150a Minehead to Dunster

My B&B landlord told me the council say Minehead is a tourist destination, but fail to promote the town. I don’t know if this is true or not, but Minehead has, potentially, much to recommend it as a holiday centre.

There is the Thomas the Tank Engine, for a start.
 Thomas the Tank Engine, Minehead, Ruth walking the coast

The West Somerset Railway operates on 22 miles of track, running from Minehead to Watchet along the coast and then inland to Bishops Lydeard. But for some inexplicable reason, there are no regular services covering the 4 mile stretch that links the line to the mainland train service at Taunton. What a shame. I had to travel by bus from Taunton, but would have taken the train if I could.

The station at Minehead is very attractive and bustling with people.
2 West Somerset Railway, Minehead Station, Ruth walking the coast
I am walking to Watchet today, but plan to catch the train back to Minehead. So I continue onwards and hit the esplanade.

Now this had to be the saddest seaside sign I’ve come across – a fundraising effort to raise money to build a clock tower for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Now long since passed. I gather the charity raising the money has failed to collect enough funds, and has had to modify its plans. The sign gives a really sad impression of the town.
Minehead, clock tower project, Ruth on the coastal path
Just next to this area is a crazy golf course and the attached Jubilee Gardens Café. I managed to have a tea and scone their yesterday, but got the impression -at 4:40pm -they were just about to close. In fact, they started clearing away around me as I sat outside. A couple saw me with my pot of tea and went inside to order, but came out a few minutes later disappointed because they had ‘turned everything off’. For goodness sake, boil a kettle! And why shut in full daylight on a beautiful July afternoon? As the disgruntled couple said, if this was a holiday resort in Spain a place in a prime position on the esplanade would stay open until sunset.

In another prime position on the esplanade, a rather fine row of buildings houses an amusement arcade, a boarded up “Queen’s Hall” and a tacky-looking indoor market. And no sea view if you sit in the café. So nice buildings, shame about the content.
Minehead, amusements, Ruth Livingstone
Further along are some new apartment blocks. They look attractive. I get the impression they are for permanent residents, not holiday lets. The upper windows have great views across the Bristol channel.
Minehead, new buildings, Ruth Livingstone
And then there is Butlins. The strange roof reminds me of an upside down milking machine.
Butlins, Minehead, Ruth walking the coast

The beach may not be at its best today, with the tide out. In fact, it looks more like mud than sand – to be expected I suppose at this point on the Bristol Channel. But it is not a patch on the fine beaches of Woolacombe and Saunton, only an hour’s drive away.

Out there, across the sands, lies the remains of a submerged forest. I would expect this unusual feature to be advertised – and a walkway across the mud to view the remains of the tree stumps would be nice.
 Lugworm casts, Minehead, Ruth's coastal walk
However, I am fascinated by the vast expanse of lugworm casts. And get carried away taking photographs. Each pile of casts is unique and it isn’t long before my eyes are converting random squiggles into recognisable patterns. Here, from left to right, is reluctant donkey, a crucifix above an altar (you need to squint to see that one) and a bicycle.
reluctant mule, worm casts, Ruth on the beach lugworm crucifix, Ruth walking the shore in Minehead09c bicycle, worm casts, Ruth's coastal walking

Minehead coast is not completely unattractive, especially today in the sunshine.

Minehead, not a bad town, Ruth Livingstone

The esplanade comes to an end and I join the West Somerset Coast Path. This involves a tramp through a yard and, although signposted, more could be made of this important stretch of long-distance footpath.

The path follows the edge of a golf course. The warning signs are predictable – it’s always the walker’s responsibility to dodge flying balls – but at least they are bright and amusing. There are several people playing golf today. I don’t hear anyone shouting ‘fore’.

 golf ball warning, Ruth's coastal walk, Minehead
A groyne of rocks leads out across the beach. More warning signs. Wales is in the distance.
 submarine forest and Wales, Ruth walking through Minehead
There are beautiful flowers along the path. And looking back to Minehead, the golf greens glow in the sunshine, while behind the links the peaks of Butlins rise like a strange UFO.

look back at Minehead, Ruth's coast walkingThe sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for walking, cool because of the strong breeze from the west. Luckily this means the wind is behind me, pushing me along.

