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A family walk in Watchet

PUBLISHED: 10:55 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 04 September 2018

The Ancient Mariner and the Albatross near the waterfront in Watchet. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was inspired by Somerset’s countryside and coast

The Ancient Mariner and the Albatross near the waterfront in Watchet. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was inspired by Somerset’s countryside and coast

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Take a family walk in Watchet, exploring both town and countryside, with Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

Raided by Vikings many times during the Dark Ages, modern-day Watchet is a bustling place of variety and rather less violence. Boats bob about in the marina, sculptures grace The Esplanade and nostalgic history rubs shoulders with industry.

This short walk is a pleasing mix of urban and rural with lots of enticements en route. It can be ‘packaged up’ with an exploration of the town, its museums and perhaps even a ride on a steam train to make a great day out. A visit to St Decuman’s en route is a must – it was an absolute joy to find hot coffee and biscuits waiting for us in this richly historic and welcoming church.

Gather up the sunshine – and go!

The walk:

1. From West Pier Car Park on Market Street cross the road towards Station House, walking down Mill Lane towards The Star Inn; a footpath fingerpost points the way. The path leads past the inn and bends about, passing the Royal British Legion; a river beside the lane rushes busily to the sea.

Follow the lane to its end where, at Knapp Cottage, it reaches a residential road called Whitehall. Turn right along Whitehall and as the road soon bends left take the clearly signed footpath to the right, leading between houses.

Within 100m, just beyond Mineral Cottage, keep ahead on the yellow-arrowed public footpath (ignoring one to the right), immediately passing beneath a railway bridge and keeping ahead on this now-unsurfaced path.

The West Somerset Railway is home to many steam trains and is the longest heritage railway in England. It passes through beautiful countrysideThe West Somerset Railway is home to many steam trains and is the longest heritage railway in England. It passes through beautiful countryside

2. You are walking along the old Mineral Line that once brought iron ore from the mines in the Brendon Hills to Watchet, for transport by sea to South Wales. Beside it, to your right, is the well-screened line of the West Somerset Railway, England’s longest heritage line, running between Nether Stowey and Minehead. Occasionally diesel engines are used here but very often you will see the great, whooshing hulk of a steam engine, hear its redolent toot – a sound that should be bottled. It’s a sight to bring a smile to the face of the most un-nostalgic non-romantic.

As you continue the extensive site of St Regis Paper Mill is unmissable to the left. No longer functioning as a mill, negotiations around the future use of the site are in process. St Decuman’s Church peers down from the hill and Washford River runs alongside the path. Despite the proximity of industrial mementoes this is a verdant and leafy way through the countryside outside the town. An occasional bench reminds passers-by of the Mineral Line; a ‘poetry pin’ on the benches allows those with an appropriate smart phone to wax poetic if they have the inclination. Open the web page on your phone (watchet.poetrypin.info), enable your GPS and then hunt out the poems already posted or post your own, which is then tagged to your current location.

3. Follow the path for 1km until a crossing of footpaths is reached with the railway level crossing over to the right. If your timing is lucky this is a good point at which to wave at the trains on the West Somerset Railway.

The walk now leaves the old Mineral Line, turning left away from railway and passing through a wooden kissing gate that bears another poetry pin. Follow the broad farm track, crossing an aqueous area and walking between the barns of ancient Kentsford Farm. Keep straight ahead on the track and just beyond the buildings of this lovely old farmstead cross the stile on the left into a field.

Walk up the field in the direction of the yellow arrow; there is a view towards the farmhouse from the path and St Decuman’s tower beckons you from the hill to the right. The path levels out and follows the left-hand boundary. Ignore any gates until, at the end of the field, the path drops into the corner to arrive at an arrowed stile.

Cross this, then bear right across the next field towards the church. This line leads to a metal farm-and-footpath gate combo. Beyond here a clear track heads uphill, passing delightfully-named Snailholt on the left, a place where paper was first made in 1652, before the scale of local production increased somewhat. You may find free-range eggs on offer.

