Mendip Way Circular #5

I’ve let my blogging slip, so I have a few walks to catch up on. Rather than leave them undocumented, I’m going to do a few fairly short posts to get up to date.

This walk was another pleasant stretch of the Mendip Way, starting and ending in Shepton Mallet. Setting off across Barren Down, I soon emerged onto the main road via some steps that I have long wondered where they led. Another mystery solved!

Crossing over the road, the Mendip Way leads behind Kilver Court and into sight of the wonderful Charlton Viaduct. It used to carry the Somerset & Dorset Railway over the River Sheppey. The curve makes it really beautiful in my eyes. Still clearly serving a practical use as a car park, it is a shame walking over it is not allowed.

After a climb up Ingsdons Hill, the path drops down into Chelynch where I called into the Poachers Pocket for a pint and pickled egg. The welcome was friendly and the beer was good, and on this occasion I could take advantage of the beer garden. Browsing the internet I discovered that permission had been turned down a few years previously for a sizable solar farm on Ingsdons Hill. I mention this because I find this a difficult subject to resolve my thinking on. Ingsdons Hill is beautiful as it is, but without space being given over to renewables, this isn’t going to matter before long. The same can be said for housing of course – people need homes. But they also need life to be worth living, and for many of us that means having access to unspoilt countryside. I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions.

I enjoyed this valley on the way between Chelynch and Doulting. It doesn’t look natural to me, but there is no hint on the map that it is anything other.

The Church of St. Aldhem

Doulting itself is full of amazing old buildings. The Church of St Aldhem is named for the nephew of King Ine of Wessex, who died in the village in 709. It has a very grand spire, and apparently there is a Green Man in the vaulting of the porch – a definite reason to return. There is a natural spring here, called St. Aldhem’s Well, which is the source of the aforementioned River Sheppey.

View from the top of Whitstone Hill

From Doulting I took a south-westerly route across Doulting Sheep Sleight and up to the top of Whitstone Hill. I have looked longingly at this hill almost every morning as I drive past on my way to work. It doesn’t disappoint. It is not a spectacular hill in and of itself, but the view from the top is everything you could ask for in this part of Somerset. I sat and ate some lunch while watching a helicopter land and take off again from the direction of Worthy Farm. I hope whoever was in it was not too busy to notice the spectacular vista laid out before them.

Distance: 7.7 miles

Mendip Way – Draycott to Priddy and beyond

A visit from a good friend provided an excuse for walking another stretch of the Mendip Way, this time covering the section from Draycott to Priddy. This was originally planned as a circular walk, but instead of turning back at Priddy we carried on to reach Pen Hill, and caught the bus home from there.

The walk started with a relatively steep climb, taking the appropriately named “Hill Lane” and emerging onto the slopes next to Draycott Sleights. The view gets progressively better as you climb. It really is pretty wonderful. It was a slightly hazy day for us, but even so we could see across the whole length of the Mendips, out to Steep Holm and across to South Wales. I intend to make an early morning trek to this point later in the year to watch the sun come up.

Once you’re up onto the Mendip Plataeu, things flatten out significantly. The rest of the walk is almost entirely flat. It’s a gentle stroll over to Priddy, and we were looking forward to a pint at the pub. Priddy was a lot busier than usual because it was the first day of the annual Folk Festival. The centre of the village was closed to traffic and marquees and food stalls were in place to entertain and sustain. It looks like the pub is effectively the “beer tent”, so it must be a bumper weekend for them! In practice, this meant that our pint was delivered in a plastic glass, which didn’t dent our enjoyment of a refreshing Butcombe Bohemia.

Moving on from Priddy, we followed the Mendip Way along Dursdon Drove, but instead of turning towards Ebbor Gorge (as I did here http://panifex.co.uk/2019/03/18/mendip-way-circular-2/ ) we carried straight on towards Pen Hill.

