This time I’m back on the mainland and continuing my journey west. Once again I take the train from home to Weston-super-Mare via Reading and Bristol. The trains run on time and although crowded not over-crowded. Better still the 1 way ticket costs me just £9 as I booked in advance. I’m hoping to reach Burnham-on-Sea and so have booked a return ticket from Highbridge and Burnham station On reaching the station I head for Regent Street as this is where the timetable shows the buses as stopping. This is quite close to the station but it takes me some time to find the stop, as the waiting passengers at the stop make it difficult to check the timetables to find which is the right stop.
In fact although architecturally usually terrible I like towns with a Bus Station. Mainly because they are marked on my Ordnance Survey map making them easier to find than a random street when the Ordnance Survey maps don’t show street names in urban areas. They are also generally signed from the town centre and railway station, unlike bus stops. Sometimes the only description of where the buses stop in a town centre is the name of a shop or pub, which makes it all the more difficult to find without even a street name! A bus station also means I can easily find the right stop and usually find a shop, toilet and somewhere dry to wait. However they seem to be out of fashion and most towns seem to prefer a cluster of bus stops on a main road, which is much cheaper but also much less pleasant for passengers. Not only do they have to wait on a busy road, the shelters provided usually only have room for half a dozen or so passengers, so if it’s raining others have to shelter in shop entrances and etc. Those sitting in the shelter also usually block the view of the timetable, which is usually stuck to the wall of the shelter which also makes it tricky to find when the next bus is due.
I don’t have too long to wait though and the number 5 bus for Uphill soon arrives and takes me to Uphill, a journey of a little under 15 minutes. I get off at the last stop and make my way down to the beach passing the golf course. Like much of Weston, the beach here doubles as the car park (presumably you have to be careful at high tide), which might make it difficult to do this walk by car as you probably wouldn’t be safe to leave you car here all day. You can probably park on-street in the nearby roads however.
I set off round the wooden wall of a caravan park and then continue south alongside the golf course on my left.
Soon I reach the muddy banks of the River Axe ahead and my first challenge is to get across the river. There used to be a ferry here in the past so I’m told, but it doesn’t run any longer, sadly.
On my last walk I decided the bank was too muddy to risk trying to cross but I decide to have another look in case the river is drier in winter. A quick check confirms there is no safe way across, there is no way I’m going to walking over that mud, I’m sure you’d sink very quickly.
Instead I continue past the little Yacht Club buiding and to some jetties ahead where I pick up a footpath alongside the river bank. I follow this south to where it meets another muddy little stream that heads back to uphill. I head north alongside this with some boats moored beside the river as I near the road. The path brings me back to the road, making almost a complete circle I have walked so far!
I turn right and take the first path on the right into a boat yard. The footpath doesn’t look quite right to start with but it is and it takes me right through the boat yard and then back beside the muddy creek with a small lake on my left. There is a little campsite beside the lake which looks rather nice and I can see the ruined church of uphill on the rocky hill behind (I can see how this part of Weston-super-Mare got it’s name!).
I soon leave the boat yard and continue on the raised bank path beside the river. This comes to a little jetty and here I turn to the left away from the coast for a short while. I soon pick up the West Mendip Way a long distance path from Wells (a route which I have since walked the length of and recommend).
The path goes through a few fields filled with cows and brings me down to a wide gravel track. Here the West Mendip Way continues ahead but I leave it and turn to the right on the bridlepath over Bleadon Level. I am hoping to cross the River Axe at a barrier where “Normal Tidal Limit” is marked on the OS Map. The 1:50000 map shows a cycle route heading down to this barrier.
I follow this track to a junction of tracks where the official route of the bridlepath is to the south but the cycle path I mentioned is to the right. So I pick up this track, also a wide gravel track initially but soon joining the grassy raised banks which presumably act as flood defence for this totally flat landscape. I’m soon back on the river bank beside the River Axe and enjoying the peace and tranquility of this landscape, with only a single dog walker so far on this path. I round the back of a large sewage works but thankfully it doesn’t smell too much. I round this and soon reach the sluice and flood barrier. I head to this hopeful to be able to cross. Unfortunately, it seems that although the cycle path goes here, it does not go across it, as the barrier is well and truly inaccessible. Whilst there is a clear route across into a caravan park I can’t take it as signs tell me it is private and no unauthorised access and in addition there is a high fence topped by barbed wire. I can see children playing in the caravan site over the river just a few metres away, but I can’t get there which is frustrating. Looking at the map I have no alternative but to take the nearest road crossing over the river Axe. This is frustrating.
