First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A brisk wind over the Mendip Hills scoured the sky to a delicate china blue as we set out from Rodney Stoke on the valley road to Cheddar. Daffodils were struggling out by the stream in Scaddens Lane, half their buds still hard and waxy. Scarlet elf-cap fungi lay like chucked-away orange peel among the frosted leaves in Stoke Woods, where the steep path was a stodge of dark red mud. The tips of the silver birches were just beginning to flush a milky pink, but otherwise the woods were still caught fast in their long hibernation.
At the top of the ridge we found craggy outcrops of limestone, very pale in the late winter sun, and one of those giant West Mendip views over the Somerset Levels that took in the low ridge of the Polden Hills, the Blackdowns beyond, the Quantocks further west, Exmoor in ghostly grey, and the Welsh hills beyond a broad chink of sea in the Bristol Channel. The long, canted back of Glastonbury Tor with its pimple of a tower lay at the heart of this truly remarkable prospect.
The West Mendip Way led east, an upland path through big square fields enclosed by drystone walls. Each wall contained its stile, a solid slab of limestone with steps up and down, some of the stiles three or four feet tall.
On the outskirts of Priddy, the only settlement on Mendip’s broad plateau, we turned back on a path slanting south-west down the long slope of the escarpment. The thickening light of afternoon gave the enormous view the quality of a watercolour painting, the colours blurred and melting together.
In Cook’s Fields Nature Reserve the path ran over limestone sheathed in aeolian soil, a pleasing name for the soil that blew down here 10,000 years ago on Arctic winds from the retreating glaciers to the north. Horseshoe vetch, carline thistles and autumn lady’s tresses grow in Cook’s Fields, chalkhill blue butterflies disport themselves on wild thyme – but not on a cold winter’s day such as this.
We descended over strip lynchets made by ox ploughs a thousand years ago. Lambs sprang and bleated at Kites Croft, and six jolly porkers looked over their stye wall and grunted us back to civilization down at Old Ditch.
Start: Rodney Stoke Inn, near Cheddar, Somerset BS27 3XB (OS ref 484502)
Getting there: Bus 26, 126 (Wells-Cheddar)
Road – Rodney Stoke is on A371 (Wells-Cheddar).
Walk (7 miles; moderate – one steepish climb, many stiles; OS Explorer 141. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Rodney Stoke Inn, right along A372. In 250m, left (486501) up Scaddens Lane. In 400m, left (490502) on path climbing north up field, through Stoke Woods (yellow arrows/YA). At top, over stile (487510, YA). Half right; cross stile at left end of hedge on skyline (489513). East along West Mendip Way/WMW for 1½ miles to road (512513). Lane opposite; in 250m (514514), right on WMW. Just before Coxton End Lane, right on path for 1¾ miles, south, then south-west over Cook’s Fields Nature Reserve to gate below barn (506493). Track to Stancombe Lane; left; in 50m, right down field to stile into lane; fork right to road (502493). Right; in 200m pass ‘Martins’ house on right; in 150m, left (499495, fingerpost) up Westclose Hill. At top, right for 700m to road (492497). Left to cross A371 (489497); Millway to T-junction (483499). Left; in 100m, right up Butts Lane to A371; right to inn.