Search Results : “Quantock Hills”

Aug 152015

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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It’s not every day you celebrate your 300th ‘A Good Walk’ for The Times, and Jane and I wanted to make it something really special. Our good friend Alan came up with a tempting-looking route through the deep leafy combes and over the brackeny brows of the Quantock Hills – Wordsworth and Coleridge country. A sight of the sea, a proper draught of moorland air. That was just the ticket.

We set off from Beacon Hill, nine walking buddies talking nineteen to the dozen as we dropped steeply down under sweet chestnut trees to Weacombe. From there a long track led south under scrubby banks flushed purple by the overnight emergence of thousands of foxgloves. From the depths of Bicknoller Combe we looked up to see the western sky a slaty blur of rain. Soon it hit, and soon it passed, leaving us shaking off water like so many dogs in a pond.

Up on Black Ball Hill a faint sharp hooting carried to us on the wind. A steam train on the West Somerset Railway was panting its way down the valley towards Minehead, but locomotive and carriages stayed hidden from sight in the steep green countryside.

We sat on the heather among Bronze Age burial mounds to eat our sandwiches with an imperial view all round, north over the Severn Sea to Wales, east to the camel hump of Brent Knoll, west into Exmoor’s heights. By the time we’d brushed away the crumbs, serenaded the skylarks with mouth organ tunes and descended among the trees of Slaughterhouse Combe, the sun was backlighting oak leaves and pooling on bracken banks where bilberries and star mosses winked with raindrops.

Thunder ripped across the sky, a last sulk of the weather gods, as we walked west up Shepherd’s Combe – a favourite ramble of William and Dorothy Wordsworth and their friend and fellow poet Samuel Coleridge. A bank of sundews lay pearled with rain, their tiny pale flowers upraised on long stalks above sticky scarlet leaves. One minuscule blob of a sundew’s insect-trapping mucilage is capable of stretching up to a million times its own length. Biomedical researchers are looking for ways to exploit that remarkable property as a platform for healthy cells in the regrowth of damaged human tissue. This is the sort of thing Jane knows.

We climbed to Bicknoller Post on its wide upland with a wonderful prospect north-west to the stepped flank of Porlock Hill and a sea full of shadows and streaks of light. Our steps quickened along the homeward path – not to unload nine souls full of immortal verse, but to beat the clock into Holcombe for the cream tea we suddenly knew we’d earned.

Start: Beacon Hill car park, Staple Plain, Hill Lane, West Quantoxhead, Somerset TA4 4DQ approx. (ST 117411)

Getting there: Jct 27; A39 (Bridgwater-Minehead); at West Quantoxhead, just past Windmill Inn, left (‘Bicknoller’). In 350m, left up Hill Lane (‘Staple Plain’). Continue for ⅔ mile to car park at end of track.

Walk (5½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 140): From NT Staple Plain info board walk back through car park. Don’t go through gate of left-hand fork of tracks, but turn left downhill beside it (green NT arrow), steeply down through trees. At bottom (117408), right on grassy track. Continue to descend, keeping downhill at junctions, for 500m to cottage beside track (111408). Left (‘Quantock Greenway’, arrow with quill), through gate and up track. In 200m, through gate; in another 150m, go over cross-track (113404) and continue SSE beside Haslett Plantation.

In 500m, arrow post points right (115399); but go left here (east) and continue up Bicknoller Combe, keeping ahead over all crossing tracks. In 1 mile, reach top of ascent at crossing of tracks from Bicknoller Post, Paradise Combe, Bicknoller Combe and Slaughterhouse Combe (130398 – just west of ‘302’ on map). Keep ahead on stony track towards Slaughterhouse Combe. In 200m, just past low wooden post on left, fork left onto less obvious grassy track with some ‘kerb’ stones at its entrance (131397) – as a marker, look half right to see two trees, one on either side of the stony track you have just left.

