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

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 slÅ“get 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


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.