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:

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.

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

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.

Station to Station: Lawrence Hill to Bristol Temple Meads

A quick post this morning while waiting for a train in Bristol. I arrived at Temple Meads way earlier than I needed to so decided I might as well visit a station I’ve not been to before. The nearest one is Lawrence Hill, so I bought a ticket and hopped on the early train to Cardiff.

The trip to Lawrence Hill is only a few minutes. The train was fairly busy – presumably mostly with commuters. A few got on at Lawrence Hill, but I think I was the only one to get off. There isn’t much to say about the station itself. It sits in a cutting nestled below the A420. Two platforms, basic facilities. Exactly what’s needed in a location like this.

The walk back is about a mile, and is mostly along the Bristol and Bath cycle path. It was busy with bikes so wits need to be kept! Honestly, the walk is not hugely picturesque or anything like that, although the Railway Passage murals are worth a look.

So now I’m back at Temple Meads – still with over an hour before my train!

Studying Study and Researching Research

A Hole

A recent existential crisis (which I am, of course, deliberately overstating for effect) prompted me to wonder “What is missing from my life?” After much agonised introspection, it turns out that the answer for me is “study”. I have an academic mindset and when I am not engaged in studying and researching I grow bored and restless. It also seems that, for me to really engage, there needs to be something at stake. It is not enough for me to just be studying for interest – I need some pressure and deadlines!

In my younger days I studied Mathematics, got a first in my BSc and went on to study for a PhD. For reasons I wont go in to here, I didn’t get my doctorate. Although I don’t regret the decisions I made at the time (I got a good job and have gone on to have a satisfying career without it) it does niggle. I have a personal goal to put it right.

I have recently finished a BA in Humanites with Philosophy with the Open University. This started out as an attempt to broaden my thinking and move away from Mathematics and Engineering. It worked. Although Pure Mathematics will always be my first love, these days I consider myself more a Philosopher than a Mathematician.

Stop Finding Reasons Why Not

After I finished my OU degree, I was sure that I could never do any more study. I had found making the time was getting increasingly difficult and stressful – with a growing family and a stressful job. Moreover, OU courses are now *way* more expensive than they were when I started. I don’t know that I would ever have started if they cost what they do now.

I was set in this thought: there is no way I can find the time or the money to do any more study, so don’t even think about it. But I had to think about. It sounds absurd, but studying feels like my calling. So instead of finding reasons why not, I started looking for ways to break down the barriers.

Financially – there are options. I am (I think) eligible for postgraduate loans that can cover the course fees. Even if not, I am sufficiently financially stable that other loans can be considered. For now, I have decided to worry about this aspect later since solutions exist.

The harder problem is time. I sat down and tried to work out how to carve out the 16-18 hours that the OU suggest is required. Anyone who knows me wont be surprised to know I made a spreadsheet to help…  I quickly realised this was not going to be possible without making some changes to my working pattern. I nervously broached the idea of working Compressed Hours at work – freeing up a day a week by working longer hours on other days. To my amazement, they not only agreed but couldn’t be more supportive.  I only have an informal arrangement at the moment, and am trialling this pattern for a period to make sure it works for both of us.

Giant Leaps or Small Steps

So now I know it’s possible. The next question is what to study – both subject and level. Given my goal of achieving a PhD, should I keep my eyes on the prize and try to jump straight into postgraduate research?

I have struggled to make this decision, swinging wildly between ambition and caution. In the end, I have decided to study for a Master’s degree first. While this puts off the end goal by a couple of years (and adds many thousands of pounds to the total cost!)  it nevertheless addresses the immediate hole in my life and that is what started this whole darn thing off in the first place. It does move me towards my goal – just in smaller steps.

The other consideration is that to put a credible research proposal together for a PhD, I need to have a credible research question in mind. I do not. Although I could probably work something up over the next few months, realistically I am not close enough to the cutting edge of research in any area to do this – nor do I have any contacts, or access to libraries. As long as I keep the prize in mind, I can address all of this while studying my Masters.

