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Blue Anchor to Dunster Beach

Find out what the old Somerset words ‘appledrane' and ‘cuckoo buttons' refer to, why there were wooden posts erected all along this beach and why you should never tickle a baby's feet!

Welcome to the Blue Anchor to Dunster Beach hidden history Storywalk along the England Coast Path. This trail is designed to be like a skimming stone of interesting facts, myth, history and tales linked to this location. The walks are designed to be read aloud to family and friends and to embellish your experience of this place.

Route - trail journeys along the shingle bar from Blue Anchor to Dunster beach.

If you want to delve deeper into the local history, the Exmoor National Park visitors centres are a great place to start or the Minehead Information Centre located in The Beach Hotel.

Length - 2.6 miles / 4.4km, allow 1.5 hours at an amble.
Access - rough and level throughout.
Directions - This trail begins on the seafront at the Driftwood Cafe, Blue Anchor Bay. TA24 6JT What3words address ///setting.cuddling.cakes 51.182231, -3.4003310
 
Chapter one

St Mary-le-Cliff

The coastline here is ever-changing, where once a copse and chapel stood, there is now sea. Nineteenth century OS maps show the famous chapel of St Mary-le-Cliff just to the east of Gray Rock which can be easily seen from here. Look east towards Bristol and the lump which looks like a large rock fallen from the cliff is Gray Rock.
Chapter two

The Rifle Range

This side of Gray Rock where Cleeve Hill runs down to meet the coast road, 19th century maps also show a rifle range. Imperial expansion during the nineteenth century, the threat of war with other European countries and the Crimean War of the mid 1850s highlighted that the British military lacked skilled shooters. In 1859 the Rifle Volunteer Corps (RVC) was formed, gaining more than 180,000 volunteers within the first few months. Corps generally consisted of 60 to 100 men, under the command of a Captain. They were expected to practise 24 days a year and so, a substantial range-building programme began. Often little physical evidence of these ranges survives today as coastal stretches were favoured but they are clearly marked on maps of the period.

When walking on this section of the beach it would not be a surprise to find a stray shot lying in wait for you from 170 years ago, so keep your eyes peeled!
Directions - Walk westwards along the path towards the pillbox, this small concrete structure was built as part of Great Britain’s WW2 defences. There are steps here leading down onto the beach which is where our next chapter will begin. Note - refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below. But as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect word appledrane (pronounced aa’pl drae’un) might refer to?
 
Chapter three

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word appledrane (pronounced aa'pl drae'un) is the old Somerset dialect word for a wasp!
Chapter four

The Pillbox

The pillbox here is a type 24 (who knew there were so many variations!) and is visible in aerial photographs taken in 1941. But early in 1940 few defences were actually in place, and it was known that the Germans were poised to make an invasion. The coastal corridor of the South West was an obvious strategic starting point for a German foothold on UK soil. The famous Churchill quote from the time referred to the period as ‘Britain's darkest hour'.

The rallying cry from Churchill was the catalyst ‘We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them in the streets, we shall never surrender.' But when he made this speech the defences were pretty much non-existent and so the biggest military building of defences and fortifications in Britain's history began. In a matter of months hundreds of tank traps and pillbox defences were constructed all along this coast and in places of strategic significance.

On this beach tall white posts, spaced 8 metres apart were installed in a parallel/perpendicular fashion to make it difficult to land aeroplanes which would have supported a German land assault. Further along Dunster beach there were additional defences of barbed wire and zig-zag trenches.

In the end over 18,000 concrete pillboxes were constructed around Britain, together with hundreds of miles of defensive ditches, air raid shelters and bombing decoys.
Directions - Walk along the beach circling beneath the concrete Pillbox, head past the buildings to the gate and finger post standing in the shingle. But as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘boneshave’ (pronounced boo'un shee'uv) might refer to.
 