Pen Hill is the second highest point in the Mendips, the highest being Beacon Batch on Black Down. However, it is the Mendip Transmitting Station that is the key feature. Built in 1967, and coming into operation in late 1969, it is the tallest structure in the South West of England (293 metres including antennas. It was 305 metres until the removal of the analogue transmitter in 2010 ). It is thoroughly impressive. It must have been quite an undertaking to erect. The choice of site was mildly controversial at the time, with concerns raised about how it would impact on the landscape, “dwarfing Wells and its Cathedral into insignificance” as one letter writer in the Cheddar Valley Gazette put it. It is now a prominent local landmark, an integral part of the landscape, visible from wherever you are. I have loved it for all of my 20 years living in sight of it.

Another letter writer had a more practical concern.

Sir, Living within a few hundred yards of the Pen Hill television mast I am chiefly concerned with its ability to stand up. The Melton Mowbray prototype, it will be remembered, collapsed in what the BBC. itself described as “a freak wind of 70 m.p.h.” and it scattered over a considerable area.

Now it happens that I have lived for some years in Leicestershire and know the Melton site and have been living for for more than a year almost within bowshot of the Pen Hill site. Hence I can testify that whilst a 70 m.p.h. wind is certainly a freak in Melton Mowbray, it is nothing out of the ordinary on Pen Hill, where gusts of up to 100 m.p.h. have occurred even within my short experience. Have the designers of the mast any real knowledge of the local weather conditions. If so where, when and how did they get it?

T.S. Air

Cheddar Valley Gazette – Friday 13 October 1967

Well, no need to worry T.S. Air, the mast is still standing proud 52 years after it went up, and has clearly withstood whatever the Mendip winds have thrown at it.

This was another really enjoyable walk. However, walking it in the opposite direction would perhaps be even better. It would be mostly flat, with a steep descent at the end, and the view would be forever in front of you. I’m already starting on persuading my kids!

Distance: 7.73 miles

Chew Valley 3 Peaks

I spent a very pleasant Sunday morning walking the Chew Valley 3 Peaks with a friend who is in training for the Cotswold Way Challenge in a few weeks time – a 100km walk from Bath to Cheltenham. This walk is not on that scale, and neither is it in any way comparable to the famous Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk.  Instead it is a 17 mile circular route through the lush countryside surrounding the River Chew.

The 3 peaks in question are Maes Knoll, Knowle Hill and Blackberry Hill – although the route doesn’t actually take you to the top of the last two. We started in Pensford, and headed NW under the viaduct, up Guy’s Hill and through Norton Malreward. I’ve walked this route before (see this post) and remembered how much I struggled up the hills. It is gratifying that, while I was still very pleased to get to the top, it felt much easier. Progress.

Maes Knoll (flat top hill) refers to the iron age hill fort, rather than the hill itself. It was apparantly built around 250BC, by the Dobunni tribe (about whom I know very little, but I am instantly fascinated by) and if it had a defensive function, it was certainly in a commanding position. The views from the top are pretty amazing and wide ranging. There is also quite a lot still to see of the fort itself including the very prominent tump visible in the picture above.

The walk continues along the Dundry Down ridge, taking in some great views of Bristol and on into Wales. This would be a wonderful vantage point for the Bristol Ballooon Festival.

Sadly, the rest of the route, while green and plesant, doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur of the start. The path drops down the valley into Chew Magna, before heading across open fields towards Knowle Hill. We saw a lone runner from the Chew Valley 10k, suggesting he was either way behind or somewhat off piste! Sneaky shortcut perhaps?

Knowle Hill, the second of the peaks, was entirely underwhelming. I envisaged views across the Chew Valley Lake, but instead the path skirted the edge of a low mound. There was no way to leave the path and reach the “peak” either. Underwhelming.

