Jan 022010

The houses of Southstoke, built of the same pale silver and cream oolitic limestone as their Big Brother city of Bath just over the hill, were lightly dusted with powder snow on this cold winter’s morning.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Over the porch of the Church of St James the Great, a Millennium carving of the much-travelled Apostle showed him staring with seer’s eyes from the shelter of a pilgrim’s scallop shell. With one shoulder bare and a crust of last night’s snow for a collar, the hero of Santiago looked a little under-dressed for the weather. Not so the two young girls busy making snow pancakes outside the Packhorse Inn – they were kitted out like crimson-cheeked polar explorers.

From the ridge beyond Southstoke a wonderful vista opened out southwards over deeply cut valleys frosted to lemon yellow and ice green. A smoky grey sky hung low, telling of more snow on the way. I pushed my hands deeper into my pockets and went crunching down the slopes of Horsecombe Vale. The cattle in the fields moved gingerly, sensing the ankle-breaking hollows concealed below the ice lids over their own hoofpocks. Warmed by their sweet, cloudy breath, I skittered down through the woods to Tucking Mill.

The tree-knotted trackbed of the former Somerset & Dorset Railway led south to Midford. The clanking steam engines of the S&D had carried me to school in the long ago, and I used to look out as we passed over Midford Viaduct to see the abandoned tracks of the Somerset Coal Canal and the Cam Valley Railway snaking away below. Although the canal was killed off when the railway opened before the First World War, it is the graceful structures of the old waterway that claim attention as one walks the Cam Valley today – a packhorse bridge isolated in a field, and three long, narrow lock basins of beautiful silvery Bath stone, empty and ivy-strangled along a hedge. The bigger, blunter instrument of the abandoned railway eventually came striding in on a tall embankment, shouldering the canal aside into the woods and hurrying me on to Combe Hay.

A proper old lane, stony and tree-lined, led up behind the Wheatsheaf Inn to the crest of the ridge and the field path back to Southstoke. I looked out over whitened fields and blackened woods, a Breughelian scene already half obscured by newly falling snow.


Start & finish: Pack Horse Inn, Southstoke, Bath BA2 7DU (OS ref ST 747612). NB Very limited parking at Pack Horse Inn; please park considerately, elsewhere.

Getting there: Southstoke is signed from B3110 between Combe Down and Midford

Walk (5 ½ miles, moderate grade, OS Explorer 155): From Pack Horse, uphill for 50 yards; right along road. Just past Southstoke House, left through kissing gate (fingerpost) across field. Cross B3110. Descend fields of Horsecombe Vale (yellow arrows/YA); cross brook; follow path to Wessex Water plant. Right; just beyond Tucking Mill viaduct, right up steps (fingerpost); follow old railway to Midford station. Right to road; left through viaduct; cross B3110 (take care!); descend steps opposite Hope & Anchor PH (fingerpost); right along Cam Valley old railway and canal path for 2 miles to Wheatsheaf Inn, Combe Hay. Right beside inn, up lane for 3/4 of a mile to road; right on path (fingerpost) to Southstoke.

Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk

Lunch: Pack Horse Inn, Southstoke (832060; www.packhorseinn.com) – sheer rural delight.

More info: Bath TIC (0906-711-2000 – 50p./min);

www.visitbath.co.uk; www.ramblers.org.uk

Christopher Somerville will be talking about his latest book, Somerville’s Travels, at Topping’s Bookshop, The Paragon, Bath (01225-428111), on Thursday 7 January at 7.45 p.m.

 Posted by at 00:00

  2 Responses to “Southstoke and Cam Valley, Somerset”

  1. Christopher – I liked your walk around Southstoke and Midford. Did you realise some of the land beside which you walked is under threat of being developed? Please can you put this article on your website so we can show people what a lovely place it is and shouldn’t be built on!

    Please go to http://www.bathnes.gov.uk

    Page 114 of the Core Strategy Document about future development in Bath & North East Somerset has an aerial view. The southern boundary of the area for development runs along the track along the escarpment edge at the end of your walk, as you come back into Southstoke, walking in an easterly direction. You can pick out the Park and Ride on the A367. If the area in question were to be developed it would cover the high plateau land between Bath and Southstoke which would just be swamped by development.

    The area is bounded by Southstoke Lane in the east, the Wansdyke (scheduled ancient monument) in the north (except for where there has already been some development), and there is a triangular field on the west of the A367 to the west. The southern boundary is the A367 and then the ridge track.

    You described Southstoke in such poetic terms. It would be an absolute disaster for it to be swamped by suburbia.

    Kind regards Jenny John

  2. Dear Christopher,

    As a long term resident of South Stoke and as Chairman of South Stoke Parish Council,I am writing to let you know how much we appreciate your publication of this beautiful walk in the Times Weekend supplement – Jan 2nd pages 22-23.

    We welcome thousands of visitors each and every year to our small Parish to undertake this and other variations of this walk through the beaufiful countryside that surrounds us. This walk and other variations of it are publicised in various national and local publications on a regular basis.

    I wonder however if you, as you completed your walk on that snowy day, realised that the very countryside you were walking through is under severe threat of potential development for an urban extension to Bath of 2,000 dwellings and other associated uses.

    As you completed the final leg of your walk all the land to your left (to the north) – the fields shown on your plan covered by the words “start/finish” – are under threat of development as part of the Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West imposed by the Government. And this is despite this land, so beautifully described by you in your piece, being part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Naural Beauty and being covered by Green Belt designation.

    If developed the beauty of the walk described by you would be utterly compromised and the wondrous sight of the views across the Cam Valley lost forever. People in future would simply not want to walk the wonderful footpaths of this area. I wonder if you or your readers in the Times Weekend supplement are aware of this very real threat – I suspect not!

    Yours sincerely Mark Dunningham Chairman – South Stoke Parish Council

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