I am walking along the southeast bank of the River Yeo, heading for Phipp’s Bridge, only a few hundred yards away. Technically speaking I am trespassing. But this shortcut saves me over two miles of needless walking along official footpaths to get to the same place. (And there is no guarantee the official paths would be passable anyhow.)
This is farmland, with fields of cattle. There are no stiles, but the fences I come across are easy to climb over. I wave to some watching cows, who ignore me.
There are swans on the river, birds in the sky, and – if I block out the drone of traffic on the nearby M5 – I could be in the middle of nowhere. After all my earlier difficulties with overgrown and obstructed footpaths, this is very pleasant and easy walking.
But in the next field, everything goes horribly wrong.
The cows seem startled by my sudden appearance and begin stampeding around the field. Alarmed, I duck down off the bank and walk near the edge of the river, hoping if I disappear from their skyline, the animals will settle down.
This tactic doesn’t work. I hear the sound of hooves above, and look up to see a row of cows lined up on the bank and staring down at me. Unable to resist a photo-opportunity, I swing my camera up. And so I catch through my viewfinder the alarming sight of a charging cow.
The beast rears up and lunges down the bank towards me and, at the last moment, turns to the side and prances back up the bank again.
It does this several times. Its eyes are wide and rolling. Ears up. With each lunge it seems to get nearer.
By this time I am no longer taking photos, but running as fast as my boots will allow to reach the next fence. There is a small black cow down by the water, dead ahead of me. I turn and briefly look back, but there are more cows behind me and the last fence is a long way away.
I keep running towards the small cow by the river, who – luckily – scurries out of my path. Meanwhile the charging white cow is leaping up and down on the bank above me, rearing onto its back legs and thrashing down with its hooves on the grass, like a bucking bronco.
Time seems to slow down. I wonder if the white cow would follow me if I ran into the river. I wonder how deep the mud is and whether I would get stuck. I wonder if anyone would ever find me. Is it preferable to drown in deep mud or be trampled to death by a mad cow?
I reach the fence. There is wire mesh between the planks of wood, making it difficult to get a foothold, but I pull myself up with my arms and manage to fling a leg across the top. Straddle the fence. My heart beats like a drum and I am covered in sweat. But at least I am higher than the cows.
For a moment, I wonder if they will charge the fence, which suddenly seems a flimsy barrier. But they simply mill about in a mob and glare at me.
With wobbly legs I climb down onto the other side – weak with relief and badly shaken. From a safe distance, I take a photograph of the gang of cows. Now standing guard on their side of the fence.
I hope that Phipp’s Bridge really exists and that I can cross the river safely at that point. But of one thing I’m sure: there is no going back the way that I’ve come. Nothing would induce me back into that field!
Phipp’s Bridge is a grand name for an ugly metal walkway across a sluice. But I’m really pleased to see it.
I suddenly realise how hungry and thirsty I am. It’s 2pm and I have been walking for nearly four hours without a break – and without making much progress.
Pulling out my map, I work out I’ve only travelled 2 miles as the crow flies. I am still nowhere near Clevedon and certainly nowhere near the sea. What a frustrating day this has been so far.
I sit down on a concrete step at Phipp’s Sluice and eat a snack bar and have a drink. Then onwards… to Kingston Seymour. My next task is to cross back over/under the M5 and my map shows a passage through a culvert under the motorway. It should be only a few yards away.
Surprisingly, the path is signposted and I reach the culvert without any difficulty.
Despite the unfriendly metal fencing around the passage, and the roaring traffic a few yards away, I see the bright flash of a blue bird in the bushes near the water. A kingfisher! My spirits lift.
When David Cotton walked this way, he took one look at this culvert and decided it was unsafe. So he walked on to the next M5 crossing point, a bridge over the motorway.
It’s not until I am peering into the tunnel itself, that I realise there is a problem.
Part of the walkway is under water. Although it’s probably not very deep, the area below the steps is completely covered in green slimy stuff. A thick carpet of foamy weed. At least a foot deep. It would come over the top of my boots.
I consider my options. I could wade through – it’s only weed, I tell myself, and won’t hurt me. But my boots would get filled with filthy fluid and I still have miles to walk.
More worryingly, I can’t see the way up at the far end of the tunnel. What if the exit from the tunnel is impassable – and I have to wade back again?
My experience under the previous culvert is still fresh in my mind and my confidence has been shaken by my close encounter with the marauding cows. I decide to take the easier option. And I turn away from the culvert.
It is such a relief to find the path onwards is signposted.
And leads through a featureless field. More clover. Grass. M5 traffic roaring to my left. But not a cow in sight!
The path gradually bends away from the motorway and, at the other end of the field, runs through a lovely apple orchard. The trees are heavy with fruit and there is a delicious cidery smell.
I follow a track on the other side of the orchard. The cider-apple smell is replaced by the stink of cow slurry and I pass by a steaming compost heap. I’m not sure if it has caught fire spontaneously or is the remains of a giant bonfire.
The track is covered in cowpats, but it leads upwards, and I realise I am about to pass over the motorway.
I can’t resist another photograph of the M5. It’s been my constant companion – and barrier – on today’s walk. I’ve been under it twice, and over it twice, and now I am going to leave it behind. Kingston Seymour, here I come!
I don’t actually walk through the village of Kingston Seymour, but along the looping lanes that lie between the village and the sea. It’s rather like Wick St Lawrence, a collection of houses, farms and light industry – all strung out along the narrow country roads. Plenty of drainage ditches and rhynes. Pleasant walking.
A couple of swans provide another photo opportunity. Their nest is empty and I don’t see any cygnets – maybe they’ve grown up and left home. The male swan is protective of his mate and hisses at me.
I find this hard going. With proper roads to walk on it should be easy. But I am hurrying now to make up for lost time. And, although I can smell the sea, and the air has that light, clean quality you find by the seaside, I can’t actually see the coastline. Its is on the other side of fields.
Ham Lane, Broadstone Lane, Middle Lane, round the corner at Channel View Farm, past the sewage works, Back Lane, Poplar Farm, Lower Farm… and then, almost as a shock because I’ve walked such a long way to get to this point… I realise I am at the beginning of the permissive footpath that will lead to the sea. To the sea!
Hurrying along a lane, past blackberryers and dog walkers, I finally reach the coast.
This is beautiful. The low light of late afternoon lights up the scenery. I hadn’t realised the sun had come out! And there is a steady stream of people – walkers and joggers – using this permissive route along the shore. Lovely.
Why isn’t all the coast accessible like this? This permissive path could easily be extended all the way down to the mouth of the River Yeo and, with a footbridge crossing, it would be possible to walk between the wonderful Sand Point and Clevedon, following the bank alongside the water. It would be a truly lovely walk.
What a shame a proper coastal route doesn’t exist. Maybe one day.
I stop and have another snack and finish my water. I am feeling very tired now, but raise the energy for a self-portrait.
As I approach Clevedon, there is one more river crossing to negotiate. The Blind Yeo. What a strange name. And ahead I can see yachts pulled up on the muddy banks, with raised land beyond.
But that is tomorrow’s walk. Today I am heading for the lovely St Andrew’s Church, on the edge of Clevedon, where my husband is picking me up. Despite all my difficulties, I’ve arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
I flop down in the grass in front of the church. This has been a challenging and exhausting day. Possibly the most frustrating day of walking I have ever done. I hope tomorrow will be easier.
Miles walked today = 14
Total miles since beginning of round-the-coast trek = 1,560