The third peak, Blackberry Hill, is also unreachable from the public footpath, but is certainly more impressive. It is the middle of 3 hills, known as The Ooozles. We didn’t trespass to reach the trig point, but instead reached the peak of Barrow Hill, the hill next door. On the top is a Cold War Bunker, locked and behind a fence of course, but interesting all the same. There are plenty of pictures of the inside online (see this interesting post from the Urban Explorer) and until recently you could visit on Heritage Open Days. It was sold last year (for £23,000) so I dont know if the new owner will keep that up.

This was the end of our walk, having done all 3 peaks. Obviously, given it is circular, the route loops back to Pensford. I’ll be back to complete the loop on another occasion. It is not far from here to the Hunters Rest, where we made our way for a well earned pint and Sunday Roast.

Distance: 13 miles.

The Coal Canal Way – Walks 1 & 2

I recently bought a copy of a locally produced booklet called The Coal Canal Way – A Walkers Guide. You can buy yourself a copy from The Somersetshire Coal Canal Society or download a copy for free. It contains a series of walks which take you along the whole of the long disused Somerset Coal Canal – from the terminus at Paulton to where it joined the Kennet & Avon canal at Dundas. I’ve done this walk several times before without a guidebook, but am going to do it again following the suggested routes. As is my wont, I’m going turn them into a series of circular walks too.

The first two walks in the book, from Paulton to Radford and from Radford to Camerton, take me along paths I know inside out. I’ve walked this way dozens of times, for many years. It remains fascinating, however. The evidence of what a different place this area was in the not so distant past is everywhere. The coal canal was, for a time, an important connection to the Kennet & Avon canal for the coal mines of the Somerset Coalfield. You can read the history on the societies website. Suffice it to say, it was for a while a very busy operation, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year.

The terminus is at Timsbury Basin, and it is still a prominent feature in the local landscape. These days it provides a home for ducks and a pair of swans and is very well used by dog-walkers. But it used to service a tramline from the collieries at High Littleton and Timsbury, as well as the local Paulton Engine.

A little further along is Paulton Basin, which is being gradually and lovingly restored by volunteers. The most prominent features are the large dry dock and the stone arch bridge. The past really does make its presence felt here.

The route is then along the towpath of the canal all the way to Radford. Not so long ago, parts of the section were restored enough to actually fill with water. There is a video of the slightly ramshackle occasion when it was re-opened on Youtube, which is worth a watch. The water is not there any more, but it is amazing that it was done at all. The section in my photo above was not part of the refilling and is not the most dramatic section, but I have always had a soft spot for it for some reason.

Of course, the other link with the past in this area is the remains of the Camerton Branch of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, which ran from Hallatrow to Limpley Stoke. The path takes you through the site of Radford Halt, although there isn’t really anything left to see. It also takes you through the decapitated bridge shown in the photo above. This bit of the walk is interesting as the path goes directly through someones garden – but it is well signposted so it doesn’t feel too awkward. It is a really lovely garden too, but it didn’t seem right to take any pictures.

Before long, you arrive in Camerton. I did’t hang around on this occasion, returning home through the fields to the south. It was a gorgeous day and an interesting walk. Although the actual Coal Canal Way walks amounted to less than 2 miles, my total walk was a 6.5 mile round trip.


Walking Home from Bath

This walk is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and at last both my ability and an opportunity have come together. For me there is something special about walking home, from anywhere. I always planned to walk home from work, when my workplace was just about close enough for that to be possible. Indeed, I had vivid dreams about doing so. I never managed it, and now I work far too far away. So I am pleased to realise this particular ambition.

I walked from the outskirts of Bath. This cut out the climb from the city centre and leaves another challenge for another day! The route I chose is a fairly obvious one from a browse of the OS maps – via Englishcombe, Inglesbatch, Priston and Timsbury. The start of my walk, along the edge of Odd Down towards Rush Hill, afforded a beautiful view looking West across the hills and valleys that I would soon be walking through.

