The peace and quiet of much of the Somerset Coast belies its past which at certain periods was far from either, particularly during the time when the County was the base for King Alfred’s resistance to the Vikings. If you look out to the island of Steep Holm, so named because it was where the Danes over-wintered ready to invade, you can perhaps imagine the distinctive boats setting sail for the shore fortified to repel them. At Minehead the marauders were said to be chased off by the Hobby Horse which is why there is a celebration to this day every May Day Eve with three rival hobby horses shaped like boats. Watchet was another target and became so important in its defensive role that it was made a Burgh and had its own Mint.
Invasion was still a concern in the 18th century when the poet Coleridge was living in Nether Stowey and aroused suspicions that he was a French spy because of his peculiar habit of walking long distances alone. The Coast Path was familiar to him as he thought nothing of walking along it to Bristol and it inspired one of his best known works – The Ancient Mariner.
As well as protecting the Country from invasion in Anglo Saxon times and again in the 20th century, this coast played an important part in its trade, with Watchet dealing in salt and wine and later irons ore. Bridgwater was among the ten most important ports in England during the Middle Ages. Archaeological work on the site of the new Hinkley Point Power Station has unearthed more than 330 human skeletons from an early medieval cemetery as well as evidence of Roman settlement.
Vestiges of more recent conflicts than that with the Danes can be found dotted along the Path in the form of concrete structures known as pill boxes built as guard posts during the first and second World Wars.