The River Parrett is 37 miles long, flowing roughly south to north from Dorset through Somerset. Its source is in the Thorney Mills springs in the hills around Chedington, 2.5 miles from that of the River Axe, in nearby Beaminster, which runs in the opposite direction to the English Channel at Axmouth in Devon. From its source, the Parrett runs north through South Perrott and under the Salisbury to Exeter railway line before passing to the west of North Perrott and Haselbury Plucknett. It then runs through fields between Merriott to the west and West Chinnock and Chiselborough to the east. Passing under the A303 road to the east of South Petherton, the river flows between East Lambrook and Bower Hinton west of Martock and then towards Kingsbury Episcopi, through Thorney and Muchelney, passing the remains of Muchelney Abbey before entering Langport, which is about 10 miles north of Chiselborough. Below Thorney Bridge the river's banks have been raised to mitigate flooding. The Parrett then flows northwest for approximately another 10 miles to Bridgwater through the Somerset Levels past Aller, close to the Aller and Beer Woods and Aller Hill biological Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The sluice gate (formerly a lock built in the late 1830s) at the deserted medieval village of Oath marks the river's tidal limit. The river then crosses Southlake Moor. The next major landmark along the river's course is Burrow Mump, an ancient earthwork owned by the National Trust. The river then arrives in Burrowbridge, where the old pumping station building was once a museum. Flowing north, it passes Langmead and Weston Level SSSI, and on past the land-drainage pumping station at Westonzoyland. This camera was installed and is maintained by the Environment Agency and can be viewed here
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Further downstream the river passes the village of Huntworth before flowing under the M5 motorway at Dunwear. As it enters Bridgwater it passes under Somerset and Hamp Bridges, and past Bridgwater Castle, which had a tidal moat up to 65 feet wide in places, fed by water from the river. From Bridgwater to the sea is approximately 6 miles . The King's Sedgemoor Drain empties into the River Parrett next to the wharf at Dunball; it enters via a clyce (or clyse), which is a local word for a sluice. The clyce has been moved about 0.3 miles downstream from its original position and now obstructs the entrance to the small harbour next to the wharf. The origin of the name Parrett is unclear, but several derivations from the Celtic languages used in Wales have been suggested. Priestley-Evans suggests, 'Parrett has been said to be a form of the Welsh pared, a partition, and that it was the name which the Welsh people of Somerset and Devon gave to that river because it was at one time the dividing line between themselves and the Saxons'. Another spelling, parwydydd, is also translated as partition. Another explanation from Welsh, Peraidd, meaning the sweet or delicious river, has also been suggested. An alternative explanation, based on Old English, is a derivation from Pedair or Pedride from pedr, meaning four and the Old Cornish Rit meaning flow, which in this case would relate to the four flows or streams: the Tone, Yeo, Isle and Parrett. This is based on the explanation given in Ekwall's 1928 book English River Names. Whichever derivation is correct, the name Parrett and its spelling variations have been in use since the Anglo-Saxon era, as evidenced by the addition of -tun onto river names as seen in the local towns North Petherton and South Petherton. The spelling Pedred[ and Pedrida are also mentioned in connection with the Parrett. The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names states only that the name is a 'pre-English river-name of obscure origin'.