Bridgwater to Highbridge along the River Parrett

It has been quite some time since I last did a station to station walk, for reasons that don’t need stating. While I remain wary, I am gradually re-acquiring my fondness for public transport – though I really wish that mask wearing remained compulsory. The day began with a walk of a couple of miles to the nearest place buses to Bristol call on a Sunday (another time, I’ll be happy to have a long discussion on the poor quality of public transport when the journey is between two council areas, despite the existence of West of England Combined Authority as regional transport authority… but not today). I’ve not done much walking recently, first because it was too hot, then because it was too wet. Today I had decided to keep smiling whatever the weather. Still, it was annoying to get soaked by an unexpected shower on this first leg, before I had even really started!

After a damp bus journey, I caught the train to Bridgwater from an eerily quiet Bristol Temple Meads. Network rail are currently making significant improvements to the track layout at Bristol East Junction, as well as to the station buildings (including restoring the roof and making a new station entrance). Excitingly this includes making provision for additional suburban services in the future. While all this is going on, the service from Temple Meads is limited.

Bridgwater Station is rather magnificent, retaining the original buildings (not shown in their best light by my underwhelming photo). The start of the walk proper was complicated by being unsure how to get to the path – fortunately I spotted the unsigned narrow alley between two industrial buildings and emerged onto the banks of the River Parrett.

The weather continued to play its part. This first part of the walk was overgrown and my feet were quickly soaked. My shoes are waterproof, but there is only so much they can do! The situation improved markedly when the path became part of the England Coast Path. From that point on the walk is mostly on a gravelled, and very obvious, track. There was still a threat of a proper soaking though, and the funnel cloud and dark skies were a constant reminder.

The World War II pillboxes along the route were part of the Taunton Stop Line, intended to delay any invading forces long enough to allow reinforcements to arrive. There are (at least) five along this stretch of the river, and more at the Highbridge end. These are a reminder that there are much worse things than rain and poor bus services (though arguably decent, sustainable public transport will be one element in fighting climate change, which is likely to be the most important issue of all before too long.)

For the most part, the rest of the walk was easy and pleasant. The weather gradually improved, and the flat ground underfoot soon dried out. The walk is essentially a succession of views like those above. Big skies, and wide vistas across the slowly broadening river.

The outlook is very attractive, with the Quantocks to the left and the Mendips to the right.

I stopped for lunch on the opposite bank to Combwich, which presumably owes its existence to the port. These days it is mostly used to serve the construction of nearby Hinckley Point C nuclear power station – the biggest building site in Europe.

Hinckley Point is ever present, visible for miles around and the pylons are impossible to ignore. Fortunately, I like pylons. Moreover on this walk they served as a useful compass in a landscape in which it can be difficult to maintain a sense of direction. I didn’t get a selfie in my “Atomenergie? Nein Danke” T-Shirt, which is a shame!

Earlier I noted that walk was pleasant “for the most part.” These fine looking fellows were the cause of the unpleasant part. Well, not exactly these guys but their over-protective harem. They resolutely stood exactly where I needed to get to. As I warily approached I was charged by around 30 cows. This was very scary. Cows are big, and they can move surprisingly fast. I am fairly experienced with cows, and don’t usually have a problem. Normally, unless they are with their calves, they either ignore or are quietly curious. I knew not to run, but had nowhere to go. All I could do was walk steadily close to the river, speak loudly and hope they realised I was not a threat. Most did, but a few came very close and gave me no room for manoeuvre. I couldn’t, of course, walk on the muddy bank and in a wetter season I couldn’t have been where I was either. The gate was the only way through a barbed wire fence, but fortunately I noticed a small section that looked climbable, and hopped over (probably more of a clumsy leap).

Unfortunately this incident means I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this walk. In parts the path is fenced off and this really needs to be done along the whole way. I was many miles from anywhere, if I had been hurt nobody would have been there to help. If I had been walking from Highbridge I would have been entirely stuck. I know it is legal to have bulls with cows in a field with a footpath, and it is often no problem, but on a national trail (like the England Coast Path) I think you should be assured of a safe passage.

Once I calmed down, I carried on, now worried about whether there would be any further encounters. There weren’t. The last few miles opposite the incredibly flat Stert Peninsula with Burnham-on-Sea coming into view, were fantastic. The England Coast Path winds around Steart Point so at some point I will be able to look back on this walk from a different perspective. Maybe I’ll shake my fist at the distant cows.

