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St Audries Bay

Find out what the old Somerset words ‘rawny' (pronounced rau'nee) and ‘knitch' (pronounced neech) refer to, where the woolly mammoth bones were discovered, and why were holly trees used in Sticky Bombs!

Welcome to the St Audries 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 the England Coast Path.

Route - from St Audries Bay park this trail journeys down to the beach and then eastwards along the coast.

If you want to delve deeper into local history it is recommended that you visit Watchet or Minehead visitor centres and libraries.

Length (out and back) - 1 mile / 1.6 km, allow a couple of hours at an amble.
Access - steep path onto beach then sand and shingle, not suitable for wheels, and beach is inaccessible at very high tides.
Directions - this trail begins at St Audries Bay pay car park. TA4 4DP What3words address ///album.melts.baker 51.179482, -3.2812280
 
Chapter one

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘rawny' (pronounced rau'nee) refers to the act of someone greedily eating their food with lots of noise, and ‘knitch' (pronounced neech) is a bundle of sticks the size of which a man could carry home on his back.
Chapter two

In the Beginning

There are the signature remnants of medieval settlements all about this landscape, but the story begins more in earnest in 1086, twenty years after the Battle of Hastings. William de Mohun was gifted 66 estates across the West Country including St Audries as a part of the West Quantoxhead estate and nearby Dunster which was his favourite.

In the mid 1800s Sir Peregrine Acland extensively remodeled and extended the buildings of the main house which included the formal pleasure gardens, vistas and shell grottos.

Since then the building has been home to a school, a Buddhist centre and is now a well appointed wedding venue. But the story really starts earlier, much much earlier - we are talking Jurassic here!

Nestled on the southern edge of the Bristol Channel, the layers of fossil beds are exposed and easily accessible here. This stretch of coastline is designated a geological SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and is the same strata which emerges on the Dorset ‘Jurassic' coast. All along this coast, from Brean to Blue Anchor, St Audries is the singular location where the largest portion of the geological timeline is visible in a single glance like a giant stacked deck of cards.

Today some visit for the fossils, some for the sea air and secluded walk in the bay, others for the magic of the waterfall and the natural history which feels untouched and unchanged for generations.
Chapter three

Holly Trees and the Sticky Bomb

Holly trees are abundant all along this coast, if you look up now you will see holly trees amongst the hazel and birch hanging off the cliff. Their tight dark prickly leaves makes it an ideal hedge plant along with hawthorn. Once planted near houses to ward off lightning, the bark of the Holly tree can be turned into a substance called 'Birdlime'. Banned throughout Europe today due to its cruelty, although the Valencian region of Spain is sadly exempt, as they still use it to snare song thrushes in their traditional manner.

The preparation includes boiling the bark for 10-12 hours then rinsing through with water until an incredibly sticky and smelly substance is made. This is then smeared on the lower branches of trees, trapping the birds when they land.

During the Second World War birdlime was used in the manufacture of an anti tank grenade called 'The Sticky Bomb'. There were several field trials which resulted in a report stating that they failed to stick to muddy or dusty tanks, although distressingly the grenades often got stuck to the soldiers' uniforms instead. The Ordnance Board of the War Department did not approve this grenade for use by the British Army, however Winston Churchill intervened and ordered them set into production. Around 2.5 million were manufactured and the historic image above from the Imperial War Museum illustrates their manufacture.
Directions - Follow the signs to the beach, the next chapter will reveal on the shingle, walk onto the sands if the tide will allow and look back at the cliff. 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 perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘unray’ (pronounced aun'raay) might refer to.
 
Chapter four

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘unray' (pronounced aun'raay) is simply to undress.
Chapter five

The Harbour Spur

Visiting and wandering under the cliffs at St Audries has been the recreational activity of choice for many years. A small harbour was initially built around 1835 to enable easier access for the ships transporting coal from Wales for use on the estate, but the secluded bay was allegedly ideal for local smugglers!

