Monday, 23 June 2014

Blue Anchor Bay (Somerset)

Given that we spent seven months living in a van and visiting here there and everywhere abroad, usually armed with a camera and a phone each with cameras built in, it seems a bit daft that we pootled west down the Somerset coast to the fringes of the Exmoor National park armed with just Amanda’s phone that was running out of charge with no way to charge it; because I brought the box of myriad chargers and widgets indoors to sort the wheat from the chaff, then didn’t take the wheat back out to the van ... we’re out of practice maybe. This said, we still had a splendid twenty four hours.

We only spent the afternoon and one night out, having done Saturday house jobs before we left. It felt important to be away on Solstice day the longest hours of daylight this year. I sat outside at 11.30pm looking northwest and the sky was still watery blue with one bright star or planet shining just above the twilight horizon.

The drive across was beautiful, English summer in full spate is many a splendid thing. The A39 from Bridgewater runs as close to the coast as is reasonable given the terrain; it undulates up and down, sometimes steeply, often sinuous , over arched by trees in places, running through quintessential even idyllic looking English villages (but for the fact the A39 runs through them ironically). Every once in a while you get a glimpse of the coast and the Bristol Channel and the promise of vertical drops or sward sweeping gently to sand, where the land has learnt not to stand four square to the tides and storms that give clay cliffs terminal foot rot allowing them to slide or fall trees and all into the greedy sea.

As a first time drive I’ve no doubt missed a million subtleties, but take my word your passengers will love the journey as it moves away from the M5.

Along the way I must have counted signposts for fifteen campsites or camping stops (undefined, camper stops are cheaper, but you need to be very self sufficient). If you’re ever stuck for finding a campsite in the UK look on they have comprehensive listing’s and reviews. I also have their USB stick database which is extremely useful and at £15 a bit of a bargain. Just remember reviewers are often like forum users, and complain about a campsite because they got caught in a traffic jam on the way down ... or put another way moany bastards tend to review more often than not.

We overshot the target area and ended up in Minehead town because I wasn’t paying attention. First impressions are that Minehead town is bustling and busy, just the right side of nice seaside, and not snooty. We drove the seafront road in both directions, had a quick look at the harbour and main drag turned around and drove the two miles back to the Blue Anchor turn, and found our site

Blue Anchor bay as you probably guessed is named for a pub, the pub is in danger of falling into the sea and we went to the Smugglers this time as it was 40mtrs from our pitch, just before the farm proper and the point at which several public footpaths start. The site is a small C&CC Certified Site, so for members of the Caravan and Camping Club only (follow the link above you can join on-site). The Blue Anchor pub looks splendid and we’ll go again no doubt so no worries ... except cliff erosion and winter storms. However on this occasion we were looking for convenience and found it in spades. The Smugglers was originally built as a monastery is a three hundred year old building and probably never saw a smuggler ever. All I’ll say is that it’s a potential goldmine with aspirations but poorly executed food ... a bit of shame.

I’m not sure if the Bristol Channel is still estuarine at Minehead, the limits on where the estuary ends vary depending on whose maps you’re looking at. Now here’s the interesting bit; if you look as I did at Google Earth or Maps, you will see the Bristol channel has a line that sweeps in an arc from Sully in Wales to Minehead. East of the line is tea coloured, influenced by sediments running in from the rivers that feed the channel, west of the line is blue water. There must be sediment but by then it’s so dilute as not to murk the water (this said there are signs in Blue Anchor bay explaining that the water can look silty after heavy rain).

Geologically the place is amazing the `Blue Anchor Fault’ being one of those visions that from a distance draw you in as you wonder is that bit of cliff white just past the red cliff?’, and indeed it is. It’s a line drawn in time between Jurassic and Triassic. The beach is covered with fossil material, but also huge lumps of smoothed pink gypsum looking like vast tumble crystals (which they are, but are very soft and the main ingredient of plaster)  Follow these links to the UK fossils site, it’s well written if you’re skimming, but also has a lot of technical stuff if your appetite is well wetted.

Looking inland the countryside sweeps dramatically up from the sea, but there is a relatively flat area of farmland you can warm your walking legs up on. Lacing the farm land basin at the Blue Anchor end are ditches that have recently been dug out (cleaned), the mounds formed are covered in nettles and thistles, this in turn means that there are butterflies, dragon flies, bees, and bugs in profusion. We saw at least two of these, and several other forms including damsels and darters ... who knew? The ditches; where dug have a bewildering array of life-forms around them both plant and animal. I would liken the ditches to microcosm string worlds between wide fields of interstellar space. It is fair to say that I haven’t seen so many species in such a small space possibly ever (to my memory not since I was child and we had both a garden that was abuzz with the winged six legs on mothers planting and on the waste ground beyond, once Beckton dump which was a poor soil site and rife with weeds and brambles that supported an ecology now displaced entirely by a hospital, not that it’s a terrible thing, but it is obvious that habitat loss is a killer, as are too many weed controls and pesticides).

I suppose I should also make mention of this , amongst all the things that can grab your attention you have this little nostalgic cherry on top. While walking through fields of dragonflies, butterflies, cawing and yabbering Jackdaws, keening gulls, and twittering swooping swallows there comes a noise from the industrial revolution. A four coach steam train. I looked all over the website for a gallery, either I didn’t look hard enough or someone overlooked the inclusion of one ... tech specs and in depth train nerd overload, no pictures (part of me isn’t surprised ... pictures on Facebook ... meh? Specs and pictures together or they are meaningless).

So that’s that. Who would have thought that so much could be gleaned from twenty four hours, thirty eight miles from home. Blue Anchor bay, St Audries Bay, Watchet and Minehead all well worth your time and money.

Final notes: this area sits right on the edge of Exmoor, which we will explore in due course, scroll down watch the video
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