I had noticed several beacons marked on the OS map and was curious to see what they were like on the ground. Kinda cute!

Another one of my (many) obsessions is islands, so I was keen to get a good look at Stert Island as I approached Burnham-on-Sea. It is not particularly impressive, but an island is an island. Gotta spot ’em all… According to wikipedia, it was formed in about 1798 when it broke off the Stert Peninsula. It is (as is so often the way) important for birds. You can see the (somewhat more impressive) Steep Holm in the background.

As an aside, Steart or Stert? Both it seems. According to A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes) “The name of the village and moors is pronounced locally with two syllables, that of the point and island with one.” The spelling seems to reflect that, though I am not sure I have it right everywhere in this post.

Finally, somewhat wearily, I arrived at Highbridge. I had about half an hour until the next train, so I popped in to the Coopers Arms next to the station. The fact I had a pint of Kronenbourg 1664 tells you about the selection of beer, but it was a decent looking pub nonetheless. It went down very nicely. The station itself is functional. It does have the unusual feature of being built on a bridge over the River Brue. I’m not sure how many other stations have a river.

Overall, apart from the cow incident, this was a really great walk. Easygoing, simple to navigate, relaxing and peaceful. Apart from the cows.

Distance: 14.5 miles.

Dartmoor from Ivybridge

A few photos from a recent walk, starting and ending at Ivybridge station.

The walk began with a fairly lengthy climb up the Two Moors Way, entering the Moor itself at through a gate at the top of a lane and diverting due east to climb to the top of Western Beacon. The view from the top makes all the climbing well worth it though.

I then followed the line of boundary stones to reach Butterdon Hill, and the cross inscribed trig point. I’m not sure how long the trig has been decorated in this way, but it seems appropriate on Dartmoor.

From here I followed the path of Butterdon Stone Row, the second longest on Dartmoor. Each individual stone was not always obvious, but the overall path was clear (and not just because of the track left by previous pilgrims). Stone rows have always fascinated me. A row on this scale, over a kilometre in length and comprising several hundred stones, must have taken considerable effort. Their association with cairns and other burial artefacts clearly hints at some sort of spiritual purpose. However, personally I’d love to think that that they had an entirely banal purpose and that the people who erected them would be astonished at the meanings we ascribe to them. After all, the line of boundary stones I was following before this is equally as impressive, just not really old.

There are several theories as to where the Butterdon Stone Row originally terminated. One is that Hobajohn’s cross, as seen above, marks the end of the row. This certainly seems to be the case now. Hobajohn’s cross is a curious object – not really being a cross at all. There is evidence that the stone itself has always been the terminal stone, only later being rather crudely turned into a cross. However, there is an illustrations on an old map that shows Hobajohn’s Cross as an actual cross. One potential explanation is that there used to be a cross on this (or a nearby) location which suffered some misfortune, and that this crude carving was used as a convenient replacement. Another idea is that the original Hobajohn’s Cross was on Three Barrows, or indeed that there never was another cross and this is how it has always been. You can read more on the wonderful Legendary Dartmoor page on the topic.

Another potential endpoint for the Butterdon Stone Row is the Piles Hill Longstone, which is marked on the map as recumbant but has recently been re-erected. According to the Legendary Dartmoor page on the topic, there was a boundary map from the 1800s that showed the row extending this far, although the stones are missing today. It does seem logical that this relatively impressive stone would be associated with the row, but these questions seem forever unresolvable – and I love the unknowableness.

From Piles Hill I walked over to Sharp Tor. The view from here over the spectacular Stalldown Barrow and up the Erme Valley is simply wonderful. None of my photos even vaguely do it justice. I sat for quite a while just lost in the scene before my reveries were broken by a couple of runners who clearly welcomed the opportunity for a chat as an excuse for a little breather.

The downside of starting and ending a walk with public transport is that there is a timetable to consider, and I decided I need to head back. It was a bank holiday, and if I missed my train there was a four hour wait for the next one, and I had an important engagement with pitch and putt with my daughter! I headed back along the cycle path which forms the Two Moors Way, diverting briefly to take in Spurrell’s Cross, another fascinating object with a story to tell. These days it is in a sorry state, having lost an arm and the shaft, but it is clear that the cross has an interesting design. It was restored in 1931 and again in 1954, to place it on top of a new shaft and give it some sense of how it once would have looked.