The first port of call was Englishcombe, an historic and interesting place. I was looking forward in particular to seeing what remained of Culverhay Castle. The honest answer is not much. The earthworks are clearly visible, but overgrown and it is hard to make anything out, at least when seen from the paths I was walking along. I will be passing this way again, so I’ll check it out from some different angles.

The castle has an interesting history. Built in stages between the 11th and 13th century, it was part of the Gournay estate. It met it’s demise after Thomas de Gournay was indicted for his part in the murder of Edward II and all his estates were confiscated by the crown. This included the other villages in this area called “Gurney”, including for example Farrington Gurney and Barrow Gurney. The castle was razed to the ground and the stones used by Bath Abbey to build the nearby Tithe Barn, a subject for another walk.

I had also intended to visit Englishcombe church, but it was not open (there was a notice giving numbers to call to gain access). Still, even from the outside, it is a very pleasing building. Pevsner has lots to say about it, but mostly about the inside. Apparently the Tower and part of the chancel are Norman, and indeed Wikipedia says it was built in the 12th Century by Robert de Gournay.

I then followed the byway to Inglesbatch (or English Batch as it is called on the early OS maps). This was easy, if slightly muddy, walking. It looked like it would be much more fun in a 4×4! If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am collecting pictures of named lanes, and I felt sure this would be one to add to the collection. But there is no trace of the name on recent or early OS maps, much to my disappointment.

Inglesbatch itself is an incredibly pretty place. Another example of a place it is impossible to imagine affording to live in. I don’t imagine property comes up for sale very often in any case. There is absolutely nothing there, however, and it would take a stomp through the fields to get to the nearest pub.

Talking of which, my next stop was Priston, where I had intended to call in for a swift half. However, I had reckoned without the May Day Fair. The whole village was very busy and I didnt fancy my chances at the bar, so that treat will have to wait for another day. I didnt stop at the church either on this occasion, but hurried on to escape the crowds.

In fact, I swapped crowds of people for flocks of sheep and lambs. A good trade. The walk to Timsbury is through a valley of lush green fields, populated with the aforementioned ruminants. The slowly setting sun really made the spring-like colours pop and sheep are amusing when they nonchalantly but urgently get out of your way, so although this section was short on views I really enjoyed it.

The final part of the walk, from Timsbury to home, takes me through my usual stomping ground. It drops down from Timsbury via Mill Lane and heads along the old Somerset Coal Canal towards Paulton Basin. I’ll write a post about my local paths on another day, but today I was just relieved to be coming to the end. Overall, I had a wonderful few hours achieving an ambition I’ve long harboured.

Distance: 9.35 miles

Station to Station: Redruth to Perranwell

I’ve had this one planned for quite a while, and a weekend away in Falmouth provided the opportuntity to get boots on the ground. It was also another occasion when I was walking with company – one of my oldest friends David. The weather looked good, but we hadn’t bargained for the strength of the wind! The start of this walk was quite exposed. If you follow in our footsteps, wrap up warmer than we did!

We caught the train from Falmouth Docks, changing at Truro and heading south west to Redruth. The Penzance train was about 40 minutes late at Truro, but we were in no rush so for us this was just a minor irritation. We grabbed a coffee in the heated waiting room.

Once at Redruth, we headed out of the town via Sea View Terrace. It seemed unlikely that the the sea really could be viewed. However, as we climbed up the hill we were proved wrong. Although the weather today was not going allow us to actually see the sea, the radome covering the air defence radar at RRH Portreath was clearly visible.