Today, the sea wall has fallen away, been scavenged and re-appropriated into nearby buildings, and what was left has been scoured by storms. The image above copyright Francis Frith is dated 1903 and illustrates nicely how established the spur and harbour wall were at the turn of the 19th century.
Chapter six

The Grotto

Look up the cliff, above the remains of the stone wall overlooking the bay to where there was once a shell grotto with stunning sea views. Today only a little of the original building remains as the rest has sadly fallen into the sea. But at St Audries house there is a second grotto near the orangery, possibly dating from the same era and decorated with imitation stalactites. Some sources suggest that Christiana Balch built it in the 1780s inspired by her European grand tour, others that the Taunton garden designer Richard Carver created them in the 1830s and 1840s.
Chapter seven

The Manor

Inland from here, is St Audries manor house and its surrounding parkland, West Quantoxhead. In 1764 this passed into the hands of the Balch family. The Balchs objected to change, in particular the arrival of a toll road near to their property. They managed to have the road diverted so that it did not pass too close to the house, with all the risk that extra traffic might bring, even if it was mainly horse driven at the time!

Ownership of land and landscape along this stretch of coast is deeply connected with two main families, the Luttrells (who now live at East Quantoxhead, a dozen fields to the east) and the Aclands.
Directions - Walk to the east the next chapter will reveal just past the waterfall, but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘yucks’ (pronounced yuuk’s) might refer to.
 
Chapter eight

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘frisk' (pronounced frusk) refers to a light rainy mist, of which I am sure we are all familiar.
Chapter nine

The Waterfall

St Audries has a fine church - St Etheldreda, built in 1856 at the behest of Sir Peregrine Acland and designed by John Morton. There has been a church on the site since the 13th century but by the 1850s it had fallen into ruin. The present church can clearly be seen from the A39 as you drive from Williton towards Kilve.

Etheldreda herself was an abbess who lived during the 7th century. She was the third daughter of King Anna of East Anglia and his wife Saewara. Anna was of the Uffinga family, reputedly descendants of the Norse God, Odin. Etheldreda was sometimes known by the pet name ‘Audrey' and the area has been known as ‘St Audries' since at least the 1540s.

The image above of the waterfall was taken around 1890 and is from the Clement Keely collection held by the Somerset Heritage Centre. Today the fragile glass photographic slide is held in cold storage for posterity but is interesting to note that little has changed in the time since the photographer carried his equipment down here over a hundred years ago.
Chapter ten

A Somerset Wreckers Song

Somerset folklorist Ruth Tongue included this wonderful atmospheric song in her collection of Somerset Folklore, published in 1965. It is a great illustration of the perils of the local waters all along the Severn, which have the second highest tidal range in the world! In the song, Possett Town is Portishead, located along the coast near Bristol.

The Deadly Sand (Wreckers' Song: Somerset)
The tide runs up, the tide runs down;
'Tis forty-five feet at Possett Town
The tide do ebb and the tide do flow
And the deadly sand it do lie below.
The deadly sand it do crawl around,
And there's many a tall ship cast aground,
And there's many a craft in sight of land
That is swallowed up by the deadly sand.
Down a-down, down a-down,
The deadly sand do drag them down.

We lighted a fire on the cliff so high
And a merchantman came sailing by;
She turned our way and afore our eyes
The deadly sand did swallow our prize.
There was never a barrel nor a bale of lace
And of goodly silk we saw no trace;
And kegs of spice and passels of tea
She dragged all down in the Severn Sea.
Down a-down, down a-down,
The deadly sand do drag them down.

A revenue cutter gave us hail
A-hoping to bring us to Bristol Jail;
She turn-ed swift to cross our way
And the deadly sand beneath her lay.
The pilot he cried, 'Farewell dear wife,
There's never a man shall save his life!
And some they did pray and some took oar,
But none of the crew did come ashore.
Down a-down, down a-down,
The deadly sand do drag them down.

But we do row when the moon is low
And follow the tides and the sand below,
We do land our prizes in Watchet Bay
And the pack-horse train is away, away.
We shall all be hanged on Severn shore;
With our chains and our rope we shall wreck no more;
And every ship a-sailing by
Will be over our heads when the tide runs high.
Down a-down, down a-down,
The deadly sand will drag us down.
Directions - Walk down the metal steps for the next chapter to reveal. Refresh this page if the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘varth’ (pronounced vaa'th) might refer to.
 
