Back in March, a huge group of us had a long weekend in Watchet, Somerset and we hired out a huge five-bedroom thatched, converted farmhouse, Shells Holiday Cottage, in nearby Washford.
The place had ample room for all ten of us. A kitchen large enough for multiple cooks getting their curry contributions prepped and ready for our stay-in Indian night and a table that held a feast that would do Henry VIII proud. (I’ve just finished reading Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Tamed Queen’ and it seems Kathryn Parr spent most of her married life watching the king stuff his face…) It also had five good sized bedrooms, unusually most with a double bed and the piste de resistance – a hot tub!
What to do on a weekend in Watchet
It is said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived in Nether Stowey, was inspired to write his epic ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in 1797, on a walk with his pal Wordsworth. As he approached the harbour of Watchet, having walked across the Quantock Hills, he was inspired by the harbour’s rocky beach and stalwart fisherman. There’s now a seven-foot mariner created by sculptor Alan B. Herriot standing proud on the harbourside.
The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill
Below the lighthouse top.
The other statue overlooking the harbour is of Yankee Jack. Born locally in 1839, he first went to sea out of Watchet as a lad and in the 1860’s joined a Yankee ship in the American Civil War. He sang as he sailed and when he retired at the age of 61 he brought his songs home with him. These were collected and collated by Cecil Sharp and Sir Richard Terry for our English musical heritage.
Watchet is a quaint fishing village and village life centres around the working marina. The village dates back to the dark ages when St Decuman arrived from South Wales on a raft with a cow (don’t ask). The natural harbour made it an early trading centre and the place gets its name from ‘Wacet’, the blue dye found in the cliffs.
Watchet’s Fossil Beach
We took the coastal path that starts from the tip of quayside up to Splash Point and then along the cliffs towards Helwell Bay (also known as Fossil Beach). About a kilometre along, after the Helwell car park and across the field, there’s a set of steps leading down to the beach.
The concrete steps mark the site of some interesting geology – known as the Watch Fault. You can see in the cliff face the different rock layers: the red and green are Mercia Mudstones when the landmass as a huge desert near the equator and the grey mudstones belong to the Helwell Marls. These marls are the youngest Jurassic rocks exposed on the Somerset coast and date from 200 million years ago when sea levels rose and Watchet would have been submerged under the sea. An ancient earthquake distributed the layers, causing the geological formations we see today.
This also makes the beach prime fossil hunting ground. The oldest ammonites in Britain, over 201 million years old, have been found on Watchet’s beach. It’s possible to walk and scramble along the beach back to the quayside, but I’d advise decent footwear; at parts, it’s quite slippy. There’s a final set of steps back to the top.
After a brisk coastal walk, a scone from Chives went down a treat.
On our second day, we had a walk round Dunster, famous for the castle. Unfortunately, due to the adverse weather conditions, it was closed, but the medieval town has some picturesque streets and independent shots worth killing a couple of hours in.