How ironic, then, that when I pass the site on a soggy summer afternoon, all I can see to the west is digging where once there were open fields. Where people once feared to tread, now there are hundreds of workers piloting great trucks, JCBs and steamrollers. Of course this is visible only beyond a ten-foot-high fence that stretches for four miles round the vast site of Hinkley Point C. It is a few weeks yet until Theresa May will give the go-ahead for the contentious project, but you would never know that from where I stand. Here, on the marshes, it looks as though the decision has already been made.
Of course this isn’t the first time that the Pixie’s Mound has experienced this sort of intrusion. In 1957 work began on the first nuclear power station at the site and, though there was a spate of accidents during the construction, the spectacular meltdownthat many locals predicted never happened. The barrow now stands in the lee of three large power stations and their associated paraphernalia, and will one day (timetables for completion are constantly being put back) have a fourth, destined to be the country’s largest, on its other side. Perhaps the pixies are waiting to have their revenge when it will have the greatest impact. If Hinkley Point C did not already seem doomed in so many ways, then add the pixies to that list.
Though it is one of the few pieces of ground on this headland to remain untouched, the Pixie’s Mound is not easy to reach. You can walk up to the end of the public road, Wick Moor Drive, and see the mound fifty metres ahead through the private gates to the power stations. I do not get this far. As I have followed the almost permanently diverted route of the England Coast Path around the power stations, I have found myself being watched at least twice. Perhaps because I am taking photos of the route, I have drawn attention from security and workers on the other side of the fence, so I decide against straying across the field to this ancient burial site. It is a shame that a short path cannot be created to it, given the site is barely a hundred metres from a National Trail. For the time being, a suggestion on the Modern Antiquarian website is that ‘access is after sundown wearing ninja suits and night goggles’.
Like Hinkley Point C, the route here is brand new, part of a 58-mile section of the England Coast Path stretching from Minehead to Brean Down. As such, it is barely worn in and, in places around Hinkley Point, very tricky to follow. Shiny new fingerposts are dotted around but there is no path between them, and in at least one case the finger is pointing in the wrong direction. Traffic cones helpfully lead pedestrians across the access road only to abandon them on the verge to scramble over a gate back onto the new line of the path. In the fields below Pixie’s Mound, there is no signage and you have to negotiate electric fences to reach a medieval stile. (If in doubt keep the perimeter fence to your left.) Yet it is an intriguing walk, whether following the straight fence over the undulating ground or passing through a dense hawthorn tunnel beneath the power lines, particularly when you feel that you are watching a story that is so close to the centre of the week’s news.
There is of course far more to the Somerset coast than Hinkley Point. There is the dramatic limestone promontory of Brean Down. There are the newly created wetlands of Steart Marshes. There is the Edwardian charm of Minehead away from the monstrous Butlins camp. There is Somerset’s own Jurassic coast, where ammonites can be found beneath the colourful cliffs as the Quantock Hills reach the sea. There are the endless beaches of Burnham, Berrow and Brean. But throughout all of this, there is Hinkley in the background of every vista or photograph, the landmark against which you work out your location. Only when the rain really closed in did it disappear; when I couldn’t see Hinkley I knew it was time to put my cagoule on. Much like the Pixie’s Mound, the whole of the Somerset coast seems to exist in the shadow of Hinkley Point.