Follow this grassy track east over brow of Black Ball Hill, past tumulus (134396) and descend. After 600m, look for fork; take right-hand path. In 100m it swings 180o to the right (138397), descends SW for 250m to meet stream (137395) and bends left to descend for ½ mile to bottom of Slaughterhouse Combe (143401). Left along bridleway WNW under Lady’s Edge and up Sheppard’s Combe for 1 mile, ascending to Bicknoller Post (128403). Right (north) along broad stony track; in 200m, fork left; in 50m, left again to meet The Great Road track (126407). Left, descending to car park.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Rising Sun, West Bagborough, TA4 3EF (01823-432575, – excellent, well-run pub

Info: Taunton TIC (01823-336344);;

 Posted by at 01:19
Feb 122011

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
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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.
NB –
Online map, more walks:
Rose & Crown Inn, Nether Stowey (01278-732265);
tel 01278-732319;

 Posted by at 05:25
Jan 182020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A perfect Somerset winter’s day of sharp blue sky. Sunlight gilded the roofs of Rowberrow, nowadays a quiet little village, but in times past a rough mining centre where men dug calamine for the brass-making industry. Martha More, visiting in 1790, judged the locals ‘savage and depraved, brutal and ferocious.’

The long shape of Blackdown, highest point of Mendip, looms on the southern skyline. Today its slopes were trickling with water. With a hollow gushing a stream tumbled into the chilly depths of Read’s Cavern, one of dozens of water-burrowed caves in Mendip’s limestone massif. When Read’s was excavated in the 1920s, a set of Iron Age slave manacles was unearthed, their story untold but ripe for imagining.

A broad track rises up the flank of Blackdown. We climbed through fox-brown bracken where cattle grazed and thirty-five semi-wild ponies snorted and cantered away in a bunch. From the ridge the view was enormous, from the Quantock Hills and Exmoor down in the southwest to the steely grey Bristol Channel with its twin islands, pudding-shaped Steep Holm and sleeping-dog Flat Holm.

Along the foot of Blackdown the muddy Limestone Link footpath took us sliding and squelching past Burrington Combe. Wild goats were grazing the grey striped cliffs of the gorge, their white coats contrasting with the scarlet berries of cotoneaster.

On the slopes opposite the combe the Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, rich through a ‘good marriage’ in mid-Georgian times, developed a humble cottage into the Italianate extravaganza of Mendip Lodge, a massive country house with a state bedroom, mile-long terraces and a verandah nearly a hundred feet wide.

Mendip Lodge, like the good doctor’s wealth, eventually fell into decline. All we found of the grand design was a huddle of ruins behind an archway in Mendip Lodge Woods, beside the winding path that was once a fine carriage drive.

High above on the limestone upland of Dolebury Warren the sloping ramparts of a massive Iron Age hill fort encircle the western end of the ridge. Here we sat to catch our breath and gaze across the channel to the far-off hills of Wales.
Start: Swan Inn, Rowberrow, Winscombe, Somerset BS25 1QL (OS ref ST451583)
Parking: please ask, and give pub your custom.

Getting there: Rowberrow is signed off A38 between Churchill and Winscombe

Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 141): Left down School Lane. Just after right bend, left down track (453583); in 300m at T-junction, right (454586). In ¾ mile, right (465586, ‘Bridleway, Ride’, waymark post); in 100m, left on path through bracken. In 250m detour left to Read’s Cavern (468584). Resume bracken path, uphill to ‘Rowberrow Warren’ sign (469581); left through gate; right uphill. In 200m fork left (469579), upwards for ¾ mile to track on Blackdown ridge (477573); left to Beacon Batch trig pillar (485573). Left downhill to foot of slope; left (490577, waymark post, Limestone Link /LL) for 1¼ miles. On open ground 350m after crossing West Twin Brook, at crossing of broad grassy tracks, right downhill (473583). In 700m, near Link hamlet, left (475590, fingerpost) on path through Mendip Lodge Wood. In ⅔ mile pass Mendip Lodge ruin (466591); in 150m, left up bridleway. Pass gate/’Dolebury Warren’ sign on right; in 100m right (gate, blue arrow, ‘National Trust’) across Dolebury Warren (LL) for 1¼ miles, down to T-junction by Walnut House (446591). Left (LL) for ¾ mile; right (454586) to Rowberrow.

Conditions: Can be very muddy.

Lunch: Swan Inn, Rowberrow (01934-852371,

Accommodation: Woodborough Inn, Winscombe BS25 HD (01934-844167,


 Posted by at 03:00
Nov 082014

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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, – very cheerful, friendly pub with rooms

Accommodation: Rising Sun (see above), or Cothelstone Manor (01823-433480;

Info: Taunton TIC (01823-336344);;

 Posted by at 01:22