Search Results : Bristol

Jul 142008
 

MY WIFE Jane and I have lived in Bristol for 20 years. We’ve made a home, raised four children and forged good friendships here. But we’d never actually stepped back and had an appreciative look at the city.

Bristol is not just the vibrant capital of the West Country, and it’s not simply a handsome old city with a salty, seafaring history. It’s the sort of place you land in as a youngster, to go to college or take up that first job, and then somehow never leave.

The heart and soul of Bristol is the magnificent Floating Harbour, a sinuous stretch of water lined with ships and waterfront bars at the core of the city, and that’s where we decided to base ourselves for our non-travel mini-break.

MORNING EXCURSION

On a brisk but sunny morning we hopped aboard one of the Floating Harbour’s busy water taxis (0117 927 3416/www.bristolferry.com) that buzz between a dozen embarkation points along the city’s waterfront.

As the boat plied the water between old warehouses and eyecatching new apartments, the fascinating history of Bristol – merchant harbour, slaving port, transatlantic money market, wartime target and revitalised leisure waterfront – passed before us like a living pageant.

Up on the cobbled quay of Welsh Back we headed off to explore St Nicholas Market – a charming scramble of wooden kiosks and booths selling everything from second-hand books and bike tyres to Bristol Blue Glass and ancient Dinky toys, all under a classic glass roof on elaborate Corinthian pillars.

GRAB A BITE

I could have fossicked in St Nick’s Market all day, nibbling Smokey Joe pies from Pieminster’s stall, but Jane had other ideas for lunch – namely a glass of sancerre and a bowl of hot and piquant fish soup at the River Station (0117 914 4434/www.riverstation.co.uk) on The Grove.

This former river police station with its picture windows and cool but friendly service is a firm favourite with Bristolian lunchers à deux. We got a table looking out over the Floating Harbour, and watched the gulls drift by for a blissful hour.

AFTERNOON ATTRACTION

In the city forever associated with the greatest of all Victorian engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it would be sacrilege not to pay a call to SS Great Britain (0117 926 0680/www.ssgreatbritain.org) the iron-hulled ship that lies in the very dock from which she was launched in 1843.

Jane and I had visited the ship before, but not since her great overhaul. You can hire her saloon for a private wedding feast or join historical tours of the ship. Better still, simply wander at will; from grand saloon to engine room, from first-class cabins to steerage passenger hellholes.

It has also been fitted out with life-size waxworks of crew. Admission: £10.95 adults, £5.65 children.

SUNDOWNER

Back on the Floating Harbour we made time for a quick pint outside the Cottage Inn (0117 921 5256). Why hadn’t we ever visited this friendly watering hole on Baltic Wharf, with its Bristol-brewed beers and views of scudding dinghies? Never mind – we were on to it now and would return.

DINNER DATE

We might have chosen any one of dozens of excellent eateries in the city. But one glance into the Bistro restaurant of our night’s stopover, the Hotel Du Vin on Narrow Lewins Mead, and we agreed we could hardly do better anywhere else.

The subtly lit room looked rosy and intimate; lamplight glowed on musky walls and regiments of old green and brown bottles stood cheerfully guard on sills. Jane’s haddock was a smoky dream, she reported; my pink-roast duck ditto.
Room for spiced plums or some of that homemade coconut ice cream? Yes, but no time if we wanted to catch some music.

ON THE TOWN

We hared over to the Old Duke (0117 927 7137/www.theoldduke.com) on the cobbles of Welsh Back for a drop of “filthy jazz”, courtesy of Cass Caswell and his almighty Allstars. Through Dixieland to bebop, Mr Caswell and chums drove our head-pumping crowd, a sweaty and steamy triumph of music over elbow-room.

The Old Duke is a seven-nights-a-week, cheek-by-jowl jazzer’s paradise where blues and rock are also smuggled in from time to time.