From Spurrell’s Cross I continued following the Two Moors Way and headed back to the station. I love walks from Public Transport, but Dartmoor is generally poorly served. Nevertheless this walk shows that there is much potential in walking from Ivybridge – and if I hadn’t had to hurry back there was much more to explore. I’ll be back.

Walk Distance: 9.2 miles

Station to Station: Sherborne to Templecombe

I’ve signed up for the #walk1000miles challenge this year. Last year I set myself a target of 500 “boots on” miles, and smashed it by walking 825 miles. I am also hoping that a side effect will be that I keep this blog a little more up to date too.

Today I walked a route I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I work near to Templecombe station, so travelling the 8 minutes to Sherborne and walking the 8 miles back was always on the cards. I am acutely aware of how muddy the entire countryside is at the moment, so planned a route via lanes and tracks, avoiding crossing open fields as much as possible. Nevertheless, I still found myself boot deep in stinking mud fairly often on this walk.

I left Sherborne station via the level crossing and set out through the town. Although I’ve been to the station a fair few times, I’ve never walked through the town before. It’s a really attractive place and deserves more of my attention in the future. It has a reputation as retirement central, and didn’t disappoint on that front to be honest.

Fairly soon I left Sherborne along Underdown lane towards Oborne. I had to walk through a shoot, which was slightly un-nerving, though I guess they must have spotted me since hardly anybody (or any dogs) moved a muscle while I strolled along the lane. Oborne itself is a pretty little village, but there isn’t much else to say about it. Google certainly thinks it’s most notable feature is the hotel.

I left Oborne via the bridleway that leads to Crackmore Farm. This started out as a pretty steep climb, a feature of the landscape around here, as I was about to find out. Just after the farm is Vartenham Hill, which I obviously knew would be steep from the dense contour lines on the map, but was *really* steep. The footpath is straight up too, not much in the way of zig-zagging. The view from the top was great, although the weather was not particularly conducive to prolonged sight-seeing (or indeed to seeing long distances).

I skipped around the edge of Milbourne Port and joined Old Bowden Way, heading towards Henstridge Bowden. This turned out to be another very steep climb up an extremely muddy path. Not the most fun part of the walk.

Henstridge Bowden hardly exists really, just a few out-of-my-price-range properties. From there I headed through the grounds of Bowden House towards Stowell. The track here was more like a river than a lane. A good test for the waterproofness of my boots (they passed). I considered heading into Stowell itself to have a look at the church, but I decided to save that for another day. It was a straightforward (muddy) walk back to Templecombe following the railway line. All in all, a throughly enjoyable afternoons walking.

Distance: 8.16 miles

Mendip Way Circular #5

I’ve let my blogging slip, so I have a few walks to catch up on. Rather than leave them undocumented, I’m going to do a few fairly short posts to get up to date.

This walk was another pleasant stretch of the Mendip Way, starting and ending in Shepton Mallet. Setting off across Barren Down, I soon emerged onto the main road via some steps that I have long wondered where they led. Another mystery solved!

Crossing over the road, the Mendip Way leads behind Kilver Court and into sight of the wonderful Charlton Viaduct. It used to carry the Somerset & Dorset Railway over the River Sheppey. The curve makes it really beautiful in my eyes. Still clearly serving a practical use as a car park, it is a shame walking over it is not allowed.

After a climb up Ingsdons Hill, the path drops down into Chelynch where I called into the Poachers Pocket for a pint and pickled egg. The welcome was friendly and the beer was good, and on this occasion I could take advantage of the beer garden. Browsing the internet I discovered that permission had been turned down a few years previously for a sizable solar farm on Ingsdons Hill. I mention this because I find this a difficult subject to resolve my thinking on. Ingsdons Hill is beautiful as it is, but without space being given over to renewables, this isn’t going to matter before long. The same can be said for housing of course – people need homes. But they also need life to be worth living, and for many of us that means having access to unspoilt countryside. I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions.

I enjoyed this valley on the way between Chelynch and Doulting. It doesn’t look natural to me, but there is no hint on the map that it is anything other.

The Church of St. Aldhem

Doulting itself is full of amazing old buildings. The Church of St Aldhem is named for the nephew of King Ine of Wessex, who died in the village in 709. It has a very grand spire, and apparently there is a Green Man in the vaulting of the porch – a definite reason to return. There is a natural spring here, called St. Aldhem’s Well, which is the source of the aforementioned River Sheppey.

