Wednesday, 28 October 2015

BLUE ANCHOR BAY AND DUNSTER



Blue Anchor Bay, named for the colour of mud residue on the anchors of boats moored there, is a quiet seaside spot occupied by a holiday park enjoying lovely coastal views and sunsets.  The bay has an interesting geology courtesy of its rocks and cliffs which include layers of alabaster.  The cliffs come in two tones from different geological ages: the red Triassic cliffs and the grey Jurassic cliffs.  Fossils can be found in the latter, mainly remains of fish such as small bones.   The bay is on the West Somerset Steam Railway, and railway buffs will also find a Railway Museum housed in the station’s former waiting room.  The museum opens in the summer, and tells the story of the Great Western Railway.  In the village of Blue Anchor is Home Farm, a small working farm open to visitors.

It is possible to walk from Blue Anchor Bay to Dunster Beach, a shingle and sand beach which is also served by the Steam Railway.  One mile inland is the charming village of Dunster with its castle, owned by the National Trust.  There has been a castle at this spot since at least Norman times, and during the Civil War it was a focus of tussles between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, who held it until 1650.  Among the main attractions today are the 17th century oak staircase and the terraced gardens with plant life including rhododendrons and magnolias.  Part of the original village walls are still visible, along with two gateways, and there is a 12th-century church, priory and gardens, as well as a 17th-century watermill, an old tithe barn and a monks’ dovecote.   

Map of the area. 

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Dunster Castle. Photo by marcntomsmum0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

WATCHET



Watchet Harbour has a narrow entrance so that boats above a certain size find it a challenge to enter, particularly if it happens to be after dark.  This was the fate that befell Timothy Spall and his wife Shane when they paid a visit to the town during the filming of their entertaining Somewhere At Sea series.  The battle to navigate their Dutch barge Matilda through the narrow gap took its toll on Matilda, but Tim insisted she could take what he described as "the scars of war".

Way back, early Britons living in Watchet traded with Wales from here, and this early trade included the export of lime from the many lime kilns along the coast.  Other exports included seaweed, alabaster and gypsum, while later on coal was imported - over 13,000 tons of it in 1862.  The harbour had to be rebuilt after a disastrous storm in 1900, and there was further damage during subsequent weather events.  Work on the present-day Marina started around the Millennium, and this now occupies a substantial part of the inner harbour.  Watchet Harbour provided the inspiration for The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge when he arrived at the town and looked down on it from St Decuman's Church:

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill
Below the lighthouse top.

Watchet is one of the stops on the West Somerset Steam Railway, which starts in Minehead to the west.  Adjacent to the Railway Station is the Watchet Boat Museum, housed in a former railway goods shed and offering free admission.  The museum showcases the nautical history of the area and there is plenty of hands-on fun for the kids, including a boat to climb in and out of.  Watchet Museum is housed in a former Market House and tells the history of the area starting with the Romans, as well as providing information on the maritime history and the railways.  

Map of the area. 

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Watchet Marina. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

STOLFORD AND HINKLEY POINT



In 7000 BC the shoreline around Stolford and Hinkley Point extended three miles further out than it does now, but by 3800 BC the woods on the shoreline were becoming submerged due to a surge of water.  The remnants of this ancient submerged forest are still visible during exceptionally low tides, as was the case earlier this year during the lowest tides for two centuries, when submerged forests around the Westcountry coast were exposed, including the one at Stolford and at Minehead to the west.  Stolford is part of the civil parish of Stogursey, a village just inland with a castle dating from at least the 12th century, chosen as a base by William de Courcy, Steward to Henry I.  The moated 17th century gatehouse, which is all that is left of the original castle, is now available as a holiday let through the LandmarkTrust. 

Back in August 2011 in my piece about Sizewell and Minsmere, I found myself marvelling at the juxtaposition of a monstrous nuclear power station and a tranquil nature reserve.  I am reminded of that now as I turn my attention to Hinkley Point, which is a popular spot for birdwatching.  The birds frequenting the Point include Brent geese, Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail, while the fields inland host Meadow Pipit and Merlin among others, and the sea defence boulders are visited by migrant Northern Wheateaters and wintering Black Redstarts.  Bordering on all this feast of feathers is the Hinkley Point B nuclear plant, a successor to the decommissioned Hinkley Point A.  Hinkley Point B was begun in 1967, but due to a series of hiccups did not start generating electricity until 1976.  Hinkley Point C was given planning consent in March 2013, and George Osborne recently raised eyebrows by inviting the Chinese to participate in the development of this new plant.  What could possibly go wrong...?

For those who are curious about what goes on in a nuclear power station there is a Visitor Centre at Hinkley Point B with interactive displays, and tours of the plant can be arranged, all for free. 

Map of the area. 

File:Hinckley Point Power Station - from the Quantock Hills - geograph.org.uk - 1603511.jpg
Hinkley Point Power Station from the Quantock Hills. Photo by Anthony O'Neil, via Wikimedia Commons