First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
We set out under a cold grey sky on one of those dank winter days when you are glad of the company of two pelting dogs to cheer you up and urge you into motion. There is nothing more ridiculous than a dog frisking about like a mad thing, and nothing better at barking the midwinter blues away.
Priston lies sunk in a fold of ground just south of Bath in that debatable land where Cotswold and Mendip hills blur together. Beyond the stone-built cottages we passed the church of St Luke & St Andrew with its curious central tower and outsize weathercock.
The path led south-west down a narrow valley where a slim and nameless stream slid round its bends under a coat of leaf-green weed. On the far side of the park-like wooden fences, ewes heavy with lambs stared and turned tail. Hazel twigs wriggled with catkins, snowdrops hung their white heads among the damp black leaves of last summer, and the bare hedges were netted with ragged powder puffs of old man’s beard.
The dogs played follow-my-leader, sheepdog Megan with a stick across her jaws. Cockapoo Philip zigzagged from one ditch to another like an earthbound snipe. By the time we reached the farm lane at the foot of the valley, he was sporting a thick and clotted pair of mud trousers, and had turned colour from pale cream to chocolate brown.
Turning north up the hill, we passed an old sheep-dip in the break of a field, beautifully shaped and stone-walled. Alas, no water in it for cleaning filthy Philip. From beyond the hillock of Priest Barrow came the pop-pop of shotguns and a faint cawing of rooks disturbed from the roost.
The path sloped down to Stanton Prior and the little grey church of St Lawrence. From here we turned south across the slopes of Pendown Hill to drop into the Priston valley, spread in greens and greys below. At Priston Mill the pool lay as dark as smoked glass. Beyond, the cottages and farm of Inglesbatch stood along their ridge.
The dogs, garbed from muzzle to tail in mud, led the way home beside a brook overhung with pussy willow buds as soft as kittens’ paws. In the sodden fields buzzards sat and waited, hungry enough in this back end of winter to be grateful for every unwary worm they could seize and swallow.
How hard is it? 7 miles; easy; field paths, muddy in places; 2 streams to ford)
Start & finish: Ring o’ Bells PH, Priston BA2 9EE (OS ref ST 694605)
Getting there: Priston is signed from Marksbury on A39 Bath-Wells road
Walk (OS Explorers 155, 142): Leaving Ring o’ Bells, turn left along side of pub. Take left fork to pass church; bridleway continues (692604, ‘Bridleway’); over stile and on (yellow arrows/YA). In 250m, fork left (YA) to valley bottom, and follow path for 1 mile to road (677595). Right uphill. In 200m, left through kissing gate/KG (677597); right along hedge, following YAs north for ¾ mile past Priest Barrow to road (675610).
Forward for 50m; forward off road (fingerpost, KG). North along hedge; across footbridge; through KG, up to top of hill. At road (675618), dogleg right/left; on up green lane, crossing road (675620) and on for half a mile to Stanton Prior (676627). Right along road past church; in 150m, on left bend, right along byway (679628) for ⅓ mile to cross road (682623). On south (‘Bridleway’) for ⅔ mile to road at Pottern (685614). Left; fork left for ⅔ mile to pass Priston Mill (695615).
In another 100m, fork right (‘Byway’) across ford and on for 350m to gate (699613). Left along green lane; cross ford; up slope, right at top (701614). In 100m, pass barn; right through small gate; through KG. Down slope to next KG; down to cross footbridge (700611). Follow field edge, YAs south to road (697606); right into Priston.