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Straight to the Parrett's Mouth

No cliffs or crashing waves - a coastal walk to heighten your understanding of flatlands and mud.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Town paths, wide, surfaced track and fields, 17 stiles

Landscape Level ground, mudflats and sea

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 153 Weston-super-Mare

Start/finish ST 305455

Dog friendliness Good, since half of walk is along open shoreline

Parking Street parking at Huntspill church

Public toilets Just off-route in Highbridge

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Head away from the church with houses on your right and trees on your left (with the sea somewhere behind them). The street, Church Road, bends right then back left: at the next bend keep ahead in Longlands Lane, which becomes a ditched track under poplars. Join a concrete track that bends right to ugly Maundril's Farm.

2 Turn left on a waymarked footpath between huge sheds. Cross a track to a stile, and turn half-right to cross a field to a footbridge. A fenced path leads to a street and continues beyond it. It passes along the end of a second street, to reach a third.

3 Again a tarred path continues opposite, to emerge into a field. A fenced-off way runs round the edge of the field to a stile. Continue along the right-hand edge of the field to a corner.

4 Here a walled way leads out to the right: take this if you wish to cross the bridge to visit Highbridge. Opposite the Highbridge Inn is a memento of the former seaport: a handsome Victorian warehouse in brick and stone. (Toilets are found by bearing left at the roundabout to a car park.) The main walk continues from Point 4 along the field edge near the River Brue, with its banks of brown mud, to reach the sea lock.

5 Bear left for 30yds (27m) to a stile, and follow a path on the flood bank alongside the tidal river. As the banking reaches the sea, a stile and gate on the right lead on to the concrete top of more sea defences.

6 Follow what is in effect a concrete track along the shoreline for a mile (1.6km). Where the concrete disappears under grass bear left to a gate, and cross the earth barrier to a tarred lane. After 150yds (137m) this leaves the shore to pass a litter bin, burnt-out when I last saw it but hopefully replaced.

7 Cross a stile here, and head towards Huntspill church on a faint field path with a hedge and ditch on your left. Cross a footbridge on the left - here field boundaries are made of water rather than of stone or prickly bush. Turn right alongside the hedge to join a track. After 300yds (274m) watch out for a footbridge on the right. Turn left towards the church, then bear right towards a house with white gables, to find a narrow footbridge. Head straight towards the church over several stiles, to enter the churchyard through a kissing gate.

The walk's start point was formerly several miles out to sea, with the shoreline at the foot of the Polden Hills. Since the last Ice Age the tidal flow up and down the Bristol Channel has created the bank of clay mud on which you are now standing. Huntspill church, and the nearby houses, are built on Plymor Hill. At just 2ft (60cm) high, this must be the lowest hill in the country; even so, during the floods of 1981, the people who live here were glad of the extra altitude.

Humans have drained the land behind this mud ridge to form the Somerset Levels and moors. The watercourses that drain all that fertile 'summer land' - the Kings Sedgemoor Drain, the Parrett itself - would also let the sea back in at every high tide, and so they must be closed off. We shall pass the barrier that closes the River Brue in the course of the walk. On the left you pass a concrete pill box, a coastal defence from World War Two. On the other side, across the River Brue, you'll see a defence built against an enemy even more dangerous than the Germans: the sea itself. The Environment Agency, currently responsible for keeping the sea out of Britain, is coming to realise that such Canute-like and unsubtle ways of fighting the ocean are going to become less and less effective as global warming brings a rise in the sea, more autumn storms, and higher rainfall to swell the rivers behind. In November 2000 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was very impressed by a Dutch system of overflow areas: deliberately letting floodwaters into certain areas for pumping out afterwards. 'Britain needs such a system' he declared - but in the Somerset Levels, Britain already has it.

On the other side of the estuary stands what is either a noble and striking focus for the rather flat landscape, or a sinister horror; which of the two you see depends largely on which newspaper you believe. Is the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point an environmental nightmare, spreading radioactive pollutants and threatening us all with cancer and worse? Or is it part of the only medium-term solution to carbon dioxide emissions and global warming? (My own suspicion is that it's probably both these things.) There's a certain irony in the fact that within its fence the Hinkley Point power station harbours a small nature reserve protecting the home of 29 different types of butterfly and the rare bee orchid, and is a haven for the nightingale as well.

While you're there

Coombes Somerset Cider, at Japonica Farm in Mark village, is a commercial cider farm where you can watch the traditional cider-making process. You can also taste cider and perry - perry being similar to cider but made from pears.

What to look for

Between the sea wall and the sea is salt pasture. Grass isn't the only plant that's managed to occupy this difficult niche, periodically submerged in salt water. Marsh samphire grows out of the perforated blocks of the sea wall. This low plant has fleshy leaves and spreading frothy flowers of greenish yellow. It used to be pickled and eaten with fish. Given the amount of human settlement around the Bristol Channel it would be unwise to gather it here.

Where to eat and drink

The Crossways is an old coaching inn with good food, real ales and considerable atmosphere. Dogs are accepted on leads and families are welcome. There is also the Royal Artillery Arms and, just over the bridge in Highbridge, the Highbridge Inn.

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