The broad topic is obvious to me – I will continue my Philosophy studies. Relearning all my mathematics from 20 years ago would be a struggle (an interesting one of course). However, there are other topics that I find fascinating and would love to incorporate – not least Artificial Intelligence. If I *do* end up studying something around AI, work have hinted there may even be some sponsorship available.

As to mode of study, Distance Learning is the obvious fit for me. I am used to, and enjoy, studying this way having been a student with the Open University for many years. The downside is that, for Masters level study at least, this severely limits my options.

It is possible that I may be able to study Part Time at a local university. There are not many realistic candidates: University of Bristol, University of Bath, University of the West of England, Bath Spa. Of these, only Bristol has a philosophy department in the right sort of area. I plan to contact them for more details,  but I think I would prefer to maintain the flexibility that distance learning brings. Work may well give me the opportunity to build up some relationships with researchers at Bristol, and I have a sneaky eye on studying for my PhD there.


I will study for a Philosophy Masters by distance learning, with an eye to moving on to a PhD afterwards – perhaps ideally at the University of Bristol.

I plan to document my learning and journey on this blog – so stay tuned.

Note - I consider my study as a mental peregrination. If you only want to read my physical peregrinations, ignore posts with the category of Study. Thanks!

Station to Station: Buckenham to Cantley

I took the opportunity of a family holiday visiting friends in Norwich to get in a stroll along the River Yare between two stations on the Wherry Line – Buckenham and Cantley.

Buckenham is one of the country’s least used stations – the tenth least used in 2016/17 – with only 122 Entries and Exits. This is partly at least due to its remoteness. There is literally nothing else around. But this is also its appeal. Being right by RSPB Strumpshaw Fen must surely make it a useful stop for birdwatchers? Not being one myself, perhaps there are other better places nearby.

The low usage numbers are not helped by the paucity of services of course – 1 each way on a Saturday, 5 each way on a Sunday and none at all in the week. It is also a request stop. Given all this, I was slightly surprised to find 2 other people got off at the same time as me. One of whom had a swish camera and took pictures of the station sign. There is at least one person as pointlessly obsessed with doing this as me!

I didn’t have long to hang around at Buckenham since I needed to be sure of catching the train at Cantley. The route is pretty straightforward following an obvious path along the banks of the Yare. It is also stunningly beautiful on a sunny Sunday morning.

I was intrigued by The Beauchamp Arms on the other side of the river. These days there is no easy way to get across, although it seems there used to be a ferry. Now that could make this into an even more appealing walk!

Other than the stunning scenery, the profusion of Azure Damselflies and the pleasantness of the weather there isn’t much more to say about the walk through the Cantley Marshes. It is easygoing  although the heat of this particularly morning sapped my energy faster than I was anticipating.

The sugar factory is an impressive human intervention on the landscape. I always enjoy the counterpoint. For a sense of scale, the Reedcutter pub can be seen just beneath the tanks.

Cantley station is another wonderful small station, although significantly better used than Buckenham, with a correspondingly higher level of service. It also has a traditional manually controlled gate level crossing. The signalman physically leaves the signal box and closes the gates across the road. This is wonderful and feels like a direct connection to a bygone age. I don’t know how much longer this will be here – I presume there must be plans to upgrade the signalling along this line  and the level crossing would probably be a casualty of that – so catch it while you can!

The journey back to Norwich was less pleasant than the journey out – a single carriage train which was full to bursting. Passengers were even turned away at Brundall station. Still, this did not detract from a wonderful morning walk through the Norfolk countryside.

All the Plymouth Stations

Finding myself in Plymouth over the Easter weekend, I took the opportunity to do something I have been wanting to do for ages – embark or disembark at all the stations in Plymouth. These days, in this denuded railway age, there are 6 stations: Plymouth, Devonport, Dockyard, Keyham, St Budeaux Ferry Road and St Budeaux Victoria Road.

Of course, there used to be many more stations in Plymouth. Wikipedia lists 29, although some of these are outside my mental map of what counts as Plymouth. Nevertheless, that leaves ample opportunity to seek out remains and remnants in the future – perhaps following in the footsteps of  Hidden Plymouth. Even in my own lifetime, some very impressive pieces of railway infrastructure have gone – such as the Ford Viaduct which was demolished in the 1980s. In theory, I should remember it but I don’t.