Rather than re-trace my steps I continue on the path along the south side of the sewage works. I’m unclear if I’m allowed here since it’s not signed as a path but it is also well walked and there is no one around to tell me off. It is a well surface track that soon brings me back to the bridlepath I left earlier. I now follow this path for around 1 mile as it meanders around the levels of this area of marshland and fields and soon brings me down to the road, with the railway line running immediately adjacent to it.I had hoped this road would be quiet, but it isn’t, there is a lot of traffic and worse there is no pavement. At least it is fairly straight though so I have a good view of traffic approaching. This soon reaches the bridge over the river Axe, which I cross (at last, over this river!) I then head south past various farms and businesses and I continue to where the road then turns sharply to the right.
Here the road crosses the railway line but there is a footpath to the right which I take which heads for Wick Farm. This is initially a farm track but soon leads out into a little paddock. The path is initially good but as I pass the paddock it gets more and more overgrown with nettles and brambles. I am getting all scratched and continue quite some distance until the brambles and nettles are more or less at shoulder height. I try to continue but eventually conclude it’s too overgrown for me to get through, and with much frustration I have to give up again, and return to the dreaded road. This is very frustrating and I report the problem to the council when I get home. They say they will arrange to have the path cleared, but whether they do or not I don’t know, but I see another coast walker found a similar problem this year so I guess it’s a frequent problem with this path. Frustrated I returned to the road and continue in the wrong direction for the coast over the railway line, another barrier I will have to cross again later.
The road is frustratingly busy as it lacks a pavement and doesn’t feel especially safe to walk along as the traffic is fast, the road very twisty (so visibility is poor) and there aren’t many places to get out of it’s way. Soon I reach the junction for Brean Road signed for Brean which I take, at last heading back to the coast. This passes Hope Farm Cottages and the stream of Middle Rhyne where the road then turns sharply to the right to head back west to Cripp’s Bridge to take me back over the railway line. This road proves to be even busier than the last I was on and is probably not a great road to drive at the best of times, what with the near 90-degree turns along it and the narrowness. I sense the frustration of drivers that are stuck behind me as there is so much traffic there is little room to overtake but I step aside whenever there is room to do so and thankfully I don’t come across and bad drivers or have abuse shouted at me (It does happen, unfortunately).
I soon pass a Cider farm on the left a reminder that I am in Somerset. The road contiues north to Wick Farm, where the path I wanted to take earlier would have bought me out. Another few 90-degree turns on the road see me heading west again passing Tarr’s Farm and Yellowhayes. I soon come to the road junction with Ham Road and Red Road. Here the road I am on turns to the left. I hope some of the traffic, which I sense getting frustrated, will turn the other way here but not much does. I pass Ham Farm on the right (do they keep pigs?). I continue to Maitland Cottage and soon have a very large caravan park on my right as the road takes another sharp turn to the left back towards the coast. Suddenly I’m not the only person walking along the road here, there are a few families and a grass verge in places. There is a footpath just before this caravan park to the left but since when I reach the coast I want to turn right and this path would bring me out further south than the road, I decide to continue along the road. Passinger another huge caravan park there is finally a pavement of sorts and I soon reach the coast road going north to south here.
I don’t know a lot about Brean but I had expected somewhere fairly quiet, but the huge number of caravan parks here means it reminds me more of Skegness, and it is very busy here. Thankfully on reaching the main road I can cross it and take the path down to the beach. Very glad to be off that dreadful road I take this and soon appreciate the big beach at Brean once more, having finally made it round the Axe estuary. The delay has cost me a lot of miles and time so I suspect I’m not going to make Burnham-on-Sea and the station at Highbridge and Burnham, but thankfully there is a bus to the station from Brean.
