Welcombe Mouth to Bideford /x x x/ Bridgewater to Severn Beach


Weston beach
Sandy beaches and bold headlands give way to mud and shingle foreshores east of Western-Super-Mare.

Inland is the spectacular Avon Gorge and the cities of Bristol and Bath.


Bridgwater was once a busy port on the River Parrett, linked to the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal by docks which are now used by pleasure craft. Alfred the Great famously burnt cakes when hiding in the marshes after the Danish invasion in 875.

Guy FawkesGuy Fawkes is celebrated as a local hero during the carnival season which includes an illuminated procession through the town centre, culminating in the ‘Squibbing’. This is because the 1605 Gunpowder Plot is thought to have been masterminded by Robert Parsons who was born in the nearby village of Nether Stowey.

Castle StreetWilliam de Briwere was granted the lordship of the Manor of Bridgwater by Henry II who influenced the construction of Bridgwater Castle, a substantial sandstone structure surrounded by a tidal moat. In the Civil War the town was held by the Royalists and eventually the castle surrendered to the Parliamentarians. After the castle was demolished, it was replaced in 1734 by a street for town merchants close to the port. We found a couple of the remaining portions of the castle wall on West Quay and Queen Street.

Admiral Blake statueIn the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion, the rebel James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth lead his troops on an attack on the King's position. The Battle of Sedgemoor resulted in defeat and the Duke lost his head in the Tower of London and ended the West Country's 'Pitchfork Rebellion’. The small Admiral Blake Museum is named after one of Cromwell's commanders and contains relics from the Battle of Sedgemoor.

Bridgwater bridgeThe town became a major seaport and the 30ft tidal range allowed large ships to reach the town centre. In 1886, the opening of the Severn Tunnel caused a severe drop in coal imports by sea which ceased in 1971. Bridgwater became a major manufacturing centre for clay tiles and bricks in the 19th century, including the famous "Bath Brick". In World War II the Canal formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, designed to prevent the advance of a German invasion and pillboxes can still be seen along its length


moored sailing boats Burnham-on-Sea suffered a major flood in 1607, and remained a small village until the start of the 19th century when the Reverend David Davies sank wells on the shore in an attempt to create a spa town. The spa idea failed, but Burnham was established as a Victorian seaside resort, however the town is now in decline. Flood defences feature heavily all along the promenade with strong metal gates.

PierWe had a burger at the shortest pier in Britain and walked over the muddy beach to watch fishermen on the shore-line, one of whom caught an enormous eel-like fish. A long jetty allows boats to be launched on the seaward side of the mud.

Round tower lighthouse and churchBehind the long promenade is the 14th century Church of St Andrew. Inside are carved figures of cherubs and angels moved to Burnham in 1820 and originally from London's Whitehall Palace, which was burnt down in 1698. These sculptures formed part of an altar commissioned by James II in 1685.

Lighthouse on legsPillar lighthouseThere are three strange lighthouses here, that warn shipping of sandbanks. The Round Tower Lighthouse was built in 1820 by a curate who charged passing ships a small fee. When Trinity House took over the lighthouses, they paid him £12,000 to douse his light and built new structures in 1832.

The 25 metre Pillar Lighthouse is now a private residence but the unique ‘Lighthouse on Legs’ still stands on the beach on 9 stout oak pillars.


Berrow and Brean

We drove through Berrow which lies between the sandy stretch of Berrow Flats and the 450 ft grassy hill of Brent Knoll - with an Iron Age fort clearly visible on its summit. At low tide the remains of a Norwegian ship wreck is revealed on the beach.

wall to wall caravansamusementsamusements

Brean consists of wall to wall caravan and holiday parks flanking a single strip of road with absolutely nowhere to park! There is an enormous funfair in the centre with various heart stopping rides and the usual cafes and amusements. It’s pretty awful.

Brean Down

flood gates Eventually we emerged from ‘static van-land’ at the northern end of the dunes where cars can park on the beach, behind very heavy flood gates.

beach parking at BreanWe climbed very steep steps to the crest of a mile-long finger of land that juts out into the Bristol Channel standing 320 ft high. It is a continuation of the Mendip Hills, made of carboniferous limestone, ending at the small islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

Pillbox facing Weston BayThe climb was well worth it for the fabulous views over Brean to the south and Weston-Super-Mare to the north.

NT Brean This Site of Special Scientific Interest is now owned by the National Trust, and is rich in wildlife, history and archaeology. In the 1860’s, when there were fears of a French invasion, a fort was built on the headland at the seaward end. It was re-armed in World War ll with two 6" ex-naval guns and it has been recently restored and opened to the public.

Inland, to the west and quite obvious, is Bleadon Hill, originally known as 'Bleed Down' after a bloody fight with Danish raiders around 800 AD.


Weston beach cafe Weston Bay lies between the prominant headland of Brean Down and the wooded ridge of Worlebury Hill with its 2 miles of sandy beach. At low tide the sea can be over a mile from the beachfront and to the south there is plenty of room for parking on the beach.

