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].