Our first planned destination was Gwennap Pit. This is a grass covered amphitheatre where John Wesley preached eighteen times between 1762 and 1789. The present form came about after his death, when locals remodelled it as a memorial. Originally, it seems to have been a hollow caused by subsidence from mining activities, and presumably appeared less regular than it did now. It was larger originally too. Wesley himself claimed to have preached to 22,000 people there. Pevsner is sceptical of this, saying he “either mis-remembered or exaggerated”, but I am not so sure. Certainly there is no way that that many people could fit in the pit itself, but as this report from The Graphic on 17 June 1876 points out, there is room for large numbers in the surrounding area and large crowds still gathered even then:

But whatever Gwennap Pit was, it is now an insignificant hollow in a hill side; “looks nothing in itself, sir when it’s empty you might easily pass by and not notice it,” said a man of whom we asked our road. And he was right so that any one who expects to find the chasm, like the crater of a huge volcano, in which the engraving, so popular in West Cornwall, represents Wesley, perched on a jutting rock, preaching to assembled thousands, will be sadly disappointed. So far from being a grand chasm, “the Pit” makes no break in the unmitigated ugliness of the Redruth neighbourhood. The print, like many other prints of the kind, is untrue in every point, except in the matter of the assembled thousands. These may be seen every Whit-Monday– a great day everywhere among the Cornish Methodists. Crowded trains run at single fare, hundreds tramp in afoot, every sort of conveyance brings its quota, and, by the afternoon, when the services’ begin, there are sometimes 20,000 people gathered in and about the Pit.”

The Graphic – 17 June 1876

From Gwennap Pit, we descended into Carharrack. The view from the path above Carharrack is terrific, if (like me) you enjoy a slightly industrial landscape. The pub in Carharrack was not open, and indeed has slightly restrictive (and unusual!) opening hours scrawled on the blackboard outside – “Monday – Closed all day, Tuesday – closed, Wednesday Thursday – Closed all day, Friday Saturday Sunday, 7pm to 12:00.” I guess they know they their local market! According to the sign outside, this was “Cap’n Blood’s Tavern”. He must have been away during the week.

We then walked through Outer Wood, accompanied by increasingly severe warnings not to stray off the path. Danger of Death was enough to keep us firmly out of the trees. The dangers arise from the old mine workings of Wheal Squire, part of United Mines, which produced 20,000 tons of copper from 1816-1853. Some of my ancestors were copper miners at the time in this general area, so it is fascinating to imagine what the world was like for them. I suppose there were fewer health and safety warnings…

From here, the route was across the fields to Frogpool. I went to Frogpool just once as a child, and for some reason all I can remember is that it seemed very white! It still does – the buildings seem almost universally to be painted white. We were pleased to arrive at the (white) pub before it closed, with minutes to spare, and stopped for a pint. The clientele and bar staff seemed very friendly, and the beer was good.

From here it is a short walk along roads and byways into Perranwell. The path we choose took us via Bargus and under the railway line. It also meant that we had no choice but to go past the pub, and since it was open it would clearly have been rude not to. This was another fine pub, with good beer and an exceptionally tasty looking menu. One for another day.

From the pub to the station is only a few minutes, but we misread the timetable and the last few hundred metres were more of a rush then expected. In the end though our timing was perfect and we were soon back in Falmouth planning some more beers for the evening.

Distance: 8.2 miles


Mendip Way Circular #4

Another Mendip Way walk starting and ending in Wells, picking up where my previous walk ended and ticking off the beginning of East Mendip Way. I say that, but it’s not clear that the distinction between East and West Mendip Way will be around much longer. The Mendip Society are planning to have the whole route called simply “The Mendip Way” as part of their 50th anniversary. Makes sense to me!

This walk starts at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells and heads up the hill through Tor Hill Woods, a national trust owned woodland. The path takes you pretty rapidly to the top of the hill and out into surprisingly wide open spaces.

One thing that caught my eye was a boundary wall made of very large blocks of stone. I presume these came from the nearby (disused) Torhill Quarry. It certainly made for an unusual sight, although my photo above doesn’t really do it justice.

The path next passes through King’s Castle Woods. The woods are named after the iron age hill fort that resides withing them. More than just a fort, there seems to have been a larger settlement here. The remains of ancient field walls are fairly obvious as you pass out of the woods and onto the Lyatt. According to wikipedia, it has never been excavated and relatively little is known about it, although Lidar images show three enclosures along with the field system. There is speculation that it was a precursor to the city of Wells itself.

