Last time we explored the coastal path heading east from Watchet, it was called the Somerset Coast Path. A change of name by the time we explored the way west, meant now we were walking from Watchet to Minehead on the King Charles Coast Path.
From Watchet to Blue Anchor
It’s not only titles that are fickle along this coast, the route tends to chop and change slightly, the fault of the weather, erosion, and the danger of erosion. All of which meant, leaving Watchet and heading west wasn’t quite as straightforward as keeping the Bristol Channel on our right and following the coast. A 500m detour almost immediately after passing the western end of Watchet’s harbour sent us inland instead of west, initially following the same course as an old railway line that transported iron ore from the Brendan Hills to the harbour.
Passing the last of Watchet’s houses, we turned west, crossing open countryside, feeling we were finally on our way, views opening up, before we reached the B3191, and a dog leg finally had us on the King Charles Coast Path at Daws Castle. This was once the site of a castle built to defend the area from Viking attacks during the reign of King Alfred. Having recently watched the Netflix series The Last Kingdom has brought this violent period of South West history alive, adding extra depth to such historical sites, even if there isn’t anything to actually see apart from lovely views.
For a brief time, the path is straightforward. However, just before Warren Bay Holiday Village, a signpost directs us toward the beach and we duly follow it. This section of the route forms part of Somerset’s Jurassic, stretching east from Blue Anchor Bay to Lilstock, meaning there are fossils and unusual rock formations. There is, however, no easy path across the rocky, boulder-strewn beach. Progress is slow and the risk of turning an ankle quite high. Some of the rock formations are quite stunning – huge rings in the grey slate. A short detour is probably worth it, but only a short one. After realising we were going nowhere fast, we retraced our steps to rejoin the ‘proper’ path at Warren Bay Holiday Village, following a much more foot-friendly path through a wooded area until we emerged overlooking Blue Anchor Bay and Dunster beyond.
From Blue Anchor to Dunster Beach
Blue Anchor feels like a beach for a holiday village. Backing the sweeping, crescent beach of shingle and sand are a couple of cafes, a pub, and the track of the West Somerset Railway. Time it right and there might be an old puffer passing through. It’s pleasant but maybe lacks soul. There was nothing to persuade us to linger. Immediately afterwards, though, came my favourite section of the route. In the distance, Dunster Castle and the wilder curves of Exmoor added a pretty-as-a-painting backdrop while weeks of rain turned the fields bordering the path into mini lakes, a haven for wildlife, sparkling in the sunshine. Pillboxes appeared, some easily identifiable while others look as though they were camouflaged to blend in with their natural surroundings. Crusted groynes on the beach were like the jagged teeth of some prehistoric sea creature. Beyond them, a lone fisherman in oilskins cast his line from the rocky shoreline. Add to that the yawning Bristol Channel with Wales opposite, there’s a lot for the eyes to enjoy.
Where there was once a harbour said to be second only to that of Bridgwater in these parts, there is now a holiday village. In the 16th century, Welsh cattle, salt, wine, victuals, wood, and coal were all imported via Dunster’s harbour. A holiday village might sound a poor replacement for what was once a thriving maritime scene, but the chalets at Dunster Beach are not without a quirky charm, and they’re definitely interesting. The first was erected in 1927 and although they were always designed to be holiday chalets, during World War Two they housed evacuees and then soldiers from the Royal Engineers and the Somerset Light Infantry. Now there are around 265, many stretching in a surprisingly long curve that mirrors the coastline, looking like quaint relics from another era.
Behind the huts is Dunster Hawn, a small wildlife reserve.
From Dunster to Minehead
From Dunster Beach, it should have been a relatively easy curve around the dunes separating the golf course from the beach, but this section was closed (Oct 2023). Since then, according to the official website, it has reopened, which is a relief to hear. The detour, while initially nice enough as it veered inland passing Dunster Train Station, was a drudge once it reached the A39. It didn’t improve all the way into the centre of Minehead where we picked up the coast path outside the entrance to Butlin’s.
Silver scallop shells embedded into the pavement lead the way along Minehead’s seafront. These have nothing to do with the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) as we initially wondered. They are part of the Minehead Mile Heritage Trail, a sort of open-air art gallery. The logical thing would be to end in the centre of town, and relax in a café, but we wanted to join the King Charles Coast Path with the South West Coast Path, so continued for another 500 metres to the monument which marks the start of the latter path, a wonderful sculpture of a pair of hands holding a map.
After a short appreciation of the monument, we wandered back into the centre, had a coffee, and jumped on the bus back to Watchet. There are plenty of places to eat in Minehead, but we had hearts set on a glass of local cider in Pebbles Tavern followed by fish and chips from the Harbour Fish Bar almost next door – the reward for what had been a decent leg stretch.
Length of route: 15km; ascent/descent 225m