Chapter eleven

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘varth' (pronounced vaa'th) refers to a litter of pigs.
Chapter twelve

Woolly Mammoth Remains

In 2007 the remains of a woolly mammoth were discovered in the lower tidal zone, the bones included 4ft long tusks and a mammoth skull. Only the tusks and teeth were initially recovered, the ends of which were missing, probably when it fell out of the cliff during storms. The tusks were so curved that they formed almost a semicircle and is thought that they washed out of the Doniford gravels to the west. Later that year limb bones were also recovered, so keep your eyes peeled for curious bones. Strong tides and winter storms continue to bring the story of the beasts that wandered in this landscape to light thousands of years after they perished.

If you are lucky enough to spot an exciting find do please inform the Heritage Centre in Taunton.
Chapter thirteen

Turnpikes

If you walk on some of the rougher tracks around the Somerset coast, you will gain some idea of what travel was like 250 years ago, before roads were surfaced. In 1765 the Minehead Turnpike Trust was formed with the aim of improving travel within the area. This included improvements to the road from Minehead to Bridgwater. The coastal road that goes through St Audries was once part of this turnpike route and was considered to be the main road with people having to pay each time they wished to use it.

However when initially planning the route there was much dispute among local dignitaries about where exactly the road should go. Mr Robert Balch, objected to it being too close to his manor, so it was built closer to the coast, north of the property. By 1828, when the estate had passed to Henry Harvey Balch, the road was moved again, to the route that is now the A39.
Chapter fourteen

Wind Mill

The fields overlooking the coast here to the West of St Audries are marked as Mill Meadow on Tithing Maps. There were water-driven mills in the area, including one at Home Farm. The Windmill Country Hotel, formerly Quantock Barns, was established in the 1930s, its successor, also called the Windmill, was rebuilt after the Second World War but it isn't clear whether or not there was ever an actual windmill on the site and that the mill fields were named after the mills.

The fields would have been cut by scything teams and would work across a field at a walking pace. The most common injury from scythes surprisingly are cuts to the head when the tools are carried around!

The image above depicts three men pretending to scythe in a Somerset field, taken around the 1890s. Today the glass slides of the Clement Keely Collection are held in a cold-store at Taunton Heritage Centre.
Directions - Walk down the metal steps and straight out onto the top of the sandy section of the beach. The sandy beach top just below the shingle is the easiest to walk but as you wander perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘dimmet’ (pronounced dum'ut) might refer to.
 
Chapter fifteen

Dialect

The old Somerset and Devon dialect word ‘dimmet' (pronounced dum'ut) is simply a dark evening.
Chapter sixteen

Geology

St Audries bay is a great pull for geologists due to the range of strata exposed here. The whole sequence from the Upper Triassic Mercia Mudstone Group and then down to the Lower Jurassic Blue Lias Beds in the west. This is a window of time from 190 to 240 million years ago when silt settled into layers on the sea bed. These layers compressed into stone to become the strata of rocks we see today. The composition of these layers is a result of the silt at that time, this includes sea weeds, fish and sea shell life. It is amazing to think that the fossil was alive for such a short moment in time some 200 million years ago and hasn't seen the light of day until the moment you crack the stone apart.

The headland to the east of you is named Blue Ben with Lias rocks faulted against the red Triassic Marl of the Mercia Mudstone Group. To the west, in the Blue Lias formations, ammonites and ‘Devils' Toenails' are very common emerging from alternating layers of black shale but can often be seen just lying around loose, especially after a storm.

Larger aquatic dinosaurs have also been discovered in the bedrocks along this coast too, but to get a real understanding of the timeline visible here it is recommended you join a guided tour. Watchet visitor centre would be our suggested initial contact along with the Geology Lab at Contains Art complex on the East Quay (currently under construction and due to open summer 2021.)

The main rule for modern fossil hunting here is not to use hammers on the bedrock although splitting already ‘free stones' which are lying about is permitted. But keep away from the cliffs, the mud and always watch the tides!
Chapter seventeen

Witchcraft

‘Witches can't come droo walls, but only down the chimbly, droo windows and doors' anon from Ruth Tongues' Somerset Folklore.

The Somerset Heritage Centre has two bewitched hearts in their collection, one of which was found nearby at East Quantoxhead. The design was to place the pins pointing outwards and then hang it in the chimney so that it would scratch any witch attempting to climb down!

