30 reasons why we love the Somerset coast
PUBLISHED: 13:36 02 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:57 19 January 2018
From playtime and pastimes, to ephemeral and esoteric, Simone Stanbrook-Byrne looks at 30 reasons why we love being at the seaside in Somerset
1. Beachcombing is part of our island culture; the temptation to seek out washed-up treasures – Poldark’s ‘pickings’. It doesn’t need to be valuable: the coloured jewel of a piece of wave-smoothed sea-glass or a lost toy duck amongst a host of scurrying sanderlings.
2. Birdwatching - those same sanderlings or the myriad other species that enrich the cliffs and seashore. Oystercatchers, with their vibrant whistling, are a particular favourite; their beaks look like carrots, stuck on as an afterthought. The National Nature Reserve at Bridgwater Bay is a great birding site, where the River Parrett runs into the sea.
3. Clevedon Pier was described by John Betjeman as “the most beautiful pier in England” and paddle steamers, for which it was built in Victorian times, still use it.
4. Exmoor’s coastal land- and seascape where the moor meets the sea, tumbling down mighty cliffs to the waves below beneath a vast expanse of sky. A panorama shaped by the changing moods of dramatic weather.
5. Windsurfing. Somerset has some great beaches for this – either to take part in the sport or to entertain those who enjoy watching others’ skill and speed across the water. Check out the beach guides for the best locations.
6. Beach huts come in all sizes and colours and there’s something quintessentially English about our love of setting up base in these little places, our personal bit of beach territory. They can be found at Dunster and Weston-super-Mare.
7. Kayaking through the waves. Gather those wetsuits and head for Porlock Bay. For those new to this increasingly popular sport organisations such as Exmoor Adventures will make sure you’re safe and well-equipped. They offer a huge range of activities, including stand-up paddle-boarding in Porlock Bay.
8. The South West Coast Path starts (or finishes) at Minehead. This long-distance path is another ‘coastal treasure’ that enables us to walk all the way round our South West Peninsula to Poole Harbour in Dorset. It is England’s longest, waymarked long-distance path.
9. Seagulls – and whatever one may think of these feisty birds, their sound is a beautifully evocative part of the coast. They have wonderfully knobbly knees. Admire them.
10. Bossington Hill for its truly magnificent view over Porlock Bay. The Bossington area is alluring.
11. Seaweed. Delicious, good for you and endorsed by Jamie Oliver. Try it!
12. Fish and chips on the beach. Not quite so good for you but the seagulls will love you forever. Put up a windbreak, crack open a bottle of English sparkling wine, take plenty of layers to wear....the makings of a good evening. Please take your rubbish home!
13. Weston-super-Mare is a popular resort with lots going on. Keep an eye out for upcoming firework displays, best viewed the Grand Pier.
14. Driftwood gathering. People are becoming increasingly clever with driftwood art – look at its twists and shapes, see what it suggests, make something. Or string lots of pieces together and make your own driftwood mobile. Bossington Beach can be good for driftwood.
15. Walking the dog or watching other people being taken for a run by their pets. Dogs have an infectious capacity to enjoy themselves on the beach and Somerset has a number of beaches where dogs are permitted to revel. It’s a great spectator sport!
16. Sun splashes on the water. The ever-changing mood of the sea and play of light across it makes those times when the light is sparkling and perfect all the more special. Beloved by artists and photographers.
17. Getting salty! Wetsuits at the ready for those disinclined to don a cozzy...swimming has to be one of the great pleasures for an island race.
18. The West Somerset Steam Railway as it runs beside the coast towards Minehead. An elegant and nostalgic way to enjoy sea views from England’s longest heritage railway. To add to the experience book on one of their Quantock Belle foodie/dining trips.
19. Watchet, steeped in maritime history plus ancient natural history along its shoreline, where there’s a good chance of finding fossil ammonites. And you can travel to it by steam train on the WSSR (see above).
20. Brean, Berrow and Burnham Beaches with their miles of sand, a real Mecca for sun-loving families and great for making summer sandcastles or long winter walks.
21. Riding on the beach is exhilarating and several Somerset beaches permit this. Even the most lethargic horse (or rider) can wake up for a breezy canter along the edge of the waves.
22. Rockpooling holds fascination for all ages; a small, captive world beneath the water. Be gentle with the rock-pool creatures, this is their home.
23. Islands. From Somerset’s Quantock Hills there are massive views across Bridgwater Bay, out to the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm in the Bristol Channel. Steep Holm was purchased in 1976 as a memorial to conservationist Kenneth Allsop and the island is now managed as a bird sanctuary and nature reserve. There’s lots of history too; the Saxons named the island Steopanreolice, meaning steep (or high) burial place, and excavations are currently taking place on a structure that could be a burial chamber. During the summer boat trips to Steep Holm can be organised and they depart from Weston-super-Mare.
24. Sand dunes are a rich wildlife habitat and beloved by botanists. Dunes run along the back of Berrow Beach and protect the Somerset Levels from the sea. The landscape would be very different without them.
25. Stripy deckchairs are one of the features most redolent of the English seaside – even if they’re in your garden. Take a pile of magazines and your sunglasses and catch up with your reading. Knotted hanky not compulsory. Deckchairs can be hired at Weston-super-Mare and Minehead.
26. Sailing, whether crewing or just sitting in ‘gin and tonic corner’ while others organise the sails. It’s one of life’s most exhilarating and pleasurable experiences; travelling in harmony with nature, no pollution from fuel.
27. Flying kites, playing with the power of the wind. Inventive, colourful and creative, kites above a beach look beautiful – hang on tight!
28. Collecting pretty shells and pebbles – and finding a lucky stone with a hole through it. Porlock Weir boasts a good, pebbly beach.
29. Bodyboarding is great fun – you need to find the good waves so consult the beach guides online to select your destination.
30. Waves on the shore, that evocative, ceaseless sound that reminds us of the never-ending cycle of the tides.... the passage of time....the Earth revolving in space....the smallness of humans in the wider scheme of things.....
Wait! Don’t go anywhere! We’ve got plenty more to talk about when it comes to Somerset’s coast...