bridgwater. One customer told us we had at least another ten miles to walk, which sounded much farther than our somewhat vague calculations.
Yet again, the niggling issue was a river. Our route to Bridgwater would see us following a tidal stretch of the River Parrett, but first we had to do another inland detour to cross the smaller River Brue. It's not that I don't enjoy meandering along riverbanks on sunny afternoons, but when it's cold and blustery, it's not the easiest kind of walking. It's also hard psychologically because you can walk for hours only to find yourself moreorless in the same place, albeit on the opposite riverbank.
Setting off up the River Parrett as the tide comes in
Setting off up the River Parrett as the tide comes in
The River Parrett itself reminded me of the River Usk, in Newport, but without the industry. We could see the outline of Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station in the distance but we wouldn't be reaching that particular landmark until the following day.
By now my feet were killing and Harri wasn't feeling much better. Sometimes I really think we push ourselves too hard but when you have friends who do ultra-marathons (yes, really) it feels a bit wimpish to pull out of a day's walk after a mere 20 miles. Anyway, we had accommodation booked in Bridgwater so we had no choice but to carry on... it was only another six miles after all.
Combwich across the River Parrett
Combwich across the River Parrett
Six miles later, we limped into Bridgwater to a dazzling skyscape. The sun was setting to our left, while the moon was high in the sky to our right. Somehow, despite the exhaustion, sore toes, aching calves and hunched back, I had the presence of mind to photograph both (I amaze myself at times!).
The sun was setting as we limped into Bridgwater
The sun was setting as we limped into Bridgwater 
Finally, at just past nine o'clock we arrived at our Premier Inn, knowing that tomorrow's hike would see us leaving Bridgwater and following the River Parrett Trail all the way back to the river mouth (but this time on the opposite bank).

England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Roberts will be published by camau in ebook format in August 2014.
The Somerset sky was full of beauty as we approached Bridgwater
The full moon in the clear Somerset sky

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