Tuesday, 29 September 2015


Earlier this week it was reported that no less than four vehicles had become stranded in the sea off Burnham-On-Sea in one day, caught out by very high tides.  Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence along this stretch of coast, which is a victim of the notorious Bristol Channel tidal range, the second highest in the world.  In Bridgwater Bay, where Burnham-On-Sea lies near the mouth of the River Parrett, there are extensive mud flats, and at low tide the sea can recede for over one and a half miles.  There was a particularly tragic incident in 2002 when a five-year-old girl died on the mud flats, and following this there was a campaign to fund an inshore rescue hovercraft.  There are now two hovercraft, named after the victim and her sister.

Flooding has been a recurring theme over the years.  The Romans once inhabited the dunes behind the river, having come here to try to reclaim the Somerset Levels.  In 1607 the town was seriously affected by a flooding event so severe that communities from Barnstaple to Gloucester were hit, as well as the entire South Wales coast.  There is a theory that the phenomenon which caused this catastrophe was actually a tsunami rather than an ordinary storm.  The sea bank at Burnham-on-Sea was breached, resulting in the inundation of around 30 villages, with attendant loss of life of humans and farm animals.  More serious flooding occurred in 1981, and following this a large concrete wall was built in a bid to prevent further disasters.

Burnham-on-Sea is a traditional family oriented resort, with sandy beaches offering donkey rides in the summer and a pier with amusements which holds the record as Britain's shortest pier.  The main beaches are Berrow Beach and Brean Beach.  Apex Park to the south of the town is a leisure and wildlife park with a variety of ducks and other waterfowl, walking trails, picnic spots and a range of activities for the kids.  Adults may want to turn to the Burnham and Berrow Golf Club for their amusement.

For a list of events in Burnham-on-Sea see here.

Webcam of the seafront and pier.

Map of the area. 

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Burnham's cute little pier. Photo by Ken Grainger, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 September 2015


In early August this year the BBC Points West local news show reported mysterious goings-on on the seafront in Weston-Super-Mare.  There appeared to be a Hollywood production underway judging from the signs which had popped up in the vicinity of the Tropicana, a disused lido, but nobody knew for sure what was going on.  Then all was revealed: it was a pop-up exhibition by the Bristol graffiti artist Banksy called Dismaland Bemusement Park, a "sinister twist on Disneyland" with huge sculptures and a 'fairy castle' plus members of staff being wilfully miserable and unwelcoming, in other words the very antithesis of the real thing.  This was a departure for Banksy, who is normally known for his witty and topical street art to be found in edgy urban settings (see the Bristol post from 24 August).  The exhibition, which ends this weekend, has proved a huge success and has really put Weston on the map, providing a boost for local businesses.  So whatever you may think of Banksy, Weston certainly owes him a lot.  

Weston-Super-Mare is a typical seaside resort, with a long promenade and a vast sandy beach.  However, if you go there expecting to dip your toes in the water you could be in for a disappointment if your visit coincides with low tide because due to the vagaries of the tides in the Bristol Channel the sea is so far out at low tide that you need a powerful set of binoculars to see it beyond the huge expanse of mud stretching as far as the eye can see.  The mud presents a potential danger for those who are tempted to walk out to the water's edge.  However, there is a nice safe area for swimming in the form of a large marine lake at the northern end of the promenade. 

The Grand Pier, originally opened in 1904, has been devastated by fire twice in its  history, in 1930 and again in 2008, when the pier was all but destroyed.  However, the local community was determined to keep this iconic focal point of their seafront and after a multi-million-pound revamp it was reopened in 2010.  There is another pier which remains in a bad way called the Birnbeck Pier, which has been listed among the top 10 most endangered Victorian buildings in Britain.  Other attractions include the SeaQuarium where sharks and rays can be observed swimming underwater and an Observation Wheel on the seafront, and there are boat trips and donkey rides.  At the southern end of the bay is Brean Down, run by the National Trust and described as a 'natural pier'.  There is a Victorian fort on the Down as well as the site of a Roman temple. Also at this end of the bay, in an area called Uphill, is the start of the Mendip Way, a long-distance trail which runs for 50 miles to Frome.  