The path then passes on to the wonderfully named Furzy Sleight. According to The A-Z of Yeovil’s History the word sleight derives from the Old English slœget meaning a sheep pasture . Furzy presumably simply means covered with furze (or gorse), though it wasn’t so covered today.

It wasn’t sheep that concerned me today, but cows. In the distance I could see a large herd, so decided to walk along the edge of the sleight rather than follow the path through the middle of them. Fortunately, this also brought me to the Furzy Sleight Pillbox, which I otherwise might have missed. This, of course, is evidence of more recent history. This pill-box was part of the “stop-line green”, one of 50 defensive lines built to defend against the expected German invasion in World War II. This line was part of the defenses of Bristol, and you can see where it ran on Google Maps.

I negotiated the cows without too much trouble, although there were a number of bulls amongst the herd. Fortunately, they had other things than me on their minds, although it did make my heart beat slightly faster! The Mendip Way then passes along Sleight Lane and across the fields to the point of West Lane where I joined it in Walk 1. I then walked down West Lane and into Croscombe. My original plan was to walk back up the hills on the other side and return to Wells via Dulcote Hill. However, I had a change of heart and decide to head back through the valley via Dinder.

Dinder is an impossibly quaint village. I cannot imagine how anyone can afford to live there. There are many beautiful and interesting buildings, but the one that particularly caught my imagination was the vine covered house above. It looks to me like something from Annihilation – the house and tree are so symbiotically linked. I guess it will look very different in the summer.

The walk back from Dinder to Wells is a pleasant stroll along easy paths through the fields. I made good time and was pleased with how much energy I still had left. I am definitely getting fitter. Along the way was another pill box, presumably part of the same defensive line as the previous one. The views out across the levels would probably be stunning on a less hazy day than today. Before long, I was back where I started and was heading back to the car for the drive home.

Today was another really enjoyable walk – and for a change, not too hilly either. So far, I have walked from Priddy to Shepton Mallet along the Mendip Way, and my planned walks have worked really well. Can’t wait for the next one!

Distance: 8.0 miles

Mendip Way Circular #3

I took advantage of a warm and sunny afternoon to do another of my Mendip Way Circular walks – the third one I have done, but number 9 in the sequence. The walk begins and ends in Wells, climbing up and down the Mendip hills before rejoining the Mendip Way at Wookey Hole.

The first part of the ascent out of Wells is relatively gentle and takes you through the gardens of Milton Lodge. The views over Wells would be spectacular on a bright and clear day. Today, however, there was quite a thick haze. While this means that details are obscured, it adds to the mysterious feel of the landscape.

After that initial climb, and knowing how steep the final ascent would be, it was a little disconcerting that the road descended sharply. It did lead to some very pretty views across the very spring-like green fields to a somewhat greyed-out Glastonbury.

From then on the hill was much steeper. Much like on the last walk, I struggled and got very hot and sweaty. Passing under the tree in the picture above, I met two hikers coming down the hill. They were dressed in full on hiking gear, including hats and coats. We are all so different.

In fact the climb was less steep than in the previous walk and after a couple of recovery pauses I soon reached the top. The view from here is amazing and well worth the climb. As already mentioned, the haze reduced the detail and distance but it was still beautiful.

My walk then descended the slope that I struggled so much to climb in the my last walk. And boy, it really is steep. It was hard on the legs even going down. Just like last time, I was passed (three times!) by a runner – carrying ballast. Amazing. Near the bottom, the view opens up nicely and I could see my next destination – Arthur’s Point. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to climb another hill, but it’s only a small one (the 3450th tallest in England…).

