Mist on the Quantock Hills, the gentle clop of hooves on a bridleway, and a trickle of birdsong among the big old oaks and the cathedral-high firs of Great Wood.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
In Ramscombe car park, deep in the heart of the wood, I got my bearings and a bit of background information from the pictorial notice-board. I didn’t need a pee, as it happened, but if I had done so there was a public convenience not too far away; also a picnic table, and a place for a football kickabout. Nothing out of the ordinary for a wood managed by the Forestry Commission; just an excellent example of it.
The broad, hard-surfaced track, waymarked and well-drained, led away up Rams Combe and out onto the moor where sheep were grazing and a pair of Exmoor ponies with winter-shaggy manes and tails cropped the icy grass. Along the ridge I followed the broad old packhorse way called The Drove, looking out on heavy cloud billowing like smoke over far sunlit pastures. At pink-faced Quantock Farm horses with steaming nostrils trotted excitedly after a little quad bike, from whose tray the farmer shovelled out bundles of hay.
Down into Great Wood again with one eye on the map, following signposted bridleways and waymarked footpaths, dipping into the forest along unmarked permissive paths here and there. Out at Adscombe into open country; back among the trees at Friarn Cottage on a mossy bridleway fragrant with pine resin that brought me curling down the slope to Ramscombe once more.
Nothing about the atmosphere of Great Wood scowls, ‘You’re here on sufferance, so watch your step.’ Nowhere growls, ‘Keep out!’ On the contrary – the public facilities tell you you’re welcome, and the rest of the forest says it’s fine if you’re there, no-one’s going to bother you, walk or bike or ride at your pleasure. That’s what we expect from our Forestry Commission woodland, and that – by and large – is what we get. Public loos, car parks, picnic tables, cleared paths and bridleways, waymarks, good information on site and online; can their continuation really be guaranteed to the same high standard under private management? One thing’s for sure: any new lessee neglecting that tradition of maintenance for the public good, or curtailing the public access we all enjoy, is likely to reap a pretty impressive whirlwind.
Start & finish: Ramscombe car park, Great Wood, Nether Stowey (OS
ref ST 166378)
Getting there: M5 Jct 24, A39 towards Minehead. Ramscombe signposted 1½
miles before Nether Stowey. Forest road starts at Adscombe Farm. In ⅓
mile pass Great Wood Camp (178375); in another mile, sharp right
bend; Ramscombe car park in 100m on right.
(5 miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 22): Walk back to bend; ahead (‘No
Vehicles’) on track for ⅔ miles to gate; ahead to road at
Crowcombe Combe Gate (150375). Left for 200m; left (‘Triscombe
Stone’) along The Drove. In ½ mile, in dip, left through gate
(166369; bridleway). 100m before Quantock Farm, right through gate
(blue arrow/BA). Up field hedge; through gate (BA); down to drive
(160369); right for ⅓ mile to re-enter woods. In another ¼ mile,
ahead off drive on right bend (166365, BA) on grass ride to
T-junction (168365). Descend left; in 200m, ahead across track, down
to bottom (169370). Right (Red Trail marker post) to valley road by
house (173373); right for ⅓ mile. Opposite Great Wood Camp Activity
Centre, left off road up slope (BA; ‘Quantock Greenway’/QG). In
50m take lower footpath for 250m to cross track (179378, QG). Follow
wood edge; through gate (QG); left up field edge to road (180381).
Left for 400m; by Friarn Cottage, left up track (178383; bridleway).
In 100m fork left at gate. Follow this track for ⅔ mile. At top of
long rise, right through gate (168380); immediately left on track
with hedgebank on left. Descend for 200m to go through gate (166380);
follow track down to car park.
Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Rose & Crown Inn, Nether Stowey (01278-732265);