View from the top of Whitstone Hill

From Doulting I took a south-westerly route across Doulting Sheep Sleight and up to the top of Whitstone Hill. I have looked longingly at this hill almost every morning as I drive past on my way to work. It doesn’t disappoint. It is not a spectacular hill in and of itself, but the view from the top is everything you could ask for in this part of Somerset. I sat and ate some lunch while watching a helicopter land and take off again from the direction of Worthy Farm. I hope whoever was in it was not too busy to notice the spectacular vista laid out before them.

Distance: 7.7 miles

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 ) 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

Chew Valley 3 Peaks

I spent a very pleasant Sunday morning walking the Chew Valley 3 Peaks with a friend who is in training for the Cotswold Way Challenge in a few weeks time – a 100km walk from Bath to Cheltenham. This walk is not on that scale, and neither is it in any way comparable to the famous Yorkshire 3 Peaks walk.  Instead it is a 17 mile circular route through the lush countryside surrounding the River Chew.

The 3 peaks in question are Maes Knoll, Knowle Hill and Blackberry Hill – although the route doesn’t actually take you to the top of the last two. We started in Pensford, and headed NW under the viaduct, up Guy’s Hill and through Norton Malreward. I’ve walked this route before (see this post) and remembered how much I struggled up the hills. It is gratifying that, while I was still very pleased to get to the top, it felt much easier. Progress.

Maes Knoll (flat top hill) refers to the iron age hill fort, rather than the hill itself. It was apparantly built around 250BC, by the Dobunni tribe (about whom I know very little, but I am instantly fascinated by) and if it had a defensive function, it was certainly in a commanding position. The views from the top are pretty amazing and wide ranging. There is also quite a lot still to see of the fort itself including the very prominent tump visible in the picture above.

The walk continues along the Dundry Down ridge, taking in some great views of Bristol and on into Wales. This would be a wonderful vantage point for the Bristol Ballooon Festival.

Sadly, the rest of the route, while green and plesant, doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur of the start. The path drops down the valley into Chew Magna, before heading across open fields towards Knowle Hill. We saw a lone runner from the Chew Valley 10k, suggesting he was either way behind or somewhat off piste! Sneaky shortcut perhaps?

Knowle Hill, the second of the peaks, was entirely underwhelming. I envisaged views across the Chew Valley Lake, but instead the path skirted the edge of a low mound. There was no way to leave the path and reach the “peak” either. Underwhelming.

The third peak, Blackberry Hill, is also unreachable from the public footpath, but is certainly more impressive. It is the middle of 3 hills, known as The Ooozles. We didn’t trespass to reach the trig point, but instead reached the peak of Barrow Hill, the hill next door. On the top is a Cold War Bunker, locked and behind a fence of course, but interesting all the same. There are plenty of pictures of the inside online (see this interesting post from the Urban Explorer) and until recently you could visit on Heritage Open Days. It was sold last year (for £23,000) so I dont know if the new owner will keep that up.

This was the end of our walk, having done all 3 peaks. Obviously, given it is circular, the route loops back to Pensford. I’ll be back to complete the loop on another occasion. It is not far from here to the Hunters Rest, where we made our way for a well earned pint and Sunday Roast.

Distance: 13 miles.

The Coal Canal Way – Walks 1 & 2

I recently bought a copy of a locally produced booklet called The Coal Canal Way – A Walkers Guide. You can buy yourself a copy from The Somersetshire Coal Canal Society or download a copy for free. It contains a series of walks which take you along the whole of the long disused Somerset Coal Canal – from the terminus at Paulton to where it joined the Kennet & Avon canal at Dundas. I’ve done this walk several times before without a guidebook, but am going to do it again following the suggested routes. As is my wont, I’m going turn them into a series of circular walks too.

The first two walks in the book, from Paulton to Radford and from Radford to Camerton, take me along paths I know inside out. I’ve walked this way dozens of times, for many years. It remains fascinating, however. The evidence of what a different place this area was in the not so distant past is everywhere. The coal canal was, for a time, an important connection to the Kennet & Avon canal for the coal mines of the Somerset Coalfield. You can read the history on the societies website. Suffice it to say, it was for a while a very busy operation, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year.

The terminus is at Timsbury Basin, and it is still a prominent feature in the local landscape. These days it provides a home for ducks and a pair of swans and is very well used by dog-walkers. But it used to service a tramline from the collieries at High Littleton and Timsbury, as well as the local Paulton Engine.

