Watchet is a small harbour town on the Bristol Channel coast some 15 miles (24 km) north-west of Taunton.
The town's early prosperity sprang from its sea trade. In the 10th-century coins were minted here for Saxon kings but throughout history the sea has provided the main income for the town. The coming of the railway in the 19th-c. increased the harbour trade when iron ore was brought by rail from the Brendon Hills for shipping across the Bristol Channel to Ebbw Vale in South Wales.
The harbour remained in commercial use until the year 2000 when it was converted into a marina. In recent years the harbour area and esplanade have been renovated and the surrounding quayside and narrow streets provide more welcoming face for visitors to the town.
A statue of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner stands on the promenade, reminding us that the poet met a old sailor on whom the poem was based while he was staying in Watchet. Near to the harbour is Watchet Railway Station, once use to carry goods inland from the harbour. Nowadays it is a stop on the West Somerset Steam Railway.
The cliffs and foreshore around Watchet are a good place to find fossils. They can often be picked up anywhere on the shore between Watchet and Blue Anchor Bay.
The Watchet to Washford trail, to the south west, follows the route of the West Somerset Mineral line, once used to transport iron ore from the Brendon Hills to the harbour. The footpath is flat, level and obstacle free. Access from the end of Mill Street/Whitehall . Distance 2 miles (3.2 km).
|Watchet Visitor Centre:||Harbour Road, Watchet, Somerset TA23 0AQ - Tel: 01984 632101
|Watchet Chamber of Trade||Tel: 07836 239 932 (afternoons only)
This Grade II listed building was the old market house until 1979 when it was converted to a museum. The museum houses a collection of exhibits outlining the natural history of the surrounding area and local history of the harbour. There are sections covering maritime and social history, local archaeology, coins, medals, transport and science. The old town lock up is located at the back of the museum.
This nautical flavoured museum is located in a Victorian goods shed, close to the railway station. A range of local boats are exhibited along with many interesting old photographs, fishing nets, navigational charts and other maritime artifacts. Exhibits include display boards of knot work and the application of withy (Withy is a strong flexible willow stem used in thatching and for gardening). One very interesting exhibit is of an original mud horse (a wooden sledge used to carry fish across the mudflat's collected from nets in the bay).
Among the museums collection of boats is the "Flatner", a shallow-draft vessel without a keel, once common in Bridgwater Bay. There are also Withy and Turf Boats constructed from elm boards or clinker, once used on the drainage ditches of the Somerset Levels to transport withies and peat.
Opening times: Mon
- Fri, 10am to 3pm; Sat - Sun, 10am to 5pm - Free
Location: Harbour Road, Watchet, Somerset TA23 0AQ - Tel: 01984 632101
Watchet bay can be reached via the West Somerset Steam railway via this terminus. The former 'down' platform waiting-room at Blue Anchor station houses a railway museum which has exhibits mainly of the Great Western Railway (the GWR, once known affectionately in the West country as "God's Wonderful Railway"). From the station a broad sweep of sand and shingle stretches all the way to Minehead. When the tide is out, it is a half-mile (1 km) walk down to the sea.