Clearly the name Arthur’s Point is interesting! I am not sure what modern scholarship would say, but there is a facinating letter in the Wells Journal which discusses the name. It is a wonderful vantage point, and I am sure it would indeed have been useful for reconnaisance. Quite how it came to have Arthur’s name attached we will never know of course.

If we accept King Arthur (as all true Somersetshire men would gladly do) then let us associate the Point with his glorious name and deeds; if not we can fall back upon what seems to be the historic truth, that there was a great British leader named Arthur, who would probably guard the western coasts from invading Northmen, and select a site so suitable for his military observations as Arthur’s Point.

Wells Journal – Thursday 15 October 1896

These days the trees rather block the view towards Glastonbury and the ‘western coasts’, but it is a marvellous place to stop for a snack and admire the view back towards the hills. I could trace out almost the whole of my walk so far.

The path from Arthur’s Point back down into Wells is pleasant, but unremarkable. When I used to do this walk many years ago it was possible to see down into the depths of Underwood Quarry, but these days (very sensibly) you can’t get so close to the edge. The path also passes directly through the grounds of the Blue School, which would be interesting on a school day! There is a plaque in Wells to mark the start of the West Mendip Way. I am very grateful to the various Rotary Clubs involved.

My day ended with a stroll around the incredibly impressive Wells Cathedral and the nearby Bishop’s Palace. These are obviously well worth a visit. I am particularly enamoured of the clock. Wells is also a great city for pubs (and I should know, I once did a pub crawl of all 11). On another occasion I would have popped into the White Hart, but today I had forgotten my wallet!

Distance: 6.4 miles

Mendip Way Circular #2

I had a free morning today. I’d taken leave from work to finish an essay, but made much more progress over the weekend than I planned. So what better reward than a stroll along The Mendip Way. I chose to walk from Priddy, since for some reason I’ve never been and it felt like time to put that right.

The plan was to start by following the West Mendip Way down through Ebbor Gorge to Wookey Hole. Next was a steep climb back up the hill along the Monarch’s Way followed by a much gentler climb up North Hill to take in the Priddy Nine Barrows. The weather was not great, a chilly wind and rain, but bearable.

I parked up outside the Old New Inn (re-opening this year) and picked up the Mendip Way as it passed through Priddy. The start of this walk is well way marked, and is an easy stroll through the fields. The views across Somerset towards Glastonbury Tor are amazing and I really must come back in better conditions.

The Mendip Way runs for a short period along Dursdon Drove. It seems to be pretty well used by both walkers and vehicles, presumably because it provides access to Higher Pitts Farm. It is a pleasant walk inbetween the verdant green moss covered dry stone walls.

Everything gets a touch more dramatic as the path descends into Ebbor Woods. The rain and wind picked up at this point too. A helpful sign warned off a “Cliff ahead”. A warning we should all take seriously. And sure enough, there really was a big cliff. Stood near the edge in the wind and rain, the stone slightly slippery underfoot, I felt both awed and slightly quesy! It is a stunning place.

I guess it is not Mendip’s most dramatic gorge (Cheddar), but the surrounding woods make it a very different place. I realise I keep saying this in these blogs, but I will be back. It would be interesting to wander through at ground level. There followed a very steep and muddy descent, and the mud got much worse at the bottom. I was coated almost up to my knees, which rather changed my view about whether I was going to visit the pub at Priddy at the end!

There is not much to say about Wookey Hole. The Wookey Hole Caves attraction was very quiet, perhaps not open. I passed their resident Reindeer on the way up the hill, I guess they have a quiet life outside of Christmas. I used to regularly frequent the Wookey Hole Inn when I worked nearby (including an infamous afternoon session on a lethal beer called Fruit Bat – far too easy to drink for it’s strength!) but it was too early today and I was too muddy.

