First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A grey cool day had hung low cloud over the Somerset coast and capped the Quantock Hills with mist. A stodge of red mud sucked at our boots in the ferny old lane that rose from West Bagborough up the steep south face of Lydeard Hill. A ghostly hoot and a frantic heartbeat of chuffing from far below tracked the progress of a train, rattling along the West Somerset Railway and leaving fat white gouts of smoke to dissolve in the breeze.
Up on the brackeny back of Lydeard Hill we found ourselves just under the mist line. A giant view opened northwards over the coastal plain to the silver coils of the River Parrett snaking into the low-tide mud flats of the Severn Estuary. Steep Holm and Flat Holm islands lay black and two-dimensional, as though cut from slate. The Welsh shore ran away westward, the grey whaleback of the Mendip Hills barred the northward horizon twenty miles off, and at our feet opened a steep, nameless little valley, a Quantock combe full of golden treetops.
A pink horse came ambling past. ‘Oh,’ laughed his rider, ‘he should be white, but he loves rolling in all this red mud!’ We followed a ridge path down to Bishpool Farm, richly scented with applewood smoke and lying in a red and green valley. A little girl came out among barking dogs at Lambridge Farm to watch us go by. We rounded Gib Hill and followed a bridleway up through the woods to the summit of Cothelstone Hill. Some British chieftain lies here under a round barrow, lord of a hundred-mile prospect – Blackdown, Quantock, Mendip, Exmoor, Cotswold and Wales.
We stood to savour it all, then plunged down the mucky bridleway through Paradise woods to Cothelstone where the red sandstone church, model farm and Elizabethan manor house huddled together in a beautiful cluster under the hill. St Agnes Well lay under a corbelled cap by the road, its dimpling water efficacious in curing infertility and vouchsafing virgins a glimpse of their future husbands. We trailed our fingers in the spring, and then made west across handsome parkland where black cattle stared stolidly from under the trees.
A high-banked lane, a last glimpse of broad Taunton Vale from a bridleway, and we were back in West Bagborough in time for tea at the Rising Sun.
Start: Rising Sun Inn, West Bagborough, Taunton, Somerset TA4 3EF (OS ref ST 171334)
Getting there: West Bagborough is signed off A358 Taunton-Williton road between Combe Florey and Crowcombe.
Walk (7½ miles, moderate with some ups and downs, OS Explorer 140): Up lane beside Rising Sun, through gate; on uphill for ⅔ mile. At top of hill, path forks; right here (174344; ‘Restricted Byway’) through gate. Three paths diverge; follow left-hand one. In 100m go over path crossing and on east over Lydeard Hill for ½ mile. Into woods (183343, yellow arrow/YA). In 200m, track curves right; left here (185341); in 100m, right through kissing gate. Keep ahead along ridge with hedge on right; in ½ mile, right through gate (194344, no waymark); follow hedge down to road (197342). Right past Bishpool Farm; in 50m, left through kissing gate (YA) and farmyard. Left through gate; right over stile (fingerpost); aim half-right down field to cross stream (200339). Track to road.
Right past Lambridge Farm; steeply up through gate (199337); pass to right of cottage. Up through gate (blue arrow/BA); up through next gate; follow hedge on left for ⅓ mile to go through gate into wood (195333, BA). In 100m track bends right; follow it up to road (193331). Right along road (take care! Left side is best!) for 300m. Just before road on right, turn left up bridleway through wood (190330, BA, ‘The Rap’ fingerpost). In 150m, at T-junction, left (189330); in 200m, fork left through gate (188328, ‘footpath’ arrow). Up through trees for 250m to fenced tumulus on ridge (188326). Left to stony knoll and viewpoint at summit of Cothelstone Hill (190327)
Bear right downhill on broad grass path. In 100m ignore fork to left. Down to pass animal pens on your right. In 200m, 2 gates on right (193324). Go through kissing gate beside left-hand one; turn right and immediately left to post with 2 waymark arrows. Right here; in 100m, at crossing of tracks (192323), bear left downhill on bridleway through Paradise Wood, keeping ahead over various track crossings (occasional BAs) for ¾ mile to road (185319). Ahead downhill in Cothelstone. In 150m, right (fingerpost) across footbridge (optional detour, signed right, to St Agnes Well). Follow path past back of Cothelstone Farm. Left through gate (182319, YA); through gate at churchyard corner; across parkland field. In ¼ mile, over stile in dip (178321); ahead to gate into woodland strip; cross road (175322, YA). Half right across field to stile (174325, YA) and fenced path to road. Ahead up road; in 200m, pass Pilgrim’s Cottages; in 150m, left (175329, ‘bridleway’) on bridleway for ¼ mile to road (171331). Right into West Bagborough.
Lunch: Rising Sun, West Bagborough (01823-432575, risingsuninn.info) – very cheerful, friendly pub with rooms
Accommodation: Rising Sun (see above), or Cothelstone Manor (01823-433480; cothelstonemanor.co.uk)
Info: Taunton TIC (01823-336344)