Mendip Way Circular #1

This year I have decided to explore The Mendips since they are right on my doorstep. I spend a fair bit of time driving through and over them, but haven’t spent any time exploring on foot for years. To this end, I have planned a series of 17 Circular walks of between 6 and 9 miles (ish) which cover the whole of The Mendip Way.

The Mendip Way runs almost 50 miles from Uphill, near Weston-super-Mare, to Frome. It is divided into the West and East Mendip Ways, with the join in Wells. It seems a pretty good way to see a good range of what The Mendips has to offer. There is lots more information here http://www.mendiphillsaonb.org.uk/walks/

I’m not going to do my walks in order, and this first one is actually #12 in the series. It starts and ends in Shepton Mallet, which makes parking easy. The walk starts by heading west out of Shepton to pick up a footpath alongside the old Wells and Witham branch of the East Somerset Railway. There is a wealth of impressive old railway infrastructure in this part of the world (of more later) and here the remains of the road bridge and the route of the trackbed are obvious.

The route is then via the wonderfully named Dungeon Lane and Dungeon Farm. I’m nervous when a footpath leads through a farm, and today I could hear dogs barking in the distance. I needn’t have worried though, the farm seemed deserted and the route up the hill was clear. The view from the top was worth the effort of the climb – showing off this part of Somerset particularly well on a crisp February afternoon.

Next was a steep drop down to Croscombe. I avoided the temptation of the pub on this occasion (only because I had started a lot later in the day than intended) and headed straight up the hill on the other side. After the steep drop, I was anticipating a steep climb and I certainly got one. A reminder that I have a long way to go with my fitness! I also had to negotiate a field full of angry, aggressive, large horned sheep. Sheep usually move out of the way, so I was surprised when they all ran towards me, bleating loudly and stamping their hooves. I took a circuitous route which seemed to satisfy them.

From the top of the hill, it was a quick jaunt along West Lane before finally picking up the East Mendip Way. This part of the Mendip Way takes you across fields and farmland towards Ham Woods, and is very pleasant walking. It is well waymarked and I could put the map away and just follow the signs.

I was looking forward to Ham Woods, not least because of the tantalising word “Viaduct” on the map. I was not disappointed. The woods themselves were very atmospheric, full of winding, ancient looking, moss covered trees. And then the viaduct appeared, the sun came out and everything was simply stunning. The viaduct used to carry the Somerset & Dorset railway over this secluded valley – it probably has one of those SAD numbers that I had started to collect previously, but I couldn’t get close enough to see. There are other footpaths which lead close to the top. I will definitely be back.

Ham Woods was not done with me yet, though. The path meanders through the woods, over some steep banks which required proper scrambling. This part of the Mendip Way is not “accessible”. The effort was really rewarded by Ham Wood Quarry. It suddenly got cold, there was crunchy frost underfoot and really eerie mist rising from the ground. I think I caught it at exactly the right moment. The dying sun peeking over the top of the cliffs and waking the ground. It was beautiful, and my photo does not do it any justice at all.

This was also my first encounter with the famous Mendip geology, as you can see in the top right of my photo of the quarry and the one directly above. I know very little about geology, so I’ve bought myself a couple of books on the area to educate myself. I believe this is Downside Stone, but I may be entirely wrong!

The walk from here, after ascending some steep steps to the top of the quarry, drops gently down across the fields and through the lanes back into Shepton Mallet. There are some more examples of disused railway infrastructure, although on this route you don’t get to see the other two even more impressive viaducts. All in all, this was a fantastic start to my Mendip adventures. I can thoroughly recommend this section of the Mendip Way.

Station to Station: Thornford to Yetminster

A quick jaunt after work on a pleasant winters day, taking in two small Dorset request stop stations, a pub and (a new obsession) a place called Beer.

I started by catching the train at Castle Cary to Thornford. I knew I had to ask the guard to let me off at Thornford, but I struggled to get any of the train staffs attention. It turned out this was because they were discussing a man who had left the train at Castle Cary – after urinating out of the train doors. Alcohol can be a bad thing!

I was not the only request stopper at Thornford, which was not a complete surprise. According to the usage figures there are roughly 10 entries and/or exits a day (3,448 a year). It would be a very nice place to live and commute from, and I suspect that was the reason for my fellow traveller’s departure.

The station is about a mile from the village itself, but there is a dedicated footpath and it is a very simple walk. I only saw a small section of the village, so any judgement I make about it would be unfair. I’ll still do it though. There were lots of Range Rovers and even a Maserati. I doubt there is much affordable housing. But it was very pretty, and the pub (The Kings Arms) was very good. I had a tasty pint of Dorset Rogue by Piddle Brewery.

My next port of call was Beer Hackett. The route there was via two connected lanes – Horsepool Lane and Claypits Lane. I love walking along tree lined lanes like this. It is easy to imagine people tramping along them for generations, essentially unchanged now from then. Even though many modern roads follow traditional routes, they have lost that feeling. On this particular day, however, it was very soggy underfoot and the benefits of modern metalled roads were obvious.

The lanes eventually lead me back to the road, just outside the village of Beer Hackett. Me being me, I immediately started wondering how many places there are called “Beer” and can I visit them all? I don’t know the answers to these questions – but expect occasional pictures of signs as I add to my collection!

I didn’t hang around long in Beer Hackett, but I did visit the churchyard. The sun had come out, and the church looked splendid. I had to hurry on to catch the train, so I didn’t explore inside. Something for another day.

The footpath from Beer Hackett to Yetminster crosses the railway line. I am always childishly excited at these crossings. On this occasion, I could be fairly certain there would not be any trains – the next one due would be the one I was on. Nevertheless, I sense a certain very low level danger when actually stepping over the rails, which is crazy!

I arrived at Yetminster with no time left to explore the intriguing looking antiques shop and cafe near the station, let alone time to venture into the village or find the pub. I am planning a walk from Chetnole to Yetminster, so hopefully I may have more opportunity next time. I did get to hear the distinctive chime of the church clock. Every three hours, it plays the national anthem!

Yetminster station itself is small and lacking in facilities, but was clearly larger in the past. I don’t know when the second platform closed, nor the enormous derelict Railway Inn right beside the platform. I rather like the concrete stairways down to the platform from the road. Yetminster is another request stop, twice as well used as Thornford. Yet again, I was not alone in signalling clearly to the driver.

All in all, a very pleasant walk, although I wish I had not dawdled so much at the beginning to give me more time in Yetminster.