This whole area, caught between the sea and the wooded hills of the Quantocks, naturally has its myths and ghost stories. The photograph above is of the dove cote at Stogursey c. 1890 whose pigeons talked to a thief one night. He was stealing a sheep from nearby when he heard the pigeon cooing ‘take t'woo - take t'woo', he thought that a great idea. So he strung them both together and slung one in front of him and the other behind. But when he came to the style above Stogursey one of the sheep kicked wildly and swung around him, the rope slipped tight about his neck. In the light of morning he was found, hung by the very sheep he had stolen!

But today you must beware of travelling the A39 on a dark night, for there are several tales of phantom coaches, with St Audries said to have its own fairy coach. There are numerous tales of ghostly black dogs, some are regarded as omens of death but others have been known to lead the lost to safety. And finally Shervage Wood, some five miles to the south east, is said to have been terrorised by a Gurt Worm that ate Quantock ponies for breakfast. Fortunately it was dispatched by a woodcutter from Stogumber, so the woods are safe to wander, or are at least dragon free!
Directions - Continue along the top of the beach but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘laver’ (pronounced lai'vur) might refer to.
 
Chapter eighteen

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘laver' (pronounced lai'vur) refers to a species of sea lettuce called laver found all along this coast line. It is said that the seasons for collecting and harvesting laver can only be undertaken when there is a letter ‘r' in the month's name. So no harvesting May to August, but September onwards is fine.
Chapter nineteen

Laver - Sea Lettuce and Seaweeds

St Audries has a great range of seaweeds and apparently all are edible, although the majority are apparently not that tasty! With the exception of Sea Lettuce (pictured) and Laver.

Sea lettuce is often found in rock pools with a small holdfast or foot, although they can survive as large floating colonies. The ruffled fronds are bright green and only 2 cells thick which is why they are so gentle and translucent in the water.

Laver harvesting was once a major coastal industry, stretching all the way along from Appledore in North Devon. As said, it was only collected when there is the letter ‘r' in the month, the best seasons for foraging are obviously wintery. Today, much of the laver harvest is exported to Japan as there it is still considered a highly prized delicacy. Traditionally in the South West laver is made into flat cakes and fried then served with mutton, or in Wales it is baked as laverbread.
Chapter twenty

Collecting Seaweed

This photograph was taken in 1890 and depicts men collecting seaweed at Lilstock which may have been used in the glass industry or for fertilizer.
Chapter twenty-one

War Camp

The 21st Royal Artillery Regiment were stationed at Doniford a few fields to the west, during the Second World War. The camp is visible on aerial photographs taken in 1945, now Doniford Park Holiday Camp. Military camps were stationed all along this coastline for the training of troops and at Lilstock, further to the east, there was a practice bombing range which was still in use until the mid 1990s. The sister Storywalk at Lilstock walks through this landscape.

In 1941 extensive bombing raids were undertaken across Bristol as well as Swansea and Cardiff, these would have been visible from here. In the following days from one of these raids two German pilots were washed up on St Audries beach, but neither had any identification. The locals were saddened by this and buried the pilots in the local graveyard. Poppies have been left on their grave every year since.
Directions - Continue along the top of the beach but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘billy’ (pronounced bul'ee) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-two

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘billy' (pronounced bul'ee) refers to a sheath or stand of corn. It was thought that the spirit of the corn and spirit of the harvest lay within the corn crop but once it was reaped and the field lay bare then there was no place for the spirit to reside.

So the last sheaf of corn cut from the field would be dressed and made up into a large ‘kern queen' or smaller handheld ‘corn dolly' to lead the harvest festivities and be thankful for the food which would carry them through the winter.
Chapter twenty-three

Lime

Lime kilns dot this coast line, and at every harbour and beach access there are remains of the cone shaped brick buildings. Lime, or calcium dioxide, makes a good fertiliser, particularly on acidic soils common on Exmoor. Large quantities of limestone were shipped from South Wales along with coal to fire the kilns. At heat the limestone ‘slates' to make lime which helps plants fix nitrogen in the soil.