Did I mention the beautiful flowers? Wonderful.
 coast path Minehead to Dunster, Ruth walking the Somerset Coast Path
After a mile I come to a place – Dunster Beach. More signs. Private property. Is this sign really necessary? Of course the chalet’s are private, but this is a public footpath along the foreshore. Why not have signs saying ‘Welcome to Dunster Beach’?
Dunster, Ruth walking the Somerset Coast Path
Below a bank of rocks, the beach seems cleaner than further along in Minehead. Less like mud. More like sand.  I am standing, buffeted by the breeze, admiring the view, when I hear wild shrieking.
Dunster Beach, empty sand, Ruth on Somerset Coast Path
A few seconds later, a horde of young children appear from somewhere inland, and beginning clambering over the rocks towards the beach. They look so cute, kitted out in sun hats and each with their own backpack. And they are all very, very excited.
Dunster Beach, children, Ruth on Somerset Coast Path
I head out across the sands, and walk along the wide stretch of Dunster beach. From the shore, the holiday huts peer out at me.
beach huts along Dunster Beach, Ruth walking the Somerset Coast Path
The sand is soft and hard going in places, but I enjoy being on a beach again. I pass a couple of walkers. Apart from the children – and a few people sitting near their cars in the car park – the place seems deserted.
walkers on Dunster Beach, Ruth on North Somerset coast path
I stop at the car park, hoping to find a café or ice-cream kiosk. But there is nothing here. So I sit on a bench and eat a snack. A lady with a little girl in tow comes up to me. Have I seen a group of small children anywhere? She’s received an urgent mobile phone message – her granddaughter is cold in the wind and she’s brought her a warm jacket.

Yes, I point up the beach. They are about a mile away, at the end of the row of chalets. She sighs and sets off to find the party.
rescue mission, Dunster Beach, Ruth walking around the coast, Somerset
I watch them go, battling against the wind, and am glad to be walking in the opposite direction with the wind behind me. Onwards.

[walk continued in next post…]

I may have been unduly harsh in my criticism of Minehead’s coastal aspect. And, with Exmoor on its doorstep and the coastal paths passing through it, the place has a lot to offer walkers. But it could do better and really needs to try harder if it wants to successfully promote itself.

In the spirit of positivity, here are my top four suggestions for improvement.

  1. Jubilee Garden is an important focal point of the Minehead esplanade. Get rid of the failed clock-project sign. Advertise the beginning of the South West Coast Path at this point.
  2. The esplanade should be the focal point for holidaymakers, and it needs some cheerful, attractive cafes to brighten up the place. Tea shops that are closed – or only open for very limited hours – don’t really deserve to survive and make the place feel like a dead-zone.
  3. Two important footpaths meet here. They need to be better advertised and the local signage should be more welcoming. I would even consider moving the magnificent SWCP sculpture to Jubilee Gardens – it’s semi-hidden along the quay.
  4. And for goodness sake, tidy up the gardens at Culver Cliff. A wild-flower meadow is a great idea. But why scythe it down at the beginning of July? And while you’re at it, you must get rid of the weeds that obscure the sea view. The seats are pretty pointless when all you can see are nettles and thistles.

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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17 Responses to 150a Minehead to Dunster

  1. Wingclipped says:

    Upside down milking machine – love it!

  2. Helena says:

    Culver Cliff gardens – totally agree! Even in May the weeds were depressing and made it seem like the kind of place you would get lurkers in the bushes, not a place you’d want to linger.

    • Glad it wasn’t just me – I too felt rather uneasy walking through that ‘garden’. I do like the idea of a natural meadow, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for laziness. It needs looking after.

