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

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