Plymouth to St Budeaux Ferry Road

I started on a Saturday evening by taking a train from Plymouth station itself to St Budeaux Ferry Road. Not many services stop at St Budeaux Ferry Road – 4 a day each way on a weekday, 2 on a Saturday and only 1 on a Sunday. This station is on the main line between Plymouth and Penzance, and the services to and from this station are the stoppers which service this route.

There isn’t much to say about the station itself – 2 platforms, reached by taking the road bridge. This is the least used Plymouth Station – 3976 entries and exits in 2016-17 (so about 11 a day). This is not surprising given the low level of service.

St Budeaux Victoria Road to Devonport

The next day (Easter Sunday itself) I walked along Wolseley road from my in-laws house to the other St Budeaux station – St Budeaux Victoria Road. This is literally across the road from Ferry Road, but is the first stop on the Tamar Valley Line between Plymouth and Gunnislake.

These days the Tamar Valley Line is single track, but there is a long disused second platform here – a remnant of when this formed part of the route into Plymouth from London via Okehampton. The other consequence of the single track running is that the driver has to leave the train here to either pick up or replace a physical token stored in a secure cabinet on the platform. Without the token, the train is not allowed to proceed onto the line.

The journey to Devonport station does not take long. The guard seemed rather surprised by my ticket – yes, I am geeky enough to want a ticket naming each of the stations I visit.

Devonport station was my local station when I lived in Plymouth, but I rarely used it.

Dockyard to Keyham

Next step was to stroll between Devonport and Dockyard stations – not a very long walk, but it took me along streets that I haven’t had cause to visit for many many years.

Much to my delight I discovered a new (to me at least) record shop on Albert Road – Dockyard Discs. I will definitely be paying a visit next time I am down.

Dockyard station is the smallest of the Plymouth Stations. It is also a request stop, which is always exciting. Much to my surprise, there was someone else waiting. We both stuck our arms out. The guard by now I think had twigged what I was up to and gave me a wry smile. I got a slightly sarcastic wave  when I got off again about 1 minute later at Keyham!

Keyham is a much larger station than seems necessary these days, with two long platforms linked by a substantial footbridge, which leads all the way out via the houses on Admiralty Street. The footbridge passes over what used to be the marshalling yard, which still contains one siding. It looks like it is occasionally used – presumably in relation to the branch in to the dockyard which is just around the corner. There are occasional nuclear waste trains in and out which I would like to catch one of these days.

And that was it! Just a short walk home. All the Plymouth Stations visited (and named tickets stuck in the scrapbook).


Exmouth and the Avocet Line

A family holiday to Exmouth promised plenty of opportunities for scenic and interesting inter-station walks. Sadly, the weather gods had other ideas and most of my planned adventures will have to wait for another time. We did manage to dodge the rain a few times however.

Our first trip was to Teignmouth – to visit a vintage shop (Hello Retro) and a record shop (Scene & Heard). The record shop was worth a visit, though I didn’t buy anything and I’m not sure there would have been anything there to buy no matter how hard I looked.

The intention was to walk from Teignmouth along the coast path around to Dawlish and catch the train back from there. Unfortunately, the sea wall had recently been damaged at Sprey Point and it was not possible to complete the route. Nevertheless, even the part we did fulfilled a lifelong ambition to walk along this part of the coastal path. I have whizzed past in the train more times than I can count. It was every bit as good as I imagined – the trains are frequent, the drivers always wave and toot at the kids, it’s just brilliant.

And we had a special bonus. We happened to be walking along the line as the Royal Train passed, taking the Queen back from Plymouth where she was attending the decommissioning of HMS Ocean. Now I’m not much of a fan of the Royal Family, but this was still an impressive sight. My son was particularly excited for some reason. And yes, the driver of the royal train also waved and tooted.

The next excursion took us from Exmouth to Exton. We walked back along the Exe Estuary Trail to Lympstone Village to catch the train back to Exmouth. This was a short walk, but we were dodging heavy showers so it was long enough!