  3. Hello Ruth.
    I did this walk on the 29th August (Minehead to Watchet). Congratulations on finishing the SWCP, I still have over half of it to go on my sporadic random coastal walks!
    Anyway, the Minehead Butlins reminded me of Bognor Regis, I wonder if Skeggy is the same?

    It is fascinating to continue to follow your adventures, and in particular; I am also persuing the section on to the welsh border at Chepstow (via M4 bridge). The route seems difficult to resolve satisfactorily from Weston onwards, so I look forward to seeing how you tackle it..

    Best wishes and keep on walking…

    • Hi Gemma, realised I didn’t reply to you! Very rude of me – sorry. Just finished the Weston to Bristol section and am writing it up now. Yes, was tricky to navigate. Hope to get to Wales before winter sets in, so can start again in Spring on the Welsh coast path 🙂

  4. I must be a time traveller!!! I of course meant 29th JULY – DOH! Must be fatigue from just walking Lulworth to Abbotsbury in the storm…

    • Hi Gemma, well done for walking from Lulworth to Abbotsbury in the storm. A good distance too. Did you go round Portland? Have just about worked out how to get to Weston (am currently just beyond Bridgwater) but not looked further than that yet.

  5. mariekeates says:

    Butlins has certainly changed since the 1960’s. I do believe I got sunburnt on that beach as a child. It does seem a shame that so many places fail to make the best of what they have and that so many wonderful footpaths are undersold. Still, if everyone knew about them they wouldn’t be as peaceful.

    • That’s true. I think Minehead is still stuck in the past, catering for families with young children as they always have done. But they should be thinking about older people who want scenery and walks. (I may be biased of course!)

  6. Liz Wild says:

    I did Minehead to Blue Anchor on Monday and also saw the lugworm casts but didn’t have time to stop and photo individual ones (just a general photo of them). Also that day I re-did the bit of sw coast path between Bossington and Minehead. To make sure I didn’t go wrong this time I started at the car park near where the two sw coast paths meet and walked back along the ‘motorway’ and saw why I went wrong the first time. Anyway, the ‘rugged’ route was well worth going back for. I’m glad you’re still ahead of me as I have just read about your journey round Hinkley Point which is where I shall be some time during the last week of September.

    • How wonderful that you returned and did the rugged route. I often make a mental note of places I would like to visit again, but I’ve never gone back. Good luck with Hinkley Point. It was a rather dreary walk. And the walk down the River Parett is now interrupted by a new breach in the river wall, so that won’t be straightforward either!

      • Liz Wild says:

        I’m afraid I’m not as strict as you when it comes to deciding how far inland I go. I have realised that if I am to get around just the coast of England it’s going to take me at least another 22 years and I’m quite a bit older than you so I need to take some short cuts. I try and organise my walks so that I finish at a river and start again on the other side of the river for my next walk, except when I can use ferries which basically amounts to the same thing. This way I cut out the long distances inland and back out again. It’s been good to read about how you have progressed and I’m going to miss your blogs, with their advanced warnings of any problems ahead, when I leap-frog Wales and start again next year on the North-West coast.

  7. Craig Palmer says:

    We have found this page many months after you wrote it. We are Minehead residents, and agree with you about many of the things you have written about the town and approaches. The Clock is looking like it will replace the eyesore rotting wood signs currently lurking near the Jubilee Gardens. http://www.mineheadclocktower.org.uk/newsevents.html?ver=4.1
    Hurrah, even though the new design will probably grow taller with the number of dogs that will use the fancy lamppost with a watch on top of it. As for why the Cafes are closed, our belief is that the upturned cow at the end of the seafront has too much influence on potential competition, and the folk “in charge” are under the false belief that the cow lays golden eggs which are generously handed to local businesses and people.

  8. Karen White says:

    I was the Diamond Jubilee they were raising money for not the Silver so not quite as long past (1977) as my first impression! It still doesn’t create a good impression to leave the sign there. Oh, I see the cross and the bicycle….not so sure about the donkey! I would like to see the submerged forest – how fascinating.
    Such a shame about the weeds thistles and closed cafes. Just the things to put people off visiting.

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