Birnbeck PierWith the coming of Brunel's Bristol & Exeter Railway, thousands of Victorian visitors arrived and Birnbeck Pier was completed in 1867 - although it is now derelict and in danger of collapsing into the sea.

Grand PierLocal traders began the construction of the new Grand Pier closer to the main streets which opened in 1904 and was originally planned to be 1.5 miles long. There is a huge funfair at the end.

The present building dates from 1933 and this Art Deco influence can be seen in much of the town's architecture from the period.

Grand Pier amusementsPromenadeclock on prom

pier at sunsetWeston’s other attractions are the Tropicana Pleasure Beach, a Sea Life Centre and a helicopter museum. The Woodspring Museum includes a 19th century house whose rooms are furnished as they would have been in 1901.

Jill's GardenIn the post-war period Weston suffered a decline in popularity and the town became a centre of industries such as helicopter production. Grove Park is very pretty and includes a bandstand and a tribute garden to journalist Jill Dando.

Sand Bay

Pillbox at sand bayAn Iron Age hill fort stands in the woods of Worlebury Hill at the western end of which a car park overlooks Birnbeck Island. Sand Bay is a wide sandy beach backed by caravans. The northern end has become overgrown with spartina grass that was planted in the 50’s to support the banks of a tributary to the Bristol Channel further upstream. The grass also began to grow on the beach at Weston-super-Mare, but was removed by the local council.

In the 1980s part of the beach was raised to prevent flooding. Sand was pumped from the sea up onto the beach so there are now two levels, both of which are polluted with rubbish that washes up from the Bristol Channel.

Middle Hope, the narrow headland that leads to Sand Point provides panoramic views of Exmoor and the Bristol Channel. There is a car park at the north end of Sand Bay, which is also the starting place for a 2 mile walk to Woodspring Priory. Founded in 1210, it was a farmhouse for more than 400 years but has been restored and one of its rooms is a museum displaying finds from the site.


seafront This is a sedate seaside town with many Georgian and Victorian buildings and seafront with bandstand and bowling greens. A path along the clifftops is called Poet’s Walk as Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in a cottage in the town and William Makepeace Thackeray was a frequent guest of the Elton family at Clevedon Court.

pierThis was a popular seaside town during the Victorian era and a pier was opened in 1869. It has been recently restored and a plaque on the wall nearby states that the tidal range of 47 feeet is the second highest in the world. The shore is a mixture of pebbled beach and low rocky cliffs with low-tide mud.

Curzon cinemaThe Clevedon Picture House (now the Curzon cinema) was built in 1912 by Victor Cox and enlarged during the 1920’s. It is thought to be the oldest purpose-built, continuously operated cinema in the world with a unique interior of walls covered by panels of pressed tin.

Clevedon Court Clevedon Court is one of only a few remaining 14th century manorial halls in England, having been built by Sir John de Clevedon. In 1709 it was bought by Abraham Elton, a merchant from Bristol. The Eltons were a prominent Bristol family, whose wealth came from property and the slave trade.

In 1842, Sir Charles Abraham Elton's sister Julia married Henry Hallam, and his nephew Arthur Hallam is the subject of Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam, when Tennyson stayed at Clevedon Court in 1850. Thackeray wrote a large part of his novel Vanity Fair here.

Sir Arthur Hallam Elton inherited the house in 1853 and spent much of his life improving the town, funding the cottage hospital and building All Saints' Church. The west wing of the house was destroyed by a fire in 1882 and during the rebuilding, the chapel was rediscovered, the large external window and altar having been disguised with masonry and the room having been known until then as the "Lady's Bower".

clock towerSir Edmund Elton was the inventor of one of the first forked bicycle brakes and was a well-regarded potter who produced a variety of richly-coloured glazes. The clock tower in the centre of town is decorated with "Elton ware".

The house was donated to the National Trust and the west wing was demolished in 1960 although the Elton family is still resident. There is an intriguing collection of glass made in the nearby town of Nailsea, including multi-coloured walking sticks, rolling pins and pipes.


Portishead’s history dates back to the Roman times. The town was built on the mouth of a small tributary and High Street once met the water at the top of the river. Iron rings, where the old fishing boats used to moor can still be seen on the street’s stone walls.

At the height of the iron and steel era, a Pier and a deep-water dock were built to accommodate the large ships that couldn’t reach Bristol Harbour. There are two power stations and in 1951 Albright and Wilson set up a chemical works which produced white phosphorus and used electricity to power an arc furnace to reduce the phosphate rock.

Battery PointAt Battery Point, where guns were placed to protect the Severn Estuary from invasion fleets, shipping passes close to the land on its way to Avonmouth docks. Beyond the shingle shoreline there are dangerous low tide mud flats.

Lake Grounds was built in the early 20th century around an artificial lake and next to it is one of the UK's last surviving outdoor swimming pools.


Avon GorgeGloucestershire embraces the Bristol Channel, with the Forest of Dean on the 'Welsh' side of the River Severn.

The southern border is the River Avon that runs through Bristol and Bath. The county shares part of the Cotswold Hills and is set with small towns and pretty villages.