Weston has often been at the receiving end of unkind remarks in the past.  Bill Bryson painted a particularly dreary picture of a rain-sodden evening in Weston in his book Notes From A Small Island, an evening he was forced to fill with a long, drawn-out meal in a Chinese restaurant followed by a session in an amusement arcade in an attempt to stay dry.  However, I believe that if you catch the town on a nice sunny day it makes a perfectly pleasant spot for a day out or a summer break.  There is plenty going on in Weston, especially in the summer months, with events ranging from a sand sculpture festival to a food festival.  For a list of events in the town see here

Map of the area.

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The beach and the Wheel.  Photo by Jonathan Billinger, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 17 September 2015


During the location-spotting frenzy which followed the initial showing of the Broadchurch crime series on ITV it was West Bay in Dorset that got all the attention.  However, what some may not realise is that Clevedon also put in an appearance.  The shots featuring the tortured-looking local priest outside his church were filmed at St Andrew's Church in Clevedon, while Hill Road featured as Broadchurch's High Street.  Scenes featuring the hotel, newspaper office and a local newsagents were also filmed there.  Meanwhile, in cinematic circles, Clevedon had its moment of fame at the end of The Remains Of The Day.  The final scene in the film was set in Clevedon and was also filmed there.

Clevedon was a very popular resort in Victorian times, and the most striking reminder of that era is the pier, which in 2013 won the Pier Of The Year award given by the National Piers Society. Work began on the pier in 1867 with not only pleasure in mind but also commercial use, as the arrival of the railway meant it was feasible to start up a steamer service to South Wales. That said, it was made to look extremely elegant, with intricate ironwork both underneath and at the end, where there is a pavilion and shelters. It was nearly demolished after it failed a stress test in 1970, but has been saved by fund raising and heritage grants. Other attractions on Clevedon's seafront include ornamental gardens and a Victorian bandstand.

The area known as Salthouse Fields is a popular recreation area during the summer months, with a miniature railway, crazy golf and other amenities.  This spot gets its name from the salt mining that began in the area during the 17th century.  The salt mine that was set up at that time is now a pub called The Salthouse, set in an elevated position with sea views.  Just outside Clevedon and close to the M5 motorway is the National Trust owned Clevedon Court, a 14th century manor house.  The property lies on Court Hill, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its fascinating geology.  Another historic property on the edge of town is Walton Castle, a 17th century fort on Castle Hill, nowadays a popular wedding venue.   

Map of the area. 

Friday, 4 September 2015


Portishead, which lies near the mouth of the River Avon just eight miles from Bristol, was a fishing port during a previous existence dating from the 14th century.  There are still iron rings visible in the High Street where the boats used to moor.  Later, in 1497, Portishead played a key part in the discovery of the New World when the navigator John Cabot sailed from here in a small caravel called The Matthew bound for North America.  A replica of TheMatthew can be seen in Bristol; I had the pleasure of seeing it in action on a recent visit, taking passengers on a trip around the harbour.  Another chapter in Portishead's history came with the establishment of the Docks, which were used to service coal-carrying ships which were too large to enter Bristol Harbour.  During the war Portishead Radio, a station which existed from 1928 to 2000, played an important part in maintaining communications with British merchant vessels and with patrol aircraft in the North Atlantic. 

The Docks are now gone, and the present-day Portishead is largely a commuter town for people working in Bristol.  The focal point nowadays in the Marina with a variety of bars, restaurants and cafes surrounded by residential apartments.  Residents and visitors alike have at their disposal a Victorian High Street, a Boating Lake and and open-airswimming pool in the summer months, while a walk out to the the Portishead Point Lighthouse at Battery Point offers stunning views across to Wales.  The lighthouse was built in 1931 and is a mere 9 metres high.  Nearby attractions include the Gordano ValleyNational Nature Reserve and the Clevedon Coast Path. 

Music lovers may have heard the name Portishead before: one of the bands typifying the 'Bristol Sound' (see previous post) named themselves after the town when they formed in 1991 and they also bestowed the name on their second album.  The Portishead scene is enlivened by a number of events through the year, including a carnival, a flower show, a raft race and a Victorian Evening in the run up to Christmas.

Map of the area. 

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Portishead Point Lighthouse. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, via Wikimedia Commons