I could of course turn left here, but that would mean I miss out part of the coast, Brean Down and the beach here, so I turn right. The miles of unpleasant road walking makes me appreciate the open coast and beach even more and I enjoy walking back along the large beach which like that at Weston has a huge tidal range but sadly is also a bit muddy at low tide. I head north and the beach soon becomes quieter as I near Brean Down. The geology of Somerset is very interesting, as having been follows entirely flat land around marsh and streams there is this huge chunk of granite ahead of me looming over the beach. The caravans alongside the beach continue almost all the way to Brean Down. At a cafe and ice cream kiosk I join the road and follow this to it’s end by a bird garden and then take the steep path that climbs up onto this headland. It gives wonderful views back over Brean and back to the River Axe and Weston-super-Mare to the north.
I turn left and follow the wide path right along the spine of this large hill. The path reminds me a little of the path up over the Malverns with the wide grassy path climbing over this hilly ridge, which falls away quickly on either side.
This is a lovely part of the walk with fine views over Brean all the way south and is very enjoyable.
At the far end of the headland, I reach Brean Down Fort. This is a large fort in the care of the National Trust but freely accessible to the public to wander around, which is nice. It was built in 1858 under the threat of invasion, like the forts on Steep Holm, Flat Holm and Lavernock Point over on the Welsh side. It was completed in 1877. The fort was in military use until the end of World War I after which it was opened to the public and used as a cafe amongst other uses. At the outbreak of World War II it was returned to military use with additional search lights added. After World War II the fort returned to public access and you can now wander around this interesting site.
I have a good walk around and then return on the path along the north side of this headland this time with better views over Weston-super-Mare.
I then follow this path as it descends down to Brean Down Farm at the eastern most end of the headland, and then follow the flat footpath alongside the headland to return to the coast.
I’m glad I made the diversion to explore Brean Down as it’s a wonderful wild rocky area surrounded by otherwise flat and marshy coastal land and feels quite wild. I continue walking south along the beach.
The first mile is very quiet but even as I get back closer to the centre of the beach the vast size of the beach means it never feels crowded. As time is pressing I realise with the enforced diversions I won’t reach Burnham-on-Sea in time to catch the bus I need to get the train I am booked on.
I decide as there is a path inland at the Brean Leisure Park back to the road I will head up here and expect to find a bus stop here.
I head up this path and soon emerge at the road and yes just a few metres away. I have about 10 minutes to wait for the bus which runs directly to Highbridge and Burnham station (First Bus route 112). Sadly for anyone else planning this walk this bus service has now ceased and route 21 is the replacement, which now only goes to Highbridge and Burnham station at peak times, which is a shame (so much for integrated public transport!) but does run quite a long route between Weston-super-Mare and Taunton. It does stop around 5 minutes walk from Highbridge and Burnham station though. More usefully, especially if you drive to the start of the walk at Uphill, is that this bus runs direct back to Uphill, making this an easy linear walk.
The pavement here is very very busy, Brean is certainly popular and I have to keep stepping back to the back of the pavement to allow people past. Soon the bus arrives and I take a seat upstairs, as it’s a double decker bus which is welcome. The bus sticks to the main road along the coast for most of the route, so I get a preview of my next walk. Although the traffic is very busy it does keep moving and we reach Highbridge and Burnham station on time. When I get off at the station I realise I’m now the only passenger left on board!
I have around 15 minutes to wait for my train and notice that this time I have been routed back via Taunton and Castle Cary rather than Bristol, I sign I am heading further south. The trains run on time and I arrive back home on schedule. Despite the frustration with the inaccessible crossing of the river Axe and the overgrown footpath this was still an enjoyable walk, at least once away from the road.
Bus Timetable 21 (Taunton – Bridgwater – Dunball – Huntspill – Highbridge – Burnham-on-Sea – Berrow – Brean – Uphill – Weston-super-Mare) Note that although the bus shows a connection at Burnham-on-Sea for Brean and Weston it is actually the same bus, it’s just that longer bus routes like this are usually advertised as several journies with “guranteed connection” (but in fact the same bus) because of some daft EU law.