Day 069: Minehead to Combwich
Distance: 29.90 miles
Ascent: 2950 feet
Weather: Overcast Morning, Heavy rain and Sunny Spells Afternoon
Accommodation: The Downings Family Home
I set of a bit later this morning for two reasons, firstly as Sarg had come all the way down I thought I should have breakfast with him, and secondly for some reason I wasn’t my efficient self and was faffing a lot. I set of just after 8:30 and said goodbye to Sarg on the promenade.
Minehead is a slightly strange mix of things with an old steam railway, a big Butlins and a beach that didn’t really look like you could swim from it. It did have lots of restaurants, shops and I assume is the hub for this little area.
The path had become the English Coastal Path for this section (not all areas during the challenge have a coast path) and started of very flat. It heads through the dunes, passed the golf course and I made quick progress first to Dunster and then Blue Anchor. At this point the weather was still dry though the forecast was terrible.
At Blue Anchor the path heads up onto the cliff and I encountered my first of many diversion signs. This sign said the diversion was well waymarked but given there wasn’t even an initial waymark to tell me which way to go I assumed this wasn’t true, and the unclear laminated wet map seemed to show a large diversion. Seeing the type of terrain, I decided just to take the actual path and not the diversion. It was very clear why they had closed the path, as after only a couple hundred meters there had been a slight low cliff collapse next to the path, but as there were no fences on the landward side I just ventured into the field slightly to very safely get around it (I cannot understand why the diversion didn’t just do this.)
The path had a few low hills at this point and I soon arrived at Watchet which was a much nicer town than I had for some reason been expecting. The steam railway runs through it and it has a lovely little harbour area. I was able to stock up on a few bits here.
The rain had still not arrived and I took the path out of Watchet which suddenly dropped down a steep flight of stairs onto the beach at Helwell Bay. This was not a sandy beach and more rockpools but the strata meant the rock was fairly flat so made for fairly good walking and I was enjoying it so much I must have missed the stairs further along the beach and just carried on. Eventually I reached a river coming across the beach which was clearly not crossable and realised my mistake. Fortunately there was only one field between me and the path, and the gate from the beach through it was open (or more correctly lying on the floor.), for this reason I had assumed the field was empty and I could easily get to the path. Half way across the field I suddenly noticed a group of Llamas, I hoped they were docile and though one of them stood up and looked at me they hardly reacted to me walking passed. I climbed over the fence at the other side and was back on the path.
I now reached the second of my diversion signs and again no waymarks to show the start of the diversion. Looking at the map, which again wasn’t clear this diversion looked large, many miles in fact. So as the diversion was not waymarked clearly, and the actual route was not fenced of I decided to carry on the actual path. There were no issues up until Home Farm Holiday Village where suddenly the path was slightly more robustly fenced off for the road/path down to the beach at St Audrie’s Bay. I googled the reason for the closure and it was actually a small collapse on this short road down to the beach. So, I decided to look and see whether it was safe to pass and was surprised to find that a new path had already been created slightly up from the road though not yet opened which got me safely down (the road itself would also have been safe to walk, just dangerous for a vehicle). So safely down in St Audrie’s Bay, I had to quickly scoot along the cliff lined beach for 1km as the tide was coming in and on reaching the other end climbed back onto the cliffs.
The path gently undulated all the way to Kilve Beach, which was about 14 miles into the day and with the rain just about to start I decided to stop for a break in the last possible place before the end of my day over 15 miles further ahead. It was a lovely isolated tea garden essentially in the garden (some under cover fortunately) of someone’s house and I had a quick tea and snack to rejuvenate my energy and also checked everything was waterproofed properly.
I headed off and the rain had started though at this point not too hard. Hinkley Point gradually came more and more into focus, and I was actually excited to see it, I love industrial things and large engineering projects. This is a controversial project and one that I think has been unfairly reported in the media. Every report says how expensive everything is, what a bad deal the government got but without actually mentioning the positives. In simple terms the deal the government got put all the building liabilities onto EDF and the Chinese CGN but guaranteed them a higher price per megawatt of energy, at the start this is in fact double the wholesale price and then with inflation (not the wholesale price) after that. The building of Nuclear power stations often far exceeds the initial estimate, and Hinkley Point is no exception, and because of the deal the government struck this has to be taken by EDF and CGN so no further cost to the taxpayer (and if for some reason it had come in under budget 50% of the extra profit would have had to be paid back to the UK government) . As for the cost of the electricity, at the start it is double the current wholesale cost which sounds a lot, and strangely the wholesale costs in the passed couple of years have gone down, which in the short term makes the deal look less attractive but in the long term the wholesale price is likely (though not guaranteed) to significantly rise which will mean the differential will decrease. I think the NAO investigation put it correctly saying ‘it will not be known for decades whether Hinkley Point C will be value for money.’ The government took the safe option, EDF/CGN took the incredibly risky option. I cannot say it is a good deal, though it could turn out to be, but I can definitely say it is not a risky one. And if people still think the government have signed a definitely bad deal, why have the French unions, and many French ministers thought so heavily to stop EDF being allowed to do the project due to the significant risk to EDF. I just thought I would put that little blurb in as it annoys me the way big infrastructure projects like Hinkley, Olympic Park, High Speed II etc. get reported and how projects sometimes get scrapped because of the incorrect facts being reported.
Well on arrival at Hinkley, I had hoped to be able to follow the coast path in front of it, as I had read this was now possible, but unfortunately this was not possible, and the diversion signs returned, though this time well waymarked. At this exact moment the rain significantly increased as did the wind and I began my long walk around the Hinkley perimeter fence. The site is massive, and with the rain lashing down, the muddy ‘path’ and high fence to my left I had to chuckle to myself about the ridiculousness of essentially doing a lap of the power station. For scale it took me just over an hour to get around the whole site and get back to the coast path on the other side.
Literally 30 seconds after completing the perimeter of Hinkley the sun came out and it felt like a strange omen. Unfortunately I was now quite behind schedule and it was already 4:15 and I still had 8 miles to go to Combwich. Fortunately the path was flat and the sun was out so I tried to increase the pace though my body didn’t like it. I made quick progress towards Steart, which was an annoying little spit after a long day.
From Steart the path heads through the RSPB Steart Marshes, which were stunning and the best landscaped bird reserve I have been through so far and with the most aesthetic bird hides I had seen. The path remained flat and I finally reached Combwich at about 6:15, where I met my kind host for my rest day
I was exhausted having completed the final 8 miles in about 2 hours (not stoppong for any snacks or water), and needed to quickly snack and drink, polishing off a large dairy milk in a matter of minutes and downing a good amount of water. My body does not like going much above 3 miles an hour, so the speed had hit me hard.
The Downings my hosts for my rest day had made me a lovely welcome sign, a lovely dinner and as well as a warm shower I started to feel normal again, though very achy.
An overly long day, but successful one. There was some lovely scenery, and it is a shame I had to keep my camera in the bag today as I could have got some good panoramic shots.