A little further along is Paulton Basin, which is being gradually and lovingly restored by volunteers. The most prominent features are the large dry dock and the stone arch bridge. The past really does make its presence felt here.

The route is then along the towpath of the canal all the way to Radford. Not so long ago, parts of the section were restored enough to actually fill with water. There is a video of the slightly ramshackle occasion when it was re-opened on Youtube, which is worth a watch. The water is not there any more, but it is amazing that it was done at all. The section in my photo above was not part of the refilling and is not the most dramatic section, but I have always had a soft spot for it for some reason.

Of course, the other link with the past in this area is the remains of the Camerton Branch of the Bristol and North Somerset Railway, which ran from Hallatrow to Limpley Stoke. The path takes you through the site of Radford Halt, although there isn’t really anything left to see. It also takes you through the decapitated bridge shown in the photo above. This bit of the walk is interesting as the path goes directly through someones garden – but it is well signposted so it doesn’t feel too awkward. It is a really lovely garden too, but it didn’t seem right to take any pictures.

Before long, you arrive in Camerton. I did’t hang around on this occasion, returning home through the fields to the south. It was a gorgeous day and an interesting walk. Although the actual Coal Canal Way walks amounted to less than 2 miles, my total walk was a 6.5 mile round trip.

Walking Home from Bath

This walk is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and at last both my ability and an opportunity have come together. For me there is something special about walking home, from anywhere. I always planned to walk home from work, when my workplace was just about close enough for that to be possible. Indeed, I had vivid dreams about doing so. I never managed it, and now I work far too far away. So I am pleased to realise this particular ambition.

I walked from the outskirts of Bath. This cut out the climb from the city centre and leaves another challenge for another day! The route I chose is a fairly obvious one from a browse of the OS maps – via Englishcombe, Inglesbatch, Priston and Timsbury. The start of my walk, along the edge of Odd Down towards Rush Hill, afforded a beautiful view looking West across the hills and valleys that I would soon be walking through.

The first port of call was Englishcombe, an historic and interesting place. I was looking forward in particular to seeing what remained of Culverhay Castle. The honest answer is not much. The earthworks are clearly visible, but overgrown and it is hard to make anything out, at least when seen from the paths I was walking along. I will be passing this way again, so I’ll check it out from some different angles.

The castle has an interesting history. Built in stages between the 11th and 13th century, it was part of the Gournay estate. It met it’s demise after Thomas de Gournay was indicted for his part in the murder of Edward II and all his estates were confiscated by the crown. This included the other villages in this area called “Gurney”, including for example Farrington Gurney and Barrow Gurney. The castle was razed to the ground and the stones used by Bath Abbey to build the nearby Tithe Barn, a subject for another walk.

I had also intended to visit Englishcombe church, but it was not open (there was a notice giving numbers to call to gain access). Still, even from the outside, it is a very pleasing building. Pevsner has lots to say about it, but mostly about the inside. Apparently the Tower and part of the chancel are Norman, and indeed Wikipedia says it was built in the 12th Century by Robert de Gournay.

I then followed the byway to Inglesbatch (or English Batch as it is called on the early OS maps). This was easy, if slightly muddy, walking. It looked like it would be much more fun in a 4×4! If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am collecting pictures of named lanes, and I felt sure this would be one to add to the collection. But there is no trace of the name on recent or early OS maps, much to my disappointment.

Inglesbatch itself is an incredibly pretty place. Another example of a place it is impossible to imagine affording to live in. I don’t imagine property comes up for sale very often in any case. There is absolutely nothing there, however, and it would take a stomp through the fields to get to the nearest pub.

Talking of which, my next stop was Priston, where I had intended to call in for a swift half. However, I had reckoned without the May Day Fair. The whole village was very busy and I didnt fancy my chances at the bar, so that treat will have to wait for another day. I didnt stop at the church either on this occasion, but hurried on to escape the crowds.

In fact, I swapped crowds of people for flocks of sheep and lambs. A good trade. The walk to Timsbury is through a valley of lush green fields, populated with the aforementioned ruminants. The slowly setting sun really made the spring-like colours pop and sheep are amusing when they nonchalantly but urgently get out of your way, so although this section was short on views I really enjoyed it.

The final part of the walk, from Timsbury to home, takes me through my usual stomping ground. It drops down from Timsbury via Mill Lane and heads along the old Somerset Coal Canal towards Paulton Basin. I’ll write a post about my local paths on another day, but today I was just relieved to be coming to the end. Overall, I had a wonderful few hours achieving an ambition I’ve long harboured.

