It takes a long time to walk from Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater. In fact, when we mentioned our afternoon’s plans to the people in the local pub they clearly thought we were mad. When we told them we’d set off from Weston-Super-Mare earlier that day, their eyebrows raised a notch higher and several pointed to the howling wind outside. With hindsight, they were right. We should have spent the afternoon raising a glass with them. We should not have tackled two long England Coast Path sections in one day.
I think you can pretty much judge a place from the first few people you encounter. Burnham-on-Sea is 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 friendly seafront pub 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 before setting off from Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater. We quickly found an empty bench and soon realised why all Burnham’s seafront benches were empty on this bitterly cold May lunchtime.
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 an 85p cuppa with a biscuit thrown in. It goes without saying that Harri opted for a pint. We settled ourselves down at a window table and it wasn’t long before we were chatting to the cheery landlady. Our quest must have sounded interesting (or everyone was bored stiff) because before we knew it, most of the pub’s customers had joined in the conversation.
There was general consensus that it was madness to continue from Burnham-on-Sea 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. The section of coast path from Burnham-on-Sea to Bridgwater would see us following a tidal stretch of the River Parrett; however, 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.
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.
I was tiring rapidly and my blisters were agony; Harri wasn’t feeling much livelier. 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.
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!).
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. The only difference was this time we’d be walking on the opposite bank.
England Coast Path: Severn Estuary to Bridgwater Bay by Harri Garrod Roberts is available in digital format from Amazon for £1.99.