SLEEP EASY

It felt strange to be staying in a hotel only 10 minutes’ walk from our house. Bristol’s Hotel Du Vin is a highly imaginative conversion of an 18th-century sugar refinery and you just couldn’t ask for a friendlier stopover.

A home from home, in fact – if our home happened to have a 7ft-wide bed, a bath big enough to accommodate three close friends, and cheery faces saying “Certainly!” to every request.

Proper job, as they say down here.

INFORMATION: Hotel Du Vin, The Sugar House, Narrow Lewins Mead (0117 925 5577/www.hotelduvin.com) offers
doubles from £140 per night (two sharing), room only. Bristol Tourist Information Centre: 0906 711 2191/www.visitbristol.co.uk

 

 Posted by at 00:00
Jan 182020
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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, butcombe.com)

Accommodation: Woodborough Inn, Winscombe BS25 HD (01934-844167, woodborough-inn.co.uk)

Info: mendiphillsaonb.org.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 03:00
Mar 232019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A windy cold noon on the Foreland promontory outside Lynmouth. Moor ponies chewed the gorse on the slopes above Countisbury church, drawing back their lips as though seized with private laughter as they delicately snipped off the yellow flowers with their pale green teeth.

We walked north along the cliff path, treading warily above steep drops where the sea creamed in lace-edged waves on black pebble beaches eight hundred feet below. A milky sky stretched over land and sea. A big blue and white freighter idled in the Bristol Channel, and fifteen miles away the dunes and low hills of the south Wales coast rose under a white surf of cloud.

A teetering path descended over skiddy scree to Foreland lighthouse. But we favoured the wider South West Coast Path and the narrow service road to the lookout eyrie above the stumpy tower, where great curved scimitar blades of shaped glass flashed a continuous message of danger to shipping.

This is a wicked coast in winter, all unforgiving tides, cross currents, hidden reefs and a lack of safe havens. In a January storm in 1899, the lifeboatmen of Lynmouth hauled, shoved and cajoled their vessel up and over these cliffs by night. Heavy seas had rendered their home harbour inoperable; there was a ship in distress requiring their attendance. So they dragged the boat for fifteen precipitous miles to the next harbour of Porlock, and rowed to the rescue from there – an extraordinary feat.

The coast path ribboned eastward through oak and birch woods, up and down along the cliffs. Glimpses forward showed the plunge of slit-thin combes to dark narrow beaches.

In the cleft of Glenthorne Cliffs we passed a walkers’ honesty café – tea, coffee, mugs, milk, a thermos of hot water and some chocolate bars on a picnic table. ‘What a treat to find in the middle of nowhere!’ Colin and Adrian had written in the comments book. ‘It made us laugh and smile! Thank you!’

The sense of height, space and freedom up here in the cold winter wind set my head spinning. At last we turned inland below the unseen farm called Desolate and followed the field path back past Kipscombe. The grey and white house lay quiet below its sheltering beech trees, looking out across a wooded combe to a misty grey and white sea that lisped and murmured at the edge of sight and sound.
Start: Barna Barrow car park, Countisbury Hill, Lynmouth EX35 6ND (OS ref SS 753496))

Getting there: A39 (Lynmouth-Porlock); car park is at top of Countisbury Hill, beyond Blue Ball Inn.

Walk (5¾ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL9): From car park walk seaward; left along wall; in 500m, right on Coast Path/CP beyond bench (747499). In 600m bear left downhill at 3-finger post; right at 2-finger post below (‘Porlock’), descending to road (756505). Left to lighthouse viewpoint (754511); return up road. At sharp right bend (758503) keep ahead on CP. In 200m CP zigzags right (759503, YA). In 1 mile CP rises up steps; at top, right off CP (775498, ‘Countisbury 2’). At top of rise, right at 2-finger post (770498); in 50m, left (YA) up path to Desolate farm drive. Right to gate (770496); right (‘Countisbury 1¾’) across fields (fingerposts, YAs) past Kipscombe Farm, back to car park.

Conditions: Careful on coast path – unguarded edges, steep slopes.

