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.