Avon Gorge

Clifton BridgeThis narrow, steep-cliffed gorge runs for 1½ miles along the River Avon through a limestone ridge. On the east of the gorge is the gracious town of Clifton with a large public park and observatory. There are dramatic views of the gorge from Clifton, with its wealth of elegant 18th century houses.

Limestone cliffsAt various times the sides of the gorge have been quarried, leaving steep gorge walls, now popular with climbers and a habitat for Peregrine Falcons. Leigh Woods, the National Trust forest on the west side of the gorge, is a popular walking area with an Iron Age hill fort and a nature reserve featuring the Bristol whitebeam, a plant which is unique to the gorge.

Clifton Suspension BridgeA highlight for us was to walk over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1864. It soars 245ft above the river and is perhaps the best known landmark in Bristol. There is a small but interesting visitor centre on the western end and the views are stunning.

The A4 road, the River Avon and two railways run through the gorge - on the east, the passenger railway to Avonmouth and Severn Beach runs through part of the gorge and through a tunnel under the downs and on the west side is the freight railway to the Royal Portbury Dock.


harbour The town of 'Brycgstow' was in existence by the beginning of the 11th century, and under Norman rule acquired one of the strongest castles in southern England. Since the 12th century the harbour has been an important port and the town became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing.

Bristol CathedralBy the 14th century Bristol was England's third-largest town and it was made a city in 1542, with the Abbey of St Augustine becoming Bristol Cathedral. During the Civil War the city suffered through Royalist military occupation and plague.

Peto BridgeWith the rise of England's American colonies from 1700 to 1807, more than 2000 slaving ships were fitted out at Bristol, carrying an estimated half a million people from Africa to the Americas. Bristol was now one of the world's great ports, its prosperity based on sugar, rum, tobacco and slaves.

Old VicCompetition from Liverpool, war with France and the abolition of the slave trade contributed to the city's failure to keep pace with the newer manufacturing centres. Bristol's population still grew, however, particularly associated with the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London, two pioneering Bristol-built steamships, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

city centreThe city centre suffered severe damage from bombing during World War II. The original central area is now a park, featuring two bombed out churches and fragments of the castle. The removal of the docks to Avonmouth allowed redevelopment of the Floating Harbour area in recent decades and now its warehouses house an Art Gallery, cinemas and museums.

We spent a fascinating morning visiting Brunel's SS Great Britain in the dry dock where she was launched in 1843. She was the world's first propeller-driven, ocean-going iron ship, scuttled in the Falklands before being rescued and beautifully restored.

SS Great BritainSS Great BritainSS Great Britain

PlanetariumBristol has many historic buildings including the original terminus of Brunel's Great Western Railway, which now houses a 'hands-on’ science centre. We had lunch in the famous Bristol Old Vic, in the Old City with its cobbled streets and visited the spanking new @Bristol Centre with its planetarium and IMAX cinema.

last flight of ConcordeThe last ever flight of any Concorde took place on 26th November 2003 when she flew over the Bristol area before the final landing on the Filton runway from which the first British Concorde flew in 1969.

Scrapping that plane was completely insane!!


Docks Driving through Avonmouth is dreary as it contains a very high concentration of industrial manufacturing plants. In the late 19th century Avonmouth took over from the city docks as the hub of Bristol's shipping activities.

Chemical worksThe town is bisected by the M5 motorway with the Avonmouth Bridge taking traffic over the river to the western side of the town with views of thousands of cars in holding areas at the Royal Portlebury Dock. This was built in the 1970s when it was clear that Avonmouth could not cope with ever larger container ships.

M5The Dock remains a lively commercial shipping centre, handling bulk carriers of up to 120,000 tons, and importing vehicles, timber products and coal. The docks are closed to the public.

Severn Beach

Severn Beach
We drove along the bleak coastal road on a dull moring at low tide when the English Stones reef is revealed at Severn Beach. Beneath here, the Severn Tunnel has provided a rail link between the two banks of the Severn since 1885. It was built by the Great Western Railway and is over 4 miles long and the eastern portal lies on the outskirts of the village. It is still the longest mainline railway tunnel within the UK although the extension to the Channel Tunnel will be longer.

Bridges visitor centreSouth of the tunnel, the Second Severn Crossing was built in 1996 to relieve the first Severn Bridge, 3½ miles upriver. A river front footpath leads beneath it. We eventually found the Bridges visitor centre up a small lane, but it was only open at weekends.

Severn WaySevern Beach was created in 1922 as a seaside resort with a swimming pool, a boating lake and a night club called the Blue Lagoon. Many people came from Bristol because it had less strict licensing laws.

new Severn Bridgeold Severn BridgeMuch has changed in recent years and the village is moving towards a commuter town but despite being right next to the motorway, residents have to travel for miles before they can access either bridge as there is no motorway junction at the town.

Aust CliffThe beach at Aust next to the old Severn Bridge is full of fossils, including
the remains of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs from the Triassic period. New material is constantly coming out of the cliff, especially after high tides.

Over the Bridge is Wales!