Chapter five

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘boneshave' (pronounced boo'un shee'uv) is known today as sciatica - a pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, branching from your lower back through your hips and down each leg.
Chapter six

Owlers at Blue Anchor

The true root of the name of Blue Anchor is now lost in time, some think that it was acquired through the grey silty clays on the sea bed turning the anchors of waiting ships blue, others think that the molluscs used to make the famous Watchet Blue dye were harvested here. Either way the bay has witnessed storms, raids, and smuggling in copious quantities!

In the 1700s this bay was much used by smugglers for it was out of sight of both Minehead and Watchet harbours where riding officers were stationed. Smugglers were known as Owlers, perhaps because of their night-time activities. If you follow the coast to the north west, past the reach of today's walk and just off Warren Point near Minehead, you will find Owl Pool, a small coastal lake, perhaps named after smuggling activity.

In the West Country smuggling was a significant industry and the smugglers became known as ‘free traders'. The south coast is obviously nearer mainland Europe but therefore more closely watched, meaning the Somerset and North Devon coasts were rife with smuggling. Lundy Island, off the Devon coast and at the entry to the Bristol Channel, was known for contraband and it was believed almost all the inhabitants there had some involvement in the business.

Pictured, the Somerset Stag hunters crossing the steam railway line at Blue Anchor.
Directions - Walk along the shingle bar for the next chapter to reveal. Just refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below. But as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘want-wriggle’ (pronounced waun't-rig'l) might refer to.
 
Chapter seven

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘want-wriggle' (pronounced waun't-rig'l) refers to a mole track and a ‘want' is a mole.
Chapter eight

The Ketch Charlotte

Today these shipping channels are quiet in comparison to how they once were, for from the middle ages right up to the late 1800s there was a thriving herring industry here. Pickled fish was much sought after as a high protein food which could be stored for months and easily transported.

Everything that needed to be moved in those days was ferried by water across the sea roads. In medieval times the ships were flat keeled so they could be dragged up the beaches, they were often constructed of wicker and hide and were ideal tough sea going vessels. Repairs were relatively easy to make to this kind of vessel since no matter where you landed on shore, the materials were likely to be found close at hand.

Later the design of boats with deeper keels became standard but all still powered by sail and oar, though this did not make them slow. Today many of the ocean going super-tankers travel much slower than sailboats of this period, although this is in part due to the rising costs of fuel.

In April 1916 the Charlotte, a ketch similar to the ship in the image, was blown ashore during a blizzard. She was heavily loaded with coal bound for Watchet but being late for the tide she was hard to control. The captain decided to make for anchorage off Grey Rock Point below the Blue Anchor Inn, but all was not good with the blizzard.Captain Norman and the crew considered their options as the ship looked likely to be wrecked on the rocky outcrops. They could either jump overboard and attempt to swim ashore or stay put and weather the blizzard and hope the ship would not split up as she grounded.

They decided they were safer on board than in the surf so they lashed themselves to the shrouds and held tight. After a time the tide withdrew and thankfully the vessel did indeed ground on the beach. The crew then abandoned the Charlotte and walked back to Watchet across Cleeve Hill. The following day the ketch was refloated with minimal damage despite the full weight of coal in her hold.
Directions - Walk along the shingle bar for the next chapter to reveal, but as you journey consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘vire-spuddle’ (pronounced vuy’ur’spuud-l) might refer to, and if you were accused of being one, what would you be doing!
 
Chapter nine

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘vire-spuddle' refers to someone who is always poking the embers of a fire, ie a fire spoiler!
Chapter ten

All Aboard!

Blue Anchor was an intermediate station on the Minehead Railway, which opened from Watchet to Minehead on 16 July 1874. It was a continuation of the West Somerset Railway, which had been opened from Norton Fitzwarren Junction (near Taunton) to Watchet on 31 March 1862. Both lines were leased and worked by the Bristol & Exeter Railway (B&ER) and from 1876 by the Great Western Railway (GWR).