Lunch: Blue Ball, Countisbury EX35 6NE (01598-741263, blueballinn.com)

Accommodation: Rising Sun Inn, Lynmouth EX35 6EG (01598-753223, risingsunlynmouth.co.uk) – comfortable, cheerful, full of character, wonderful food.

Info: Lynton & Lynmouth TIC (01598-752225)
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

Ships of Heaven – The Private Life of Britain’s Cathedrals by Christopher Somerville (Transworld) is published on 11 April

 Posted by at 15:30

Ships of Heaven – talks and events coming up round the country

 


2020 Dates:

23 January, 6.45 pm – Henleaze Library, 30 Northumbria Drive, Bristol BS9 4HP

30 January, 1pm – Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, Olympia, Hammersmith Rd, Hammersmith, London W14 8UX – www.stanfords.co.uk/Destinations-Show-Travel-Writers-Festival

17 March, 7.00pm – Southwark Cathedral, London – cathedral.southwark.anglican.org

28 March, 2pm – Balliol Hall, Church Rd, West Huntspill, Highbridge, Somerset TA9 3RN

10 May, 11am – Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival, Kent – chiddingstonecastle.org.uk

12 May, 4pm – Stratford-on-Avon Literary Festival, Warwickshire – stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk

29 May-6 June (date TBC) – Derby Book Festival – derbybookfestival.co.uk

25 June – Reform Club, Pall Mall, London

5 September, 3pm – Friends Day, Salisbury Cathedral – salisburycathedralfriends.co.uk

 Posted by at 08:15
Oct 272018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A wild, blustery autumn day had marched in on Exmoor from the west. We waited in the car park at Dunkery Gate until the rain army had charged through and away, and set out in its heels to climb the path to the crest of Dunkery Beacon. A piglet-like squealing came down the wind from above, and when we came over the brow we found three children leaping and yelling for sheer glee round the summit cairn, their coats flying in the gale.

Up here on Exmoor’s highest point, standing by the cairn on the rocky tomb of some long-forgotten king, we drank in the view, as brisk and refreshing as a great gulp of cold water. Ninety wide and beautiful miles stretched out from the tiny tip of the Sugar Loaf, north across the Bristol Channel in Wales some 50 miles away, to Yes Tor’s hummock on Dartmoor nearly 40 miles to the south. Not that we could see those two distant landmarks in such conditions of wind and sun dazzle and rain curtains – it was enough to know they were out there, visible from Dunkery Beacon on the clearest of clear days. What we saw today were rolling ridges of moorland, humped green fields squared with tall hedge-banks, and a sunlit valley leading north to the bulky seaward slope of Hurlstone Point.

We turned east on the rocky ridge track, bowling along with the wind astern pushing us like a second-row rugby forward. The sun burst out across the hills, bringing the whitewashed farm houses far below into brilliant relief against their green meadows and woods. Suddenly a flight of twenty small birds went skimming across the path just ahead, cutting and turning like one creature, the sun flashing on their white breasts and sabre-blade wings – dunlin or plovers, they passed and vanished too quickly to be sure.

From the ridge, a squelchy river of a bridleway made a sloshy descent southward into the sheltered cleft of Mansley Combe. Down here, deep sunk in the valley bottom, the day fell suddenly calm. Gale-driven clouds tore over from rim to rim of the combe a hundred feet overhead, and the wind rushed and sighed in the beech canopy where leaves scattered horizontally in showers of gold.

We forded the River Avill, hurrying in bubbles and miniature rapids under a canopy of silver birches and luxuriant, rain-pearled ferns. As we followed the red mud track steeply up towards Dunkery Gate again, from the trees in the depths of the combe came a grinding, grating roar – a red stag bolving*, calling out a defiant rutting challenge to all comers, a wild voice to suit the wild day.
* Yes, that’s the word!