Exton is a tiny but very picturesque station perched right on the edge of the Exe estuary. It is theoretically a request stop, but every train we went on stopped there regardless of whether anyone was getting on or off. It is the least used of the Avocet Line stations, averaging about 70 people a day in 2016/17.

The walk back to Lympstone is along a very well maintained cycle path, so was flat and easy. It takes you past the Royal Marines Training Centre, which has its own station (opened in 1976) which is only for use by people with business at the base. The gate was open, but I was too much of a wuss to actually go onto the station! I did snap a picture of the sign (to add to my collection)  from the train.

Lympstone Village station is another small one platform station, as you would of course expect. There is the remant of a second platform very overgrown, but this must have been disused for a very long time. The photo on the Cornwall Railway Society website [1] from 1974 show it was already disused then. Just down the hill is a very nice pub, The Swan Inn, which was busy when we visited. Always a good sign.

I didn’t manage to do most of the walks I planned, so I have plenty of incentive to visit this amazing part of the world again (my kids also want to revisit the swimming pool at Devon Cliffs) so I am sure I’ll be back!


Pensford and the Bristol and North Somerset Railway

A walk starting and ending in Pensford taking in the Medieval Wasndyke and the more modern remains of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway.

This walk was basically a 6 mile circular route around Pensford, although on my route map below you’ll see that I stopped recording at the pub in Belluton. Can’t imagine what happened there…

For anyone that knows Pensford at all, there is one very obvious and very impressive relic of the old B&NSR – Pensford Viaduct. At 995 feet long and 95 feet tall it dominates the local scenery. It was the most expensive and difficult part of the construction of line. It was reported at the shareholders meeting in January 1865 that the piers needed excavations of 20 feet to reach any sort of foundation [1]. Sadly there is no access to the viaduct itself these days, but even walking underneath is awe-inspiring.

The walk heads under the viaduct towards Norton Malreward – one of my favourite local place names – taking in some terrific views of the Chew Valley along the way, especially after the steep climb up Guy’s Hill.

Norton Malreward sits below the hill of Maes Knoll, an iron-age hill fort. Maes Knoll also marks one end of the Wansdyke, a medieval linear defensive earth work which (possibly) ran from here to Morgan’s Hill in Wiltshire. I say possibly – there is some debate about whether it used to extend further west, but if so there is very little if anything left of it . Also, it is not clear at all that it was one contiguous feature – the West Wansdyke from here to Monkton Combe and the (more impressive) East Wansdyke in Wiltshire may or may not have been connected.

Either way, I tried to pick out what remains of the dyke can be seen on the ground. The answer, at least in the first site I visited, is “not much”. In the photo above the Wansdyke follows the route of the hedge. There is a scar of green grass highlighted against the ploughed field in the middle distance that may mark it out. The hill on the horizon is Stantonbury – the site of another hill-fort on the route of the Wansdyke and no doubt the target of another day’s walk.

After the super impressive remains of the viaduct, the next encounter with the B&NSR is a little underwhelming. Still, the road-bridge near to New Barn Farm in the photo above is actually what I came to see. There was no obvious way to get a shot of the arch itself without leaning perilously out over the edge. Maybe I should get a selfie stick for this sort of thing!

The rest of the walk was along minor roads – it turns out that I find this quite tedious, and after a few miles I was really missing the muddy fields! Nevertheless there were some interesting things to see along the way. Walking down Blackrock Lane I passed another section of the Wansdyke, which by eye was rather more obvious, but which I struggled to capture with the camera.

Nearing journeys end, just past the village of Publow, was the second B&NSR railway bridge that I wanted to see. This one is labelled FNS3 17-55. I don’t know what these labels mean, or how old they are – but I’m going to keep collecting them!

This one did have a handy nearby gate that facilitated a sneaky peak from the side. I realise this is a slightly singular pursuit, but I am enjoying visiting these half forgotton relics. Even these small bridges must have taken a fair amount of effort, planning and financing – and yet now they serve very little purpose. I find this a sobering thought.