All manner of new opportunities arose through this railway, food goods could be moved to markets in the cities quicker than ever before making the growing of soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries viable. The tourist industry exploded with city people wanting to escape the new pollution in towns and partake in the fresh healthy air by the sea. Minehead built new hotels and began to cater for this new influx of wealthy visitors, paths were landscaped around the hills and beach huts built. Postcards of the time depict the great wheeled sheds of bathing machines which were driven and parked in the surf for ‘private bathing' by the elite Edwardian visitors.

The image above depicts mules being exported along the West Somerset Railway to the front line during the First World War. One source claimed that Portuguese handlers broke and trained the animals up on Exmoor having arrived from North America before their deployment in action.
Chapter eleven

Somerset Folklore from R Tongue

'Never tickle a baby's feet, it will grow up with a stammer.'

The Somerset dialect word ‘kickhammering' (pronounced kik'aam'uree) refers to one who stammers and if your feet itch then either someone is bringing you news or that you are going on a journey so will be treading on strange ground. An itchy right foot means you will be welcome, although an itchy left foot means you will have a cold reception, or is it the other way around!
Directions - Continue to walk along the shingle bar and consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘toe-rag’ (pronounced toa-raag) might refer to.
 
Chapter twelve

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘toe-rag' (pronounced toa-raag) refers to salted codfish and fishermen on the beach today are likely trying to catch a cod for their supper.
Chapter thirteen

Bolts on the Beach

The land to your left is known as Ker Moor and during the 1880s a huge system of pilings were constructed as part of the sea defence system. But the fields to the west of Bradley Gate, where the railway station now lies, were not sufficient protection against the sea so the pilings were bolstered and rebuilt in the early 20th century. Little remains of this construction now, but if you find an iron bolt on the bay, it may well be from these pilings.
Chapter fourteen

Human Remains!

But not everything on the shore has come far, as in February 2016 the frontal bone of a human skull was found just down the shore from here. It was identified as being from a relatively young person who was alive between 1750 and 1930. The artefact may have come from just along the coast as the deceased's grave became eroded by the sea. Nothing more has been discovered about the find but perhaps more of the remains are being washed along the shore so keep your eyes peeled!

Pictured - cormorants, photograph courtesy of Nigel Phillips
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar but as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘canleteen’ (pronounced kan’l-teen) might refer to.
 
Chapter fifteen

Dialect

The word ‘canleteen' in old Somerset dialect is evening dusk, or just before you would ‘light the candles'.
Chapter sixteen

Goose Barnacles

This manuscript, printed in the late 1600s illustrates that goose barnacles were actually baby geese (gosling chicks) born in the ocean and living their infancy in the waters. The illustration from Gerard's Herbal of 1597 shows the goose barnacles (barnakle tree) washing up on the coast. Gerard himself claimed to have seen the geese being born from driftwood, or was he just incorporating a little April fools joke for those of a discerning nature to spot?

The image below was taken in 2017 on this very beach and the necks of the barnacles were gently moving much like goose necks. In County Kerry until relatively recently, Catholics abstaining from meat during lent could still eat geese because they were considered to be fish. Today, goose barnacles are served as a delicacy, known as percebes in Portuguese and Spanish restaurants, they are lightly boiled in brine and served whole and hot under a napkin.
Chapter seventeen

Steams Up!

The branch was closed by British Railways Western Region on 4 January 1971, but reopened some five years later on 28 March 1976 as a heritage railway. Today both steam and diesel engines run on the line. The steam engines tend to be more popular, but if you ride at the front of the diesel trains you have beautiful panoramic views right across Blue Anchor Bay.

During the winter months the heritage railway often repair track and infrastructure but they also run engines to train their firemen and drivers. Have you ever considered learning to drive a locomotive?
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar but as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘cuckoo buttons’ (pronounced geo-keo-buut'nz) might refer to.
 
Chapter eighteen

Dialect

The word ‘cuckoo buttons' and ‘cuckold buttons' in the old Somerset dialect are the burs from the burdock thistle pictured below. You are quite likely walking past some at this very moment as they grow well here along the shingle bar.
Chapter nineteen

Fishing Weirs

All along this coast are medieval fishing weirs, they are man made artificial barriers created within the intertidal zone. The bases consist of stone walls still visible today and would have had wicker nets at their mouths known as the guts. The weirs have been surveyed all along the Bristol channel with those along the Minehead to Blue Anchor stretch being of special interest. Many are constructed from stones ranging from 12 to 50kgs and even after decades of sea action they are still quite evident.

