From Dunster Beach I begin walking westwards towards Watchet. I am looking across a wide bay. Below the rocky foreshore are lines of wooden groins, an expanse of mud, and then a stretch of water, with low cliffs on the far side.
My map shows only minor curves along the coast, so the wide bay comes as a surprise. And where is Watchet? It must be hidden around the corner, just beyond where the flat land rises to form a headland.
Inland are fields and wooded hills. I see an impressive looking building among the trees. Dunster Castle – once a Victorian home, now belongs to the National Trust.
The shoreline continues curving around towards the small village of Blue Anchor. It’s not the most scenic of coastal walks. The wooden groynes are partially destroyed by the sea, and the bank is showing signs of erosion.
A little further on and I am startled by the noise of a train. I hadn’t realised the tracks came so close to the shore. It’s the wonderful West Somerset Railway line, that runs along the coast, connecting Watchet with Blue Anchor, then on to Dunster, and terminating in Minehead.
I look forward to riding that train back at the end of my walk.
Blue Anchor may be tiny, but it has an impressive sea wall. I walk along the beach for a while.
And then I climb up onto the esplanade. The wind is ferocious. I brace myself against a railing and take this photograph along the beach. Watchet is somewhere on the other side of that low cliff.
As I take this photo, I am aware of a middle-aged couple watching me. Have I just finished walking the South West Coast Path? Yes. But I wonder how they knew this. They tell me they saw me yesterday, having my photo taken beside the wonderful sculpture that marks the end/beginning of the path.
Time for lunch. There are two pubs in the area, but I head for the nearest one, even though it involves a trek down a track. [It was a wise choice, I pass the other pub later and it doesn’t look as nice.] The pub has a walled garden and, despite the wind, I manage to find a sheltered spot and enjoy my favourite coastal-walking lunch: fish & chips, and a pint of cider, plus my usual glass of iced water for rehydration purposes.
After lunch, I continue along the coast, passing a field with a large car-boot sale going on. I notice they are using their vehicles as wind breaks. All the cars are facing in the same direction, like cows in a field.
At the end of the sea front is a rocky groyne and a marker pole makes a defiant gesture against the crashing sea.
I remember how I first met these structures, and learnt their strange name, during my early days of coastal walking. There were plenty of groynes in Norfolk – around Sea Palling and Mundesley, for example – but I realise I’ve seen few along the shores of Devon and Cornwall.
Something pink catches my eye. On one of the stones are a couple of roses and an envelope addressed to ‘Dad’. They are weighted down with a pebble to prevent the wind blowing them away.
I have come across many memorials in my walk along the coast. Often they take the form of benches, sometimes carved stones, occasionally statues like the one in Ilfracombe. I have become hardened to them, but I find this simple tribute particularly moving.
The cliffs beyond the promenade are scarred with recent landslips, exposing crumbling brown earth. I see a footpath fingerpost on the cliff. It looks precariously close to the edge. To get up there, according to my map, I need to take a short detour inland.
So I trek along the road and up the hill, until I find an official footpath leading off to the left. It runs along the side of fields and climbs high. I expect it to turn down towards the coast. But it doesn’t.
Then I enter some wonderful woods. Signs warn the coastal path has been closed, due to erosion, and this is a permissive path. I catch some fine views of Minehead through the occasional gap in the trees.
After walking through the woods, and along more fields, I find myself unexpectedly in a campsite. There are no footpath signs and I am unsure of the right way to go. As I walk around the edge of the field, the sight of a nearly naked woman (sunbathing) unnerves me, and I plunge off along a narrow path, down a tree-covered slope.
Along the shore I can see the red and white lighthouse of Watchet – not far away.
I sit down and wedge my hat beneath a stone to stop it blowing away. Then I look ahead through my binoculars, wondering if I can walk to Watchet along the beach. But the tide is high and there is only a narrow strip below the crumbling cliffs.
An elderly gentleman comes down the path with a dog. I ask him if I can get to Watchet along the beach, but he says it is too dangerous with the tide coming in, and I will get cut off. But there is another footpath, a little further along, and that will take me up the slope and in the right direction.
I walk along the beach and find the path, with difficulty because it is disguised among the long grasses and tall bushes. It joins a wide track and eventually I find myself on the edge of another camp site. But this time, the official path is clearly marked.
I trudge up a hill and am rewarded by a great view over Watchet. In the distance is the shoreline I will walk along tomorrow. More cliffs and fields. And at the end of the curve is a set of tall blocks. Hinkley Point power station.
I make my way to the harbour and, from the shelter of the harbour wall, look out over the wild waves towards the distant headland of Minehead. Spray lashes up against the wall and I nearly get a soaking.
There are a few other tourists about, braving the wind and waves. I hear somebody ask their companion, “What do you think about salvation.” The other replies, “Now that is an interesting question.” I would like to have heard the answer, but the wind whips their voices away.
I walk to the end of the harbour wall. The lighthouse is very slim.
Back into the streets of Watchet and I walk along the quayside, where they are packing away market stalls. It is 4:30pm. The whole of Somerset seems to pack up at 4:30 pm.
I am early for the train back to Minehead, but look forward to buying a drink at the station café. But that, too is closed. In fact, everything is closed. The café and the ticket office too. At 4:40 in the afternoon with two trains left to run. Why, oh why, does everything close so ridiculously early? I am not the only one disappointed. There is quite a crowd waiting.
The first train arrives, blowing steam and with a long set of old-fashioned carriages. But it isn’t mine. This one is going to Bishops Lydeard. The wrong direction for me.
I wait for the next one. There is a buffet bar on the train, apparently, but I don’t go and seek it out. Once I’ve sat down, I don’t feel like getting up and risking further disappointment!
The conductor seems surprised I haven’t already bought a ticket. The officials are very smart in their uniforms and are all, I gather, volunteers. It is an enjoyable (albeit slow) ride back to Minehead.
At some point, during this journey, I realise I have left my hat behind. It is still under a stone, somewhere on that pebbly beach near Watchet.
Miles walked today: 9 miles
Total since beginning: 1,461 miles