Watchet Station, through which the West Somerset Railway runs, the longest heritage railway in EnglandWatchet Station, through which the West Somerset Railway runs, the longest heritage railway in England

4. After about 200m the path reaches the well-made gateway into the peaceful garden surrounding St Decuman’s Well. Decuman came to Watchet from Wales many centuries ago (reported dates vary), living peaceably with his cow and drinking water from this well, which had earlier been a pagan site. Decuman was, reputedly, violently murdered but managed to pick up his severed head and replace it. A good trick if you can do it.

Spend a while in his garden, it is a restful place. The reality behind the legend is possibly that Decuman was scalped, rather than beheaded, and was able to wash his wounds at this well.

Return to the main track and a few metres further on look for the narrow path on the right which heads up towards the church. Take this, entering the churchyard and visiting St Decuman’s with its appealing second-hand book table, locally-crafted cards and the even more magnetic draw of coffee. Finding this was an unexpectedly joyous and, in my experience, unique treat. Flasks of hot water for tea and coffee, cold water for squash and packets of biscuits are all there for a donation ‘if desired’. How charitable is that? Please be generous – this is a fabulous welcome that merits appreciation and encouragement.

Take time to explore the church: it houses some remarkable memorials to the Wyndham family and you can learn the legend of one pregnant Lady Wyndham of Kentsford Farm who, worryingly, was buried alive but survived to tell the tale and give birth, going on to lead a full life.

Market House Museum in Watchet, one of two museums that offer a fascinating insight into the pastMarket House Museum in Watchet, one of two museums that offer a fascinating insight into the past

Resume the walk, leaving the church by its gated porch and turning left along the tarmac path towards a house. The path exits the churchyard at the other end to which you entered it, through rather ornate wrought iron gates. Turn immediately left then keep ahead, ignoring the path back down to St Decuman’s Well and following the downhill, surfaced footpath with a high stone wall on the right, hedge to the left.

In a short distance the path passes the stump of the old paper mill’s once-chimney, demolished in 2011. The mill site is well screened from the path which drops steadily downhill, crossing a short road associated with the mill and passing through an echoing tunnel beneath the railway before reaching the road in Watchet just under 700m from the church.

5. Turn left along the road, then immediately left again, crossing the bridge over the railway line where there is a view down to Watchet Station. Follow the road towards Watchet’s Boat Museum and Visitor Centre and stay on the road as bears left; this is Swain Street, home of many independent shops and the post office.

At the end of Swain Street it’s worth taking a detour to the right along the Esplanade to call on the Ancient Mariner with his albatross – Coleridge was living in Somerset when he wrote the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and was much inspired by the county’s coast and countryside. Further along is the characterful ‘Yankee Jack’ who also likes to have a chat and, nearby, the Community Bookshop is worth a visit.

Retrace your steps back along the Esplanade and leave it, passing the Market House Museum (the cobbled path round the back is a pleasing alternative to the road). West Pier Car Park is a little further on, on the right.

Good to know:

Map: OS Outdoor Leisure 9 Exmoor 1:25 000

Directions to start: Watchet is on the north coast 10 miles east of Minehead, accessed via the B3191/B3190

Parking and start point: Choice of car parks. West Pier Car Park, Market Street is handy for the start: Grid ref: ST067434. Postcode: TA23 0AN

Public transport: Watchet is well served by buses – see travelinesw.com. Alternatively, travel there in nostalgic style on the West Somerset Railway – west-somerset-railway.co.uk

Terrain: Tracks and field paths; roads in the town

Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)

Exertion: Mostly easy with just one uphill section

Dog friendly: Yes, but animals may be grazing in fields. The Star Inn welcomes dogs on leads

Refreshments: Heaps of options in the town. We enjoyed coffee in St Decuman’s Church en route and lunch in The Star Inn, Mill Lane, TA23 0BZ, 01984 631367

Toilets: Public toilets in the town

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