Start: Dunkery Gate car park, near Wheddon Cross, TA24 7AT approx (OS ref SS 896406)

Getting there: Dunkery Beacon is signed off B3224, 1 mile west of Wheddon Cross (A396 Dunster-Dulverton)

Walk (4½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL9): Cross Dunkery Bridge; in 100m, left (‘Public Bridleway Dunkery Beacon’) to summit cairn (892416). Right along main ridge track for nearly 1 mile. Cross road (904420) and continue; in 300m, right (907422, cairn) on bridleway through heather for nearly 1 mile. At hedge-bank (914410), don’t go through gate; turn right, keeping hedge-bank on left. In 450m, bear sharp left (910410); follow hedge-bank downhill, through gate (910407, ‘bridleway’), down to track in combe bottom. Right (‘Draper’s Way, Dunkery Gate’); uphill for 1 mile to Dunkery Gate.

Lunch/accommodation: White Horse, Exford, TA24 7PY (01643-831229; exmoor-whitehorse.co.uk)

Information: National Park Centre, Dulverton (01398-323841); visit-exmoor.co.uk
satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:22
Feb 252017
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A blowy day at Nash Point on the Glamorgan coast, with the sea breaking in wrinkled lines on unseen reefs far out into the Bristol Channel. A bell buoy clanged a dolorous warning as it swung with the waves. Exmoor lay extended along the opposite shore, with Dunkery Beacon a landmark whaleback. An enormous red container ship was pushing upstream against the tide, making for the docks at Avonmouth.

A group of Afghani men conversed excitedly in staccato shouts at the edge of the cliff. They were competitive kite flyers, down from London for the day; experts at the manipulation of air, their brilliantly hued kites swooping and clashing out over the sea as each flyer strove to tangle or cut his rival’s strings. A scene of pure exhilaration, colour and skill, from which we turned away grinning with delight to start the walk eastwards along the cliffs.

The twin Nash Point lighthouses and their monstrous black foghorns were soon left behind. Long leafless spikes of sea buckthorn lined the cliff path, coated in piccalilli-yellow lichen. In the cornfields, larks were singing. Newly emerged daffodils raised golden trumpets to the wind, as though in honour of St David’s Day.

Celandines and early bluebell spears bordered the way as it dropped through trees to the rocks and pools of St Donat’s Bay. From here at low tide the coastal landscape looked starkly apocalyptic, the fractured strata of the grey and yellow cliffs worn ragged by the sea. We teetered along the shore as far as Tresilian Bay with its pirate cave and solitary white house.

Back at St Donat’s we made our way towards the homeward path through the grounds of St Donat’s Castle. In the 1920s the castle was thoroughly done up by its owner, American newspaper tycoon Randolph Hearst. George Bernard Shaw, one of a string of eminent guests, remarked appreciatively, ‘This is what God would have built – if he had had the money.’
Start & finish: Nash Point car park, Marcross, Glamorgan CF61 1ZH (OS ref SS 916683)

Getting there: Bus service 303 (Bridgend-Barry) to Marcross.
Road: Marcross is signed from B4265, 2 miles west of Llantwit Major (reached via B4270 from A48 at Cowbridge). Lane beside Horseshoe Inn to car park.

Walk (Option 1 – 6¼ miles; Option 2 – 5 miles. Cliff and field paths, rough rocky beach extension; OS Explorer 151): Pass lighthouse; east along cliff path for 1½ miles, descending to St Donat’s Bay (935678). Cross concrete aprons. Option 1 (low tide only; rough and slippery) – continue ½ mile along shore to Tresilian Bay (947676), returning along cliff top. Option 2 – follow coast path up from St Donat’s Bay for 500m to kissing gate in wall with ‘St George’s Field’ plaque (940679). Left up side of field (‘Valeways Millennium Heritage Trail’/VMHT). Left at road (941682); pass Atlantic College gates; in another 200m, left (936685, VMHT) down drive into college grounds.

Just before St Donat’s Castle, right (935682, VMHT) down path. Just before church, right (934681, VMHT) on woodland path up Cwm Hancorne to road at Parc Farm (932685). Left; in 50m, left over stile; follow VMHT to cross stone stile and follow wall. In 100m, right over stile (930684); diagonally left across field, aiming for Marcross Farm. Cross stile and kissing gate (927686) into lane; turn right. In 300m VMHT turns left (927688), but keep ahead here along lane to cross road (927691). Field path to cross lane at Lan Farm (927695); across field with earthworks to cross lane at Pen-y-Cae Farm (925696). Follow field path south-west, parallel with lane to lighthouse, for ¾ mile to coast; left across mouth of Marcross Brook (915685) to return to car park.

Conditions: St Donat’s Bay – Tresilian Bay optional shore walk is low tide only. Tide times: http://tides.willyweather.co.uk

Lunch: Plough & Harrow, Monknash CF71 7QQ (01656-890209); Horseshoe Inn, Marcross (01656-890568, theshoesmarcross.co.uk)

Accommodation: Mehefin, Siggingston Lane, Llanmaes, Llantwit Major CF61 2XR (01446-793427)

Nash Point Lighthouse: opening times, visits 07850-047721, nashpoint.co.uk

Info: Bridgend TIC (01656-654906); Llantwit Major (01446-796086), Easter-Sept

visitwales.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 14:22
Feb 132016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

A brisk wind over the Mendip Hills scoured the sky to a delicate china blue as we set out from Rodney Stoke on the valley road to Cheddar. Daffodils were struggling out by the stream in Scaddens Lane, half their buds still hard and waxy. Scarlet elf-cap fungi lay like chucked-away orange peel among the frosted leaves in Stoke Woods, where the steep path was a stodge of dark red mud. The tips of the silver birches were just beginning to flush a milky pink, but otherwise the woods were still caught fast in their long hibernation.

At the top of the ridge we found craggy outcrops of limestone, very pale in the late winter sun, and one of those giant West Mendip views over the Somerset Levels that took in the low ridge of the Polden Hills, the Blackdowns beyond, the Quantocks further west, Exmoor in ghostly grey, and the Welsh hills beyond a broad chink of sea in the Bristol Channel. The long, canted back of Glastonbury Tor with its pimple of a tower lay at the heart of this truly remarkable prospect.

The West Mendip Way led east, an upland path through big square fields enclosed by drystone walls. Each wall contained its stile, a solid slab of limestone with steps up and down, some of the stiles three or four feet tall.

On the outskirts of Priddy, the only settlement on Mendip’s broad plateau, we turned back on a path slanting south-west down the long slope of the escarpment. The thickening light of afternoon gave the enormous view the quality of a watercolour painting, the colours blurred and melting together.

In Cook’s Fields Nature Reserve the path ran over limestone sheathed in aeolian soil, a pleasing name for the soil that blew down here 10,000 years ago on Arctic winds from the retreating glaciers to the north. Horseshoe vetch, carline thistles and autumn lady’s tresses grow in Cook’s Fields, chalkhill blue butterflies disport themselves on wild thyme – but not on a cold winter’s day such as this.

We descended over strip lynchets made by ox ploughs a thousand years ago. Lambs sprang and bleated at Kites Croft, and six jolly porkers looked over their stye wall and grunted us back to civilization down at Old Ditch.

Start: Rodney Stoke Inn, near Cheddar, Somerset BS27 3XB (OS ref 484502)
Getting there: Bus 26, 126 (Wells-Cheddar)
Road – Rodney Stoke is on A371 (Wells-Cheddar).

