Nothing glows like the skin of a nice ripe cider apple – unless it’s the cheeks of a nice ripe cider drinker.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
You’re likely to meet your fair share of both on the Somerset Levels around this time of year, when the windfalls are lying on the ground and so are unwary samplers of the fruit of the orchard.
My friends Alan and Joy have the best of both worlds when it comes to views from their house on the ridge in Panborough village – the long green whaleback of Mendip rising on the north, and a few steps to the south a glorious prospect over the Levels, great flat grazing moors dented with old flooded peat diggings, bristly with reedbeds, their meadows divided by watery ditches known as rhynes. Down on the moors we found Dagg’s Lane Drove and walked its puddled course south over Westhay Moor in a tunnel of willows, while Megan the sheepdog went bouncing after sticks in the lush grass verges.
Centuries of peat digging have provided Westhay Moor with exactly what wild birds need – open fleets of sheltered water, wet alder woods, reedbeds to hide and nest in, seeds and insects to feed on. We were here a little too early in the afternoon to witness Westhay’s most famous spectacle, the dusk sky dance of a million wintering starlings which floats a thickening and lengthening veil of densely packed birds across half the sky. But from one of the hides we watched a mysterious large bird – not a great northern diver, not a great crested grebe – splashing and diving, lone lord of its reedy pool. A slight movement beyond a screen of alder boughs, and five well-grown cygnets with their parent swans sailed gracefully out of sight.
Turning back up Parson’s Drove, we watched a leaden block of rain marching east across the Levels, with a most brilliant rainbow stamped in a perfect arc across it. Such moments mark a walk indelibly in the memory.
Up on the ridge again we followed the lane through Mudgley, past Land’s End and Wilkins’s cider farm. I’ve spent a few drowsy afternoons in that fragrant dark cider shed watching Roger Wilkins draw a drop of sweet, a drop of dry from his barrels, blending them into a nectar to suit one’s particular palate. Temptation? You just bet. But Roger must have been elsewhere this evening. We walked on, vowing to return, heading along the sloping fields towards home, with the Levels glinting below and Glastonbury Tor intensely sunlit on the south-west horizon, washed in pure cidrous gold, a Somerset Shangri-la.
Start & finish: Panborough Inn, Panborough, near Wedmore, Somerset BA5 1PN (OS ref ST 471456)
Getting there: Bus (www.webberbus.com) Service 670 (Wells to Burnham-on-Sea). Road: On B3139 between Wells and Wedmore.
Walk (6½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 141): From Pan borough Inn, right up B3139 for 100m (careful! blind bend!). Hairpin back left up drive; bear right by house (yellow arrow/YA) along farm road. In 250m, through gate (469457); left (YA) to bottom of field. Right over stile by trough (468456; YA); keep hedge on left, cross next stile; left to cross footbridge (467455); aim halfway along end of next field for stile into North Chine Drove (466454). Right for ⅓ mile; left (461454; blue arrow/BA) down Dagg’s Lane Drove. Cross North Drain (459448); in another ½ mile, right (457440) past Viridor Hide on grass path for ½ mile to London Drove (450437). Left to road (448432); right for ⅓ mile past Peacock Farm; next right up Parson’s Drove (442432; ‘restricted byway’) for 1¼ miles to North Chine Drove (449451).
Left for 300m; right through metal walkers’ gate (445450, YA). Follow field edge, over footbridge (446453), right through gate in hedge; left up hedge for 3 fields (YA) to road (446456). Right through Mudgley for ½ mile. Just past Wilkins’s cider farm on right (454456), left (YA, ‘Moor View Cottage’) up path. In 150m, right over stile (454458). On into dip ahead; follow same contour of hill with hedge on left for ⅓ mile. Near Batch Farm, take right-hand (lower) of 2 gates (459458, YA). Cross field to Dagg’s Lane. Left up lane; opposite farm (460458), right over stile. Follow hedge to next stile, and follow field hedge to lane (464458). Forward past houses; left at end (465458, YA) up old lane, which soon bends right and downhill; but keep ahead (level) here on green lane (watch your step! some holes!) for ⅓ mile back to Panborough Inn.
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Lunch: Panborough Inn: 01934-712554; www.panboroughinn.co.uk
Wilkins’s Cider Farm, Mudgley, BS28 4TU (01934-712385; www.wilkinscider.com): 10-8 Mon-Sat, 10-1 Sun.
Westhay Moor Nature Reserve: http://www.somersetwildlife.org/westhay_moor.html
More info: Wells TIC (01749-671770); www.visitsomerset.co.uk