Sea rounded stones are known locally as popples, and popplestone pitching is the Somerset name for a cobble pavement.

The most common form of weir is a simple `V'-shaped arrangement of walls, frequently 100m or more in length but there are many variations. Baskets from hazel and willow sometimes incorporating cordage nets would be placed at the point of the `V' and be orientated seaward so as to draw in the fish with the receding tide. Along the coast at Minehead there are two round weirs which are thought to be conger eel traps.

Generations of families would work their weir with fishing techniques changing little from the 12th century. The Steart marshes Storywalk has more about the Mud Horse fishermen of Stolford who still catch fish in the Severn today.
Chapter twenty

The Serpent of Ker Moor

This stretch of coastline, with names like Desolation Point and Sir Robert's Chair has its share of folklore. Denizens of Blue Anchor at one time lived in fear of a violent serpent said to inhabit Ker Moor, a stretch of ground to your left between the railway and Carhampton. Several places were haunted by Yeth Hounds, a wild ghostly hunt who were said to roam Cleeve Hill beneath a sickle moon. Yeth Hounds are harbingers of death and would leach every drop of laughter from a child who just observed one.

The Bristol Channel and Avon Gorge are linked to the giants Vincent and Goram, or Gorm. Steep Holm, Flat Holm and the Brean peninsula were believed to be formed from parts of Goram's body, whilst the gorge was made by one or other of the giants in a bid to win the love of Avona.
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar but as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect words ‘kneebowed’ (pronounced nee'-buuw'd) and ‘kneesick’ (nee'-zik) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-one

Dialect

The words ‘kneebowed' and ‘kneesick' in old Somerset dialect refer to corn laying in the rain, or corn that won't stand up.
Chapter twenty-two

Yellow Horned-Poppy

The shingle bank you are walking on is a diverse microcosm of unique plants which have adapted to a low nutrient, low water and transient conditions. The salt winds and scouring tides are tough places to live, but some plants have developed techniques to thrive in these conditions. Waxy, or hairy leaves, ground hugging low profiles, long searching roots to hunt for nutrients and water are just some of the characteristics required to grow here.

But some rare species have been able to acclimatise to these harsh salty conditions. The yellow horned-poppy, the curled dock, along with the tough blackthorn and bramble are good examples. Tough grasses and lichens pioneer into this landscape too and their residency helps to stabilise the shingle which then enables a second phase of plants to come in. That is until a storm once again scours and washes through the shingle and the process starts again.

Because of the fragility of this place and the rarity of vegetated shingle around the UK this shingle bar is actually listed as a priority habitat under the UK's biodiversity action plan (BAP).

Plants of note along this stretch of coast are sea-kale, yellow horned-poppy, stonecrop, sea campion. Although be careful, as it is said if you touch the yellow horned-poppy as the sun sets then warts will appear on your elbows!
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar but as you walk consider what the old Somerset activity ‘pixy wordling’ (pronounced pik'see-wuur'deen) might be.
 
Chapter twenty-three

Dialect

The word ‘pixy wordling' in old Somerset dialect refers to the activity of collecting stray apples after the main harvest has been gathered.
Chapter twenty-four

Bird Reserve

Birds along this coastline bring visitors from far and wide. A few miles along the coast on the Steart Peninsula, a bird reserve has been built, providing and protecting vital estuary breeding grounds. There are also several well placed viewing hides so as not to disturb the wildlife. If you are heading that way then don't forget your binoculars and the hidden history Storywalk at Steart.

