First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
One dark night long ago the huntsman at Alfoxton Manor was eaten by his own hounds, so says the tale. He got up from his bed to quell a dogfight in the kennels, and they didn’t recognise him in his nightshirt.
Setting off from Holford on a glorious winter day of blue sky above the Quantock Hills, we stopped to admire the old dog pound beside the path to Alfoxton. What a pity those hungry hounds hadn’t been safely penned up behind its stout stone walls.
William and Dorothy Wordsworth came to roost at Alfoxton (then ‘Alfoxden’) in the summer of 1797. Nearby lived their new best friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
We passed the manor house, solid and white among beautiful beech and oak woods. Coleridge and the Wordsworths walked daily over the hills and through the deep wooded combes of Quantock, ‘three people, but one soul’, as Coleridge put it. Rumours spread that the three strangers were spies for Napoleon, and the Wordsworths had to leave their Eden in the Quantocks, never to return.
Along the drive missel thrushes with spotted throats were busy raiding the cherry trees whose scarlet fruits dangled at the end of long stalks. The birds darted from tree to tree with their characteristic muscular wing thrusts and direct, purposeful flight.
Red deer hinds went trotting springily across the paddocks among the horses. The Quantock Greenway path wound at the foot of the hills, with breathtaking views opening northwards over the Bristol Channel, its tides stained a milky mulberry hue by the mud of many estuaries. As we gained height we made out the upturned hull shape of Steep Holm island, the white lighthouse on neighbouring Flat Holm, the long spine of Mendip running inland, the far coast of Wales in a blur of distance – and on the shore below, the giant’s geometry set of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, still laboriously a-building.
Up on the top the wind blew cold. We followed wide grassy bridleways where hill ponies with ground-sweeping tails cropped the verges. A fantastically exhilarating ramble, east along the ancient green trackway evocatively titled The Great Road, then slanting steeply down to join the homeward path in the depths of Hodder’s Combe with its skein of rustling brooks and springs.
‘Upon smooth Quantock’s airy ridge we roved
Unchecked, or loitered ’mid her sylvan coombs*.’
That’s how Wordsworth remembered those happy Quantock days in ‘The Prelude’, and it neatly summed up our day, too.
How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate, some short climbs; moorland and valley tracks, some muddy; streams to ford
Start: Holford Bowling Green car park, Holford, Bridgwater TA5 1SA (OS ref ST 154410)
Getting there: At Holford (A39, Bridgwater-Minehead) follow lane by Plough Inn (brown sign ‘Combe House Hotel’) to car park.
Walk: Left along valley road. Follow ‘Quantock Greenway’/QG (green arrows), and ‘Coleridge Way’/CW (quill symbol) for 2 miles. Cross Smith’s Combe stream (132422, signposted); continue on QG, CW. Pass conifer plantation; in 150m, sharp left (129423, fingerpost, blue arrow/BA) up bridleway. In 450m at top of slope, left at track crossing (127420). Follow broad green bridleway south for 1 mile, keeping ahead over all track crossings, to Great Road trackway (132407, fire beaters). Left; in ⅔ mile, descend across widespread track crossing (141410); in 150m, fork right beside trees (BA, ‘No Vehicles’). In 300m cross track (145408); descend into Hodder’s Combe. Ford streams (144403); left along far bank for ¾ mile to car park.
Lunch: Plough Inn, Holford (01278-741652, holfordvillage.com)
Accommodation: Combe House Hotel, Holford TA5 1RZ (01278-741382, combehouse.co.uk)
Info: quantocks.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk