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. Stanton Drew 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.