There is something to say about the walk back up the hill, however. I was right to be worried on the way down – it was very steep and very long. Steep hills expose my underlying lack of fitness and i could feel my heart beating very strongly in my chest. I genuinely wasn’t sure I would make it to the top. I was passed by a man running – training for an ultramarathon he told me. Fourth time he’d done the hill today. In a way that made me feel better. This hill is the sort of thing ultramarathon runners do to test themselves. When I *did* reach the top, I was elated. Genuinely. I guess that was the dopamine hit people talk about. The view, as you would expect, was special too.

Even though I was only about half way, I felt I was on the homeward stretch after that. The walking from then on was easy and flat. The countryside around the Priddy Mineries reminds me, a bit anyway, of Dartmoor. The colours and wetness have that feel to them, and the intrerruption of old mine workings is reminiscent too. I even had to jump between divets of grass on a boggy section.

This feeling is further enhanced by the presence of Bronze Age monuments. Priddy Nine Barrows and the Ashton Hill Tumuli are a spectacular group of ancient burial mounds. I struggled to take a good picture. You really need to be there surrounded by them. They are not dramatic like Stanton Drew circle, but they are a stark reminder of our history and how little we really understand of the past. Definitely worth a visit. Priddy Circles, however, have lost whatever glory they once had. It is almost impossible to make anything out on the ground now. Presumably this bleak, barren, windy spot was once a significant place. Folklore has it, by the way, that one of the barrows contains a gold coffin.

It was now just a short walk along Nine Barrows Lane back to Priddy. I took a brief detour to visit the church, but it didn’t seem to be open. As I mentioned, I felt too muddy to visit the pub on this occasion. So there is at least one reason to go back! But there are plenty more. A very beautiful part of the world.

Distance: 8.3 miles


Station to Station: Freshford to Avoncliff

That rarest of rare things – an afternoon without the kids. A beautiful crisp sunny February afternoon at that. So what could be better than a short stroll along the canal? A short stroll along the canal that also takes in two stations – that’s what!

This was intended to be a longer walk, but we started a bit later than planned. Oh yes, we. On this occasion I was walking with my wife – something we don’t get the opportunity to do on our own very often. Walking with the kids is fun too, but this was a proper treat.

We parked up at Avoncliff Station – kinda. We tucked in on a verge alongside the narrow road some distance from the station in fact. Avoncliff is a tiny station, that well deserves its original title of Avoncliff Halt. Judging from how full the car park is it is a popular place for starting a walk . We caught the train to Freshford, a 3 minute journey.

Freshford is an altogether different affair, the long sweeping platforms seem vast after the diminutive Avoncliff. But it is still pretty. There is a garden that for years was maintained by the Vaisey sisters, daughters of the village doctor. When it was restored by local villagers in 2007, Network Rail reportedly swept in and chopped it all down! It was looking pleasant when we were there, so I suppose it has now been re-restored. You can read about the incident here: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/columnists/miles-kington/miles-kington-the-railway-station-garden-that-set-a-rival-village-apart-464377.html

We then walked through the fields, crossing under the railway line at Limpley Stoke. This was the decision point. The original plan was to walk up the hill and through the woods to Monkton Combe before heading down to Dundas Aqueduct. But time was already ticking on, so instead we crossed the Avon via the road bridge and joined the Kennet & Avon Canal.

The walk back along the canal was perfectly peaceful – apart from the occasional interruption from the trains. It was, as all walks along canals are, easy going. Other than that, there isn’t actually much to say about it. We walked past a sign describing the history of Murhill Wharf and Tramway, where stone was transported from the nearby quarry. There are apparently some GWR remnants to be seen, but we missed them this time.

Before long we were back at Avoncliff, walking over the impressive aqueduct. If you look carefully, you can see that the central section has a pronounced sag. This happened shortly after the aqueduct was completed in 1801, and it has had to be repaired many times since.

All walks that end at a pub are worth doing, and this one was no exception. It says something about the peculiarity of the weather at the moment, that we sat outside with our drinks. In February. In our coats, of course, but even so. A perfect end to a pleasant walk.