The drift of sulphurous smoke from the coal fired lime kilns must have been noxious, but the industrialisation and mechanisation of farming from the 1700s onwards simply equalled higher yields of crops from the same stretch of ground.
Chapter twenty-four

Smuggling

You can sense both the wildness of the sea and the nearness of other ports across the water. All the harbours along the coast, especially small ports, were well-known for smuggling. Sir William Wyndham (1688-1740) is said to have colluded with the smugglers, enabling them to evade the customs house at Minehead, and thereby increasing his own wealth. Legend has it that there were sometimes one hundred horses waiting to be loaded with contraband cargo. The caves and hidden recesses on these shores make it ideal territory for the smugglers.
Directions - Continue along the top of the beach but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘meatware’ (pronounced mai't-waur) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-five

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘meatware' (pronounced mai't-waur) refers to grounds which are poor for growing peas and beans, but good for cattle or sheep
Chapter twenty-six

Snails and Star Barnacles

The image above shows a dog whelk snail alongside smaller star barnacles, the latter are a more recent addition to our seashores having hitched in the bilge of supertankers from the southern oceans. It is thought that the whelks were harvested almost to extinction along this beach, as part of the dye industry to make ‘Watchet Blue'.

This extract from the Archaeologia Scotica published 1818 explains a little of the process of extracting the dye, though it is thought that perhaps the snails were also farmed in order to achieve the volume of dye required.

Shell to be broken with the smart stroke of a hammer, with the mouth downwards, not to crush the body of the fish [shell]. The broken pieces being picked off, you see a little furrow in which is a small white vein lying transversely, next to the head of the fish. A stiff horse hair pencil is used to extract the liquor from this vein; which being painted upon linen, and exposed to a moderate sun, the first colour that appears is light green, then a deep green; in a few minutes more a watchet-blue; a little after, a purplish red; after which it turns a deep purple red. The sun produces no further effect. Washed afterwards in scalding water and soap, and again exposed to the sun or wind, for being dried, a bright crimson is produced.
Directions - Continue along the top of the beach but as you walk perhaps discuss what the old Somerset dialect word ‘doak’ (pronounced doa'k) might refer to.
 
Chapter twenty-seven

Dialect

The old Somerset dialect word ‘doak' (pronounced doa'k) refers to a dullard or stupid person!
Chapter twenty-eight

Moths

The scrubland along the Somerset Coast Path is a natural haven for wildlife, inefficient for farming and little disturbed by visitors, it becomes the perfect margin for wildlife to thrive. Amongst the flora and fauna abundant in West Somerset the birds and plants often take precedence but the moth population should not be overlooked. Somerset folklore suggests that the first white moth you see at the beginning of the year is actually the wandering spirit of a child's soul. Firm words should be said to it to ‘shoo it away' or else the wandering spirit will pester you all year long!

Pictured is the burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) which is common along this stretch of coast and from June to August their papery cocoons can often be spotted on grassy stems.

The burnet moth is also known in folklore as the archers moth or St Sebastian's moth since it harbours the red arrow wounds from the persecuted martyr of the same name. Birds-foot Trefoil, more commonly known as ‘Eggs n Bacon', is the favoured plant from which the moth drinks nectar, and was also traditionally used to heal cuts on horses legs.
Chapter twenty-nine

The End

This brings us to the end of this Storywalk although there are many others of these along the Somerset Coastline to enjoy. 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 Christopher 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

Directions

There is no circular access back to Home Farm car park along the cliff top. To return, just retrace your steps back along the beach which is also the England Coast Path.

For Storywalk app service issues and enquiries - Storywalks contact

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

Acknowledgements

1 - Ordnance Survey Map Map - 1903 - GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of West Quantoxhead in West Somerset | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time. Vision of Britain

2 - Production of Sticky Bombs - Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer Bryson Jack - Imperial War Museum Photo Number: D 14772

3 - St Audries Bay, beach and cliffs - photograph - postcard - 1903 - Copyright Francis Frith Collection

4 - Spur - photograph - Christopher Jelley

5 - St Audries Bay waterfall - Photograph - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/268 - The Clement Keely collection

6 - St Audries Bay waterfall - photograph - Christopher Jelley

7 - Three Men Scything - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/94 - The Clement Keely collection

8 - St Audries Bay Geology - photograph - Christopher Jelley

9 - Stogursey Dove Cote - Photograph - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DWH/315 - The Reverend Derrick Collection

10 - Sea Lettuce - photograph - Nigel Phillips

11 - Collecting Seaweed at East Quantoxhead - Somerset Heritage Centre - A/DSJ/53 - The Clement Keely collection

12 - Geology Headland at St Audries Bay - photograph - Christopher Jelley

13 - Star Barnacles - photograph - Nigel Phillip

14 - Burnet Moth - photograph - Christopher Jelley
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