A hot summer morning with a hard blue sky, the mid-Somerset hayfields already cut and dried, the hedges murmurous with bees and hover-flies. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The view from the steep slopes of Collard Hill was sensational – Glastonbury Tor to the north, Dundon Hill and Lollover Hill out to the south-west, yellow-green pastures spread out and shimmering in the heat of afternoon. I followed the ridge path west to where the Hood Monument’s sailing-ship crown rose above the trees on Windmill Hill. Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood was one of those energetic, apparently fearless sailors who came to glory in Nelson’s Navy, and when he died in 1814 his brother officers raised the great column to his memory.
Down in Dundon churchyard I sat a while in the dense shade of a great yew tree, as thick as ten men belted together, far older than the ancient church it dominates. Then I struck out on the old cart track that loops round Lollover Hill. By the time I had made the circuit and got down into the flatlands north of Dundon, everything far and near seemed quivering in the radiance of reflected sunlight – cattle, ditches, hedgerow oaks, and the long dark whaleback of Collard Hill lying across the landscape to the north.
The wardens who welcome visitors to the National Trust’s Collard Hill Nature Reserve really know their stuff. I was lucky enough to stroll round with Matthew Oates, the Trust’s very own ‘Butterfly Man’, as he expounded the story of the Large Blue butterfly, a creature whose existence relies on cutting a deal with the red ant species myrmica sabuleti. The ants take the caterpillar to their nest, where they feed on a sticky juice it exudes; in return – notwithstanding this huge guest’s appetite for their own eggs and larvae – they look after it until it emerges from its chrysalis. They escort the brand-new Large Blue butterfly above ground, and wait for its wings to harden into flight before they part from it.
Small wonder the Large Blue’s existence is precarious. By 1979 it had become extinct in UK, but has been successfully reintroduced at Collard Hill and a handful of other places. I’d always longed to see one of these large and brilliantly blue butterflies, and it was a fantastic thrill when one flitted across the slope of thyme and scabious – big, blue and beautiful, as it wrangled with a common blue and then fluttered off and out of sight.
Start & finish: NT car park, Street Youth Hostel, Marshall’s Hill, Somerset BA16 0TZ (OS ref ST 488340)
Getting there: Bus – Service 377 (firstgroup.com) Yeovil-Wells, to Marshalls Elm crossroads. Road – B3151 Street-Somerton road; right at Marshalls Elm crossroads to car park.
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 141): From the NT car park, follow blue-topped posts; cross B3151 at Marshall’s Elm crossroads (485344; NB dangerous crossing – please take great care!). Through kissing gate opposite; follow Polden Way/PW (blue-topped posts) or other footpaths through Collard Hill Nature Reserve. At far side, make for NE (top left) corner of reserve by a prominent, solo oak tree (490339); follow track uphill; in 100m, right (KG, PW) to leave reserve. In ¼ mile cross road (494339); through KG opposite (PW) into trees. In 70m path forks; both lead to Hood Monument (496338).
From SE corner of monument, follow clear path west through trees. In 150m go through KG (497337; PW). Don’t continue to road, but go sharp right downhill on stony path to turn left along road (495337). In ¼ mile road forks; bear right to T-junction (493334). Left along Compton Street; in 50m, right beside East Barn; on through wicket gate and across following stile. Ahead along field edge. In 100m cross ditch (490334); half-left across field to cross pair of stiles in far corner (489333; YA). Cross field to B3151 beside house (488332). Right for 50m; left over stile (‘Hurst Drove’ waymark post). Ahead up field edge to go through gate (486332); left along 3 field edges with hedge on left. At end of 3rd field (487329), left along track to road; left to B3151 (489328); right past Castlebrook Inn (closed at time of writing – due to reopen summer 2014).
In 100m pass gate marked ‘Castlebrook Holiday Cottages’; in another 30m, right through hedge and kissing gate/KG. Follow path west for ½ mile along field edges. At end of 4th field, through KG (482325) and on along paved lane to road in Dundon (480325).
Left for 50m; just past foot of lane to church, right (‘Lollover Hill’, yellow arrow/YA) up hedged path. In 100m, up steps; left (478325); in 150m, right (478323; ‘Hayes Lane’) along stony lane. In ⅓ mile it starts to descend (473322); in another 250m, where it bends left, go right over stile (471321; YA). Aim up field, parallel to hedge; over stile on far side (468320); right along hedge, right through gate at field end (468322; YA); left along hedge and follow it for 2 fields. At top of rise, cross 2 adjacent stiles (473325); on along green lane. In ⅓ mile it descends to bend right; in another 30m, right down steps (478325) to return to road in Dundon (479324).
Left and follow road to foot of hill; cross (480327) into Hurst Drove. Pass Hurst Farm and continue. In 300m, just beyond gate into Lower Hurst Farm, left over stile (481335; YA); right along hedge; in 100m, right over stile, left along hedge (YA); in 100m, left over adjacent stiles (480337, YA) and right along hedge. At top of field, cross stile (480340; fingerpost) and on up hedged lane to road by gates of Ivythorn Manor (481342). Follow lane up Page’s Hill to Marshall’s Elm crossroads and car park.
Click on Facebook “Like” link to share this walk with Facebook friends.
Lunch: Picnic. NB: Castlebrook Inn, Compton Dundon, currently closed – due to reopen shortly
Large blue flight season: Generally early June-mid July (check website!)