And finally – a walk that finishes (well nearly) at a pub! I’ve been meaning to visit the Traveller’s Rest for years but have never previously made an excuse. It was before noon when I arrived, so I wasn’t surprised to find it empty – but I was pleasantly surprised to find a reasonable range of beers on offer. I had a decent pint of Travellers Ale from Box Brewery (an obviously re-badged version of one of their core range). A pub that definitely warrants a return visit.

On old OS maps the Traveller’s Rest is called the Railway Hotel and indeed it is located close to where Pensford Station used to be. Pensford was apparently the least used station on the line despite being intended to serve the whole of the Chew Valley. There is nothing left now to mark the location of the station, other than the name of the road.

A bonus at the end of the walk – I popped in to the cafe in the centre of Pensford for a coffee since I had 20 minutes to wait for my bus. On the wall were some old photos of the village, including the view above which is a remarkably similar photo to the one I had coincidentally taken 2 hours previously. It is (and always has been) a lovely view!

[1] Western Daily Press, Thursday Feb 2nd 1865

Station to Station 2: Castle Cary to Bruton

My second Station to Station walk was between Castle Cary and Bruton – a walk that took me about 2 hours on foot and about 7 minutes back on the train!

I really don’t know very much about the town of Castle Cary, despite driving past it every day on my commute. I didn’t learn much about it today since the station is outside the town and my route took me around the outskirts through the adjoining village of Ansford.

From this point on the walk follows the Leland trail, named after John Leland, librarian to King Henry VIII. This trail is a reconstruction of part of the route he took when visiting South Somerset between 1535 and 1543 cataloging the contents of monastic libraries and antiquities. Sounds like a great job to me.

I deliberately chose this route to walk along a track that I’ve noticed almost every day and  wondered where it went – Solomon’s Lane. I do this a lot with footpaths. It transpires that until the road slightly further south was turnpiked in 1793, this was the main route to Bruton [1]. It doesn’t look much today. I wonder who Solomon was?

At the end of Solomon’s Lane, the path continues across some lovely Somerset countryside. Some slightly grumpy cows didn’t really want to move, so I walked off route a bit to give them some more room. The path continues through an orchard before arriving back at the road near to the village of Cole.

After passing under the current railway line, the road eventually passes under another bridge that once carried the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway on its route from Evercreech to Cole. There isn’t that much left to see of it in this area, but it does seem to haunt all my walks. By the way, this bridge is labelled SAD-116, and another one that the road passes over SAD-115. I’m not sure whether these labels are original or not, but I can feel a box ticking exercise coming on.

The last part of the walk is across the wide open fields of Wyke Farm, and finally down a well trodden lane into Bruton itself. Bruton is a very pretty town, full of history and tradition. It’s also, well, I can’t quite find the word – posh isn’t quite it, nor does hipster quite cover it. The fact that the Spar sells craft beer and Quinoa crisps maybe sums it up. I like it, by the way.

Frustratingly, I hadn’t left myself enough time to visit either of the pubs along the High Street, nor to pop into the museum. I fully intend to do this walk again, but using a more direct (hence quicker) route so that I can explore the town itself a bit more. This time I just headed straight for the station.

Bruton station is pretty quiet. (40660 entries and exits in 2016-17: 111 people a day). It was originally built as part of the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway, opening in 1856. These days it has a sporadic service through the day  – not regular. Hence the importance of catching my particular train, otherwise I had a 2 hour wait.

And so finally back to Castle Cary station, which sits astride the Taunton to Reading Line and the Bristol to Weymouth Line. It has a large (and quite cheap) car park to attract commuters, which is often quite full. However, the station really comes in to its own for the Glastonbury festival, when for a long weekend it is absolutely heaving – and well worth avoiding if you are not a festival goer.

Post walk note – I left my camera on a stile in the middle of this walk. I had to drive to a point as close to it as I could get and walk through the muddiest field I have ever seen in the vain hope that it might still be there. It wasn’t. However, a very kind woman had just picked it up for safe keeping and saw me striding with purpose and guessed it might be mine. And so I was reunited! I am incredibly grateful for kind strangers.

[1] ‘Ansford’, in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 10, ed. Mary Siraut (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 85-100. British History Online [accessed 4 February 2018].