Walk (7 miles; moderate – one steepish climb, many stiles; OS Explorer 141. Online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Rodney Stoke Inn, right along A372. In 250m, left (486501) up Scaddens Lane. In 400m, left (490502) on path climbing north up field, through Stoke Woods (yellow arrows/YA). At top, over stile (487510, YA). Half right; cross stile at left end of hedge on skyline (489513). East along West Mendip Way/WMW for 1½ miles to road (512513). Lane opposite; in 250m (514514), right on WMW. Just before Coxton End Lane, right on path for 1¾ miles, south, then south-west over Cook’s Fields Nature Reserve to gate below barn (506493). Track to Stancombe Lane; left; in 50m, right down field to stile into lane; fork right to road (502493). Right; in 200m pass ‘Martins’ house on right; in 150m, left (499495, fingerpost) up Westclose Hill. At top, right for 700m to road (492497). Left to cross A371 (489497); Millway to T-junction (483499). Left; in 100m, right up Butts Lane to A371; right to inn.

Lunch: Rodney Stoke Inn (01749-870209; rodneystokeinn.co.uk) – cheerful, bustling pub
Info: Wells TIC (01749-671770)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:47
Aug 152015
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
picture picture picture picture picture picture picture picture
Facebook Link:

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, risingsuninn.info) – excellent, well-run pub

Info: Taunton TIC (01823-336344)

satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk; visitengland.com

 Posted by at 01:19
Apr 262014
 

Blagdon
A male blackbird, yellow bill a-tremble, was making tentative inquiries of a drab brown female on a bough in the New Inn’s garden as I started down the hill towards Blagdon Lake. The celandines were still curled tight and green along the high-banked lane, but there was a breath of warmth in the low sun, more than Somerset had felt for the past three months.

For well over a century Blagdon Lake water has been piped to Bristol’s taps, ten miles over the hills to the north. Crossing the broad dam of the lake, I heard the subdued roar of the flood-engorged weir where snowmelt and swollen streams were sending their waters surging down the spillway. I followed the fishermen’s path through the trees along the north bank of the lake, then struck out across fields thick with the winter’s mud to reach the lane by Bellevue Farm – well named for its prospect of water and hills.

A little way up the lane I was pulled up short by the sight of a large badger squatting on its haunches in a cottage garden. It shouldn’t have been out of its sett this early in the year, and it certainly should have fled at sight of me, instead of fixing me with a sleepy stare. It was I who walked away, leaving the badger master of the place.

The southward views grew better and better as the lane rose, until at the top of Awkward Hill I looked down over fields patchworked with green grass and red ploughland, out across the whole expanse of Blagdon Lake to the steep wall of the Mendip Hills beyond in early afternoon shadow.

The late winter light, already beginning to diminish, lay softly on the lake with a blurred sheen more like watered silk than the hard mirrored effect of a summer day’s sunshine.

Down by the lake once more, I squelched towards Blagdon over boggy meadows where wild geese went lumbering into the air at my approach, trumpeting reprovingly. It was almost time for them to be off to their mating and brood-rearing, 2,000 miles north of these green Somerset fields.

Back at the New Inn, sitting on the terrace with a cheddar ploughman’s and a kingly view over the lake, I heard the love-struck blackbird – or possibly another like him – still singing for spring.

3313248453_d7a0ee4045

Start & finish New Inn, Blagdon BS40 7SB (OS ref ST 505589)

Getting there M5 Jct 21; A 371, A368; left in Blagdon opposite Live & Let Live PH to New Inn.

Walk (5 miles, easy grade, OS Explorers 141, 154): from New Inn, walk down Park Lane, along the reservoir dam wall. On the far side, go right (504603) beside reservoir for half a mile, then forward (511608) to Bellevue Farm at West Town (517604). Left for 10 yards to road, right for three quarters of a mile; 300 yards past the top of Awkward Hill (nameplate), right over stile (527600), following path over stiles, down across fields to road (529593). Left for 250 yards; just before industrial chimney, right (531591 – footpath sign) into damp fields. Follow the footpath close to the reservoir for 1 miles; 500 yards past Holt Farm, bear left (510591) on an uphill path back to Blagdon.

Lunch New Inn (01761-462475), superb lake views from garden; NB no children indoors.

More info Wells TIC (01749-672552); www.visitsomerset.co.uk