Blue Anchor and Dunster beach here are home to many migrating birds as well as year round residents. The oystercatcher (which actually eats limpets) the dunlin (a type of sandpiper) and also curlews are frequently spotted. Listen out for their different calls especially the curlews towards the Dunster end with their distinctive ‘cur-lee' sound from February through to July.
Chapter twenty-five

Across the Channel

From this section of the England Coast Path you can look across the Bristol Channel to Wales. As the crow flies, it is just 23 miles to Cardiff and before improvements in roads and cars, it was often quicker and easier to travel across sea rather than overland.

The Severn, which flows into the channel, is thought to derive its name from the Celtic ‘sabrinna'. This became Sabrina to the Romans, Hafren to the Welsh, and then Severn in English as we commonly use today. In folk stories, the name derived from a nymph called Sabrina, who drowned in the river.
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar and refresh this page whenever your distance counter gets a little sleepy (or use the 'help' button on the bar below) but as you walk consider what a ‘vuz-pig’ (pronounced vuuz'pig) might be.
 
Chapter twenty-six

Dialect

A ‘vuz-pig' is the old Somerset dialect word for a hedgehog!
Chapter twenty-seven

Pillbox Teasels and Yarn

The lone pillbox in the field to your left would suggest that the hedgeline which was evident in OS mapping of the area up until 1938 has subsequently been removed.

[Dipsacus]: Teasels, these bushy thistle-like plants pictured below which grow well in Somerset verges and especially in the shingle here. These are a remnant of the medieval woollen industry. It is likely they would have been grown as a crop in these fields to support the dominant industry of sheep farming.

The teasel heads would first be split and placed in a carding frame, a hand held unit like a small paddle which could be drawn across the woolen fabric to clean and align the nap of wool. Interestingly the name apparently comes from the Greek ‘dispa' meaning thirst for water. Charles Darwin noticed also that they were part carnivorous as they seem able to eat flies!

The image above is of the yarn market in Dunster taken around the 1900s with Conygar tower in the background which is well worth a visit today. There is also a Dunster village hidden history Storywalk to guide you and reveal a little of the village's history.

Today, teasels are an important food for the European goldfinch, and flocks of these can be seen all along the coast weaving through the teasel heads.
Chapter twenty-eight

The Loom Tenders

Seven quick finches go teasel threading
Carding their quivers at the weavers wedding
Widdershins working before loom-ward tending
Seven quick finches come teasel threading
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar but as you walk consider what the activity ‘yarbing’ (pronounced yar-been) might be.
 
Chapter twenty-nine

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘yarbing' describes the activity of wild herb collecting.
Chapter thirty

Hill Forts

From Loxhole Bridge, if you turn so the sea is to your back, you can see Gallox Hill in front of you, just to the left of Dunster village and behind the castle in the image. At the very summit of the hill lies Bat's Castle, a hill fort. Many such structures were built in the period between 1000 BC and AD 1000. When we hear the word ‘fort' we tend to imagine something rather military but these forts are not quite like this. Instead, they were enclosed earthworks and probably important social centres.

They were likely occupied on a permanent basis, instead of being used seasonally and were surrounded by ditches, earth banks, stone walls or wooden palisades. It isn't clear exactly what the inhabitants were defending themselves from, or why they used these methods though contemporary thoughts suggest they were protecting themselves and their stock from being pillaged and robbed by their neighbours!
Directions - Continue along the shingle bar, but as you walk consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘cats head’ (pronounced kyats ai'd) might refer to.
 
Chapter thirty-one

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘cats head' (pronounced kyats ai'd) is a type of sweet apple good for cider making.
Chapter thirty-two

Deer Parks

Wild red deer are still relatively common on Exmoor and the Quantocks. Indeed Exmoor was originally a royal hunting ground. Often the deer were kept within large parks such as the one at Marshwood Farm. In 1755 the deer were moved to Dunster Park, situated between Gallox hill and what is now the A39. Deer must have been present in large numbers along here, which during the nineteenth century was a turnpike road, operated by the Minehead Turnpike Trust.

The parks were expensive to enclose but they served many purposes. A mixture of woodland and grazing land, they provided timber and wood, as well as grazing for other, domestic animals. Deer in these parks were carefully managed and deer farming was an important part of medieval agriculture. Indeed venison was one of the goods smuggled to ports on the Severn Estuary!