Distance: 9.35 miles

Station to Station: Redruth to Perranwell

I’ve had this one planned for quite a while, and a weekend away in Falmouth provided the opportuntity to get boots on the ground. It was also another occasion when I was walking with company – one of my oldest friends David. The weather looked good, but we hadn’t bargained for the strength of the wind! The start of this walk was quite exposed. If you follow in our footsteps, wrap up warmer than we did!

We caught the train from Falmouth Docks, changing at Truro and heading south west to Redruth. The Penzance train was about 40 minutes late at Truro, but we were in no rush so for us this was just a minor irritation. We grabbed a coffee in the heated waiting room.

Once at Redruth, we headed out of the town via Sea View Terrace. It seemed unlikely that the the sea really could be viewed. However, as we climbed up the hill we were proved wrong. Although the weather today was not going allow us to actually see the sea, the radome covering the air defence radar at RRH Portreath was clearly visible.

Our first planned destination was Gwennap Pit. This is a grass covered amphitheatre where John Wesley preached eighteen times between 1762 and 1789. The present form came about after his death, when locals remodelled it as a memorial. Originally, it seems to have been a hollow caused by subsidence from mining activities, and presumably appeared less regular than it did now. It was larger originally too. Wesley himself claimed to have preached to 22,000 people there. Pevsner is sceptical of this, saying he “either mis-remembered or exaggerated”, but I am not so sure. Certainly there is no way that that many people could fit in the pit itself, but as this report from The Graphic on 17 June 1876 points out, there is room for large numbers in the surrounding area and large crowds still gathered even then:

But whatever Gwennap Pit was, it is now an insignificant hollow in a hill side; “looks nothing in itself, sir when it’s empty you might easily pass by and not notice it,” said a man of whom we asked our road. And he was right so that any one who expects to find the chasm, like the crater of a huge volcano, in which the engraving, so popular in West Cornwall, represents Wesley, perched on a jutting rock, preaching to assembled thousands, will be sadly disappointed. So far from being a grand chasm, “the Pit” makes no break in the unmitigated ugliness of the Redruth neighbourhood. The print, like many other prints of the kind, is untrue in every point, except in the matter of the assembled thousands. These may be seen every Whit-Monday– a great day everywhere among the Cornish Methodists. Crowded trains run at single fare, hundreds tramp in afoot, every sort of conveyance brings its quota, and, by the afternoon, when the services’ begin, there are sometimes 20,000 people gathered in and about the Pit.”

The Graphic – 17 June 1876

From Gwennap Pit, we descended into Carharrack. The view from the path above Carharrack is terrific, if (like me) you enjoy a slightly industrial landscape. The pub in Carharrack was not open, and indeed has slightly restrictive (and unusual!) opening hours scrawled on the blackboard outside – “Monday – Closed all day, Tuesday – closed, Wednesday Thursday – Closed all day, Friday Saturday Sunday, 7pm to 12:00.” I guess they know they their local market! According to the sign outside, this was “Cap’n Blood’s Tavern”. He must have been away during the week.

We then walked through Outer Wood, accompanied by increasingly severe warnings not to stray off the path. Danger of Death was enough to keep us firmly out of the trees. The dangers arise from the old mine workings of Wheal Squire, part of United Mines, which produced 20,000 tons of copper from 1816-1853. Some of my ancestors were copper miners at the time in this general area, so it is fascinating to imagine what the world was like for them. I suppose there were fewer health and safety warnings…

From here, the route was across the fields to Frogpool. I went to Frogpool just once as a child, and for some reason all I can remember is that it seemed very white! It still does – the buildings seem almost universally to be painted white. We were pleased to arrive at the (white) pub before it closed, with minutes to spare, and stopped for a pint. The clientele and bar staff seemed very friendly, and the beer was good.

From here it is a short walk along roads and byways into Perranwell. The path we choose took us via Bargus and under the railway line. It also meant that we had no choice but to go past the pub, and since it was open it would clearly have been rude not to. This was another fine pub, with good beer and an exceptionally tasty looking menu. One for another day.

From the pub to the station is only a few minutes, but we misread the timetable and the last few hundred metres were more of a rush then expected. In the end though our timing was perfect and we were soon back in Falmouth planning some more beers for the evening.

Distance: 8.2 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 slœget 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