Filled with relief at the prospect of leaving the sinister perimeter defences of Hinkley Point Power Station, and glad to escape from the tracking cameras, I go through a gate, into a field. No cameras. No high fence. Only green grass, marching pylons and – and cows.
Cows. With no udders. Are they heifers? Or bullocks? Uh oh. Here they come…
And here come some more. They keep on coming. Until there is a gaggle (or a horde) behind the single strand of electric wire that separates me from them.
Luckily, they show no sign of wanting to risk an electric shock and I pass by unscathed.
A narrow path branches off to the left and seems to double back towards Hinkley power station. Looking at my map, I realise the branch might lead to the Pixies Mound, an ancient Neolithic barrow. But there is no sign, and I am too nervous to follow it – not wanting to be caught trespassing – and so I stick to the main path.
I pass a gate with a warning sign – You are entering a nuclear licensed site – it declares. No I’m not. Emboldened by the absence of cameras, I shake my fist in defiance.
Then my path veers off to the right to make a semicircle detour around a sewage works.
Sewage works, nuclear power, a pixie mound, a Neolithic barrow, and a horde of cows. What next? Ah, I spot the haunches of a running deer. It leaps ahead down the path and crashes through a gap in the hedge on the left. By the time I swing my camera up – it’s gone.
It is nearly 2pm and I was hoping to sit down and eat my snack lunch. But the thought of the sewage works puts me off (although it doesn’t smell) and there is nowhere to sit. This section of path is horribly overgrown. I am wearing shorts because it’s hot and I anticipated an easy coastal stroll – not a jungle of brambles and thistles. My legs sting, as salty sweat gets into the scratches.
I struggle past the worst section of path and realise I haven’t met another walker for ages. So I’m surprised to see a man coming down the overgrown path. He is dressed inappropriately, in a blue jacket – and I realise he isn’t an ordinary worker, but a Hinkley Point security guard.
We have a pleasant chat. I ask if he patrols here regularly. He says he enjoys escaping from his office, and asks if the path is overgrown. I tell him it’s very bad a little further along. He says he’ll talk to someone about getting it cleared. I realise that he can’t have walked this way very often if he doesn’t know about the state of the path. Then I realise he probably came this way for one reason only – to check up on me.
(I wonder if I’m getting rather too paranoid. But decide I’m not.)
A short time later, I escape the overgrown path and find myself standing in the open, on a broad track, on the edge of a wide bay of mud. Over there, somewhere, is Burnham-on-sea and Weston-Super-Mare.
This area is called Hinkley Brake and, according to my map, there is a submarine forest out there in the mud.
It is baking hot. There are no trees to shelter under and no benches to sit on, but I spot an old stile hidden amongst the foliage of a hedge. It provides a handy seat and, better still, it is in the shade.
Taking off my walking boots, I eat my lunch and force myself to sit here for half an hour to get some rest. I half expect the security guard to come back to see what I’m up to, and to find out why I’m hiding in a hedge. But nobody comes. Lax.
It’s very isolated. A couple of people walk along the muddy shore, and two gentlemen amble slowly further along the track. Otherwise, it’s deserted.
After lunch and a rest, I set off and begin to follow the track. Easy going.
After I’ve put a safe distance between us, I look back at Hinkley Point and take photos of the power station.
I reach the small hamlet of Stolford, where there is a car park and people milling about. I don’t know what they’re doing here as there doesn’t seem anything much to see.
After Stolford, a shingle bank separates the sea from an area of marsh called Catsford Common. I’m not sure what’s happened to the coast path, but I decide to walk along the bank at a quick pace, despite the slippery shingle, keen to make progress. The lengthy detour around Hinkley has upset my schedule.
The rocks here continue to amaze me with their geometric swirls. The tide is coming in, the water encroaching across the mud.
I come down off the end of the shingle bank, and walk along a track. High hedges obscure the view.
Then I walk along a low bank running beside the shore. It’s a lovely open vista and I really enjoy this section of the walk. I must be nearing Stert Point.
When I reach Wall Common the path comes to an end, and the footpath signs indicate the coastal path follows the road. It may be possible to walk to Stert Point along the shore, but I decide not to risk getting lost. So I resign myself to road walking.
Steart is the name of the place. Stert is the name of the point. I’m not sure if Steart really qualifies as a village, it’s more a collection of farms. I like it. It’s an honest sort of place. Smelling of manure and with run down buildings and rusting machinery.
I meet more cows. Or is this a bull?
A horse, a lovely white goat, and a ferocious, barking dog, who hurtles out a gate and makes a lot of noise for his size.
The road doubles as the Somerset Coast Path and a cycle trail. I meet a couple on their bikes and can’t resist taking a photo of their passenger.
I nearly miss the car park at Steart, which is hidden down a lane and has a sign which proclaims, rather confusingly, Bridgewater Bay Nature Reserve. It is empty. I am a mile away from Stert Point itself, and I walk a little further down the road, before turning back, not wanting to keep my husband waiting.
The car park is still empty. There are no seats, so I sit on the verge and wait for my husband to appear.
He sends me a text. He is at Stert car park and waiting for me to arrive. I reply. No, he isn’t at Stert car park. He assures me he is, but I manage to persuade him he is wrong, and must drive a little further down the road.
[Later, although there is no car park marked on our maps, we decide that my husband’s ‘Stert Car Park’ is near Marsh Farm on Stert Drove. That’s a couple of miles from Steart village and 3 miles away from Stert point. Confusing.]
In the meantime, I wander around Bridgwater Nature Reserve car park, and take a photograph of the monument that proudly marks the beginning (or end) of the West Somerset Coast Path. I like it. And there is a nice wavy piece of sculpture on the side. Although I would have preferred a bench.
Miles walked today = 13 miles
Total miles since Kings Lynn = 1,483
The West Somerset Coast Path is described by Somerset Council as “a 25 mile long linear trail”. 25 miles it may be. Linear it is not. And it rarely lives up to its name as a coast path. Since my journey along it began, substantial sections have been inland. In fact, 7 miles of the 21 section of coast are inaccessible due to private property, including the closed path along the shore in front of Hinkley Point power station. The path is hard to find in places, as has not yet made its way onto the relevant OS Explorer Maps.
So, great idea, but needs better signage and advertising. And those few holiday resorts and landowners that continue to deny the public access to the coast should be ashamed of themselves.
[Please see update below.]
I emailed Somerset County Council, explaining the problems I had encountered around the Hinkley Point Power Station. I am pleased to report the signage has improved since I walked this way. Here is their very helpful reply.
The paths across the Hinkley Point C development site (including the West Somerset Coast path) are currently closed by virtue of a Development Consent Order (DCO) for the Hinkley Point C (HPC) power station.
Signs and maps detailing the alternative route are in place at various locations around the development site.
Under the DCO the majority of the footpaths will remain closed until construction of HPC is completed (approximately 10 years) but the proposal is for the coast path (WL23/95) to re-open within 3 years of the commencement of the development. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, commencement of construction has been delayed.
It is advisable to follow the alternative path shown on the maps as there is no way through on the coast path (if walking east to west east part of the coast path to the north of A and B station remains open to allow access for fishermen). However there is no through route and you will have to retrace your steps to continue on your onward journey.
As the site retracts it will be landscaped and the footpaths will be re-instated albeit on a slightly different alignment.
Project Manager, Rights of Way
Somerset County Council