Pictured, red deer in Dunster deer park, bats castle with Dunster castle.
Directions - The path heads in land a few meters and then crosses the mouth of the storm drain from the River Avil via a bridge. The final chapter is at the Pill box at Dunster beach car park. As you walk, consider what the old Somerset dialect word ‘copbone’ (pronounced kaup-boa'un) might refer to.
 
Chapter thirty-three

Dialect

The word ‘copbone' in old Somerset dialect is the kneecap!
Chapter thirty-four

Dunster Beach Huts

Dunster Beach was used as a military camp for those constructing the coastal fortification and the Nissan Huts were added to the existing holiday chalets. Facilities were basic and the parish established a soldiers' canteen in the memorial hall where 90 volunteers including many WI (women's institute) members served cooked meals to as many as 180 men each night. It was recorded that in four weeks in 1940 2,575 meals were served.

The Maharajah's of both Johdpur and Jaipur were invited to bring their polo teams to Dunster in the 1920s. They trained all along this coast whilst in residence with the Luttrell family at the castle. The image taken on the sands just in front of the golf course to the west of here was captured by Alfred Vowles in 1925 and there is even fabulous Pathe film footage of the event which is worth searching out.
The author Charles Harper visited Blue Anchor in 1909 but he was less than impressed, remarking

'where a railway station is, there one expects a town, or village, also. But here is a void, an emptiness, a vacuum.'

This seems somewhat harsh, but the village of Blue Anchor would have been quieter then than it is now. It seems kinder to end with the words of Maxwell Fraser, 25 years later, who said it was the

‘ideal place for a rest-cure. A mere handful of houses; a long sea wall; and miles of magnificent sands; a view of the wooded hill crowned with Conygar Tower, and of the more distant North Hill, which inspired Turner to paint one of his most famous pictures; a combination of warm sun and fresh sea-breezes which cannot fail to invigorate - that is Blue Anchor'.
Chapter thirty-five

The End

This brings us to the end of this Storywalk although there are many others of these along the Somerset stretch of the England Coast Path. Feel free to post a picture on the Storywalks Facebook of your family or group enjoying the trail.

These trails have been researched and written by C Jelley and Dr Helen Blackman and have been made possible by grant funding from the England Coast Path scheme, managed by Somerset County Council and the Rights of Way team.
Chapter thirty-six

Directions

Directions - The simplest journey to the start of this trail is to walk back along the England Coast Path the way you came. Alternatively, in season you can walk up the road inland which will take you to Dunster Railway station and you could catch a train back to Blue Anchor.

For Storywalk app service issues and enquiries - Storywalks contact

For Somerset public rights of way issues - Somerset County Council
Chapter thirty-seven

Acknowledgements

Images - in order of display

1 - Blue Anchor Bay photograph - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/50ECP - The Clement Keely collection

2 - Blue Anchor Map - Ordnance Survey Map 6” edition - 1930

3 - The Hunt at Blue Anchor - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/148 - Reverend Derrick collection boat aground

4 - Ship Aground - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/40ECP - The Clement Keely collection

5 - Mules at Minehead Railway Station WW1 - Anon

6 - Cormorants - photograph - Nigel Phillips

7 - Manuscript extract - The Herbal or General Histories of Plants 1597 - Goose Barnacles

8 - Goose Barnacles photograph - C Jelley

9 - Burdock - photograph - C Jelley

10 - Yellow Horned Poppy - photograph - Nigel Phillips

11 - Curlew etching - Welcome Collection - A curlew. Etching - https://wellcomecollection.org/works/myj4e4wj

12 - Dunster Yarn Market - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/42 - The Clement Keely collection

13 - Teasel - photograph - C Jelley

14 - Dunster Castle - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/40 - The Clement Keely collection

15 - Red Deer Dunster deer park - photograph - D Jelley

16 - Polo on the Beach, Dunster - Alfred Vowels
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