First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
There was a feeling of eternal spring on this glorious sunny morning in the Arts & Crafts village of Mells. Toddlers played in the Mells Stream. Even the cattle in the fields looked fabulously clean. We followed a bridleway eastward through Wadbury Valley, past hollows and great stone walls pierced with round and square holes, arches, deep sluices of channels, side falls and rapids – the remnants of the once-mighty Fussell’s ironworks that brought prosperity and industrial clatter to the green valley from the 1740s onwards.
A baby chaffinch squatted on a hazel branch, its parent hovering in mid-air like a humming bird as she crammed insect morsels into its open beak. A nuthatch perched upside down on a sycamore trunk, head bent back as it glanced this way and that. The river curved and forked, dwindled and swelled, while from the tangle of foliage and ferns came a constant stream of warbler and wren song.
Children splashed in the shallows. At Bedlam a boy with a shrimping net showed us his catch – two big crayfish six inches long, scuttling in and out of the light round the bottom of his bucket, claws extended in front of them. Beyond Bedlam the river swung off into Vallis Vale, past caves with twisted rock strata.
We were lucky to stumble upon De La Beche’s Unconformity. It lay behind a screen of bushes on an unmarked path, one of 19th-century UK geology’s landmark sites, a lightbulb moment of understanding about how the world was really made. A thick layer of yellow Jurassic Inferior oolitic limestone lies horizontally on top of a steeply inclined grey mass of Carboniferous limestone, fitting onto it like a cap. Yet there’s a gap of 170 million years between the two depositions. Unconformities like this helped pioneering geologists like Henry De la Beche to understand that the material that composes rocks was not laid down in one slow, smooth process, but a series of upheavals, collisions and erosion.
We wandered back along the East Mendip Way to Bedlam. Here we climbed up out of the valley and over a green ridge to find the long straight track of the old Frome-Radstock railway line, now the Collier’s Way cyclepath. We followed it west on a high embankment where the rusty old rails accompanied us, saplings growing up between them, concrete sleepers piled aside.
A short road section along Conduit Hill, and we were walking a wheatfield path toward the tower of Mells church, seemingly adrift in a sea of corn and newly mown grass.
How hard is it? 8 miles; easy; riverside and old railway paths
Start: Talbot Inn, Mells, Frome BA11 3PN (OS ref ST 728492)
Getting there: Bus 184 (Frome-Midsomer Norton)
Road: Mells is signed from A362 near Buckland Dinham, between Frome and Radstock.
Walk (OS Explorer 142): Left along street past shop. Left (730490, ‘Great Elm’). In 250m right (733490, bridleway) along Wadbury Valley beside Mells Stream. In ⅔ mile fork right (743491, ‘Wyvern Way’). In ⅓ mile join East Mendip Way/EMW (748491); follow past Bedlam for ⅔ mile. Where EMW turns right over bridge (755491), turn left; in 50m cross open space; keep ahead (narrow, unsigned path) through bushes to old quarry/De La Beche Unconformity (756492). Return along EMW; in ¼ mile, right across river in Bedlam (754495); up roadway to road (752495). Dogleg right/left across; stile (fingerpost), field path, then road; left along Colliers Way cyclepath (751498). In 1½ miles, left at Conduit Bridge (730506) along road. In 650m on left bend, ahead (728500); field paths to Mells.
Lunch/Accommodation: Talbot Inn, Mells (01373-812254, talbotinn.com)