Search Results : somerset

Feb 202021

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


 Posted by at 02:23
Dec 192020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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One dark night long ago the huntsman at Alfoxton Manor was eaten by his own hounds, so says the tale. He got up from his bed to quell a dogfight in the kennels, and they didn’t recognise him in his nightshirt.

Setting off from Holford on a glorious winter day of blue sky above the Quantock Hills, we stopped to admire the old dog pound beside the path to Alfoxton. What a pity those hungry hounds hadn’t been safely penned up behind its stout stone walls.

William and Dorothy Wordsworth came to roost at Alfoxton (then ‘Alfoxden’) in the summer of 1797. Nearby lived their new best friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
We passed the manor house, solid and white among beautiful beech and oak woods. Coleridge and the Wordsworths walked daily over the hills and through the deep wooded combes of Quantock, ‘three people, but one soul’, as Coleridge put it. Rumours spread that the three strangers were spies for Napoleon, and the Wordsworths had to leave their Eden in the Quantocks, never to return.

Along the drive missel thrushes with spotted throats were busy raiding the cherry trees whose scarlet fruits dangled at the end of long stalks. The birds darted from tree to tree with their characteristic muscular wing thrusts and direct, purposeful flight.

Red deer hinds went trotting springily across the paddocks among the horses. The Quantock Greenway path wound at the foot of the hills, with breathtaking views opening northwards over the Bristol Channel, its tides stained a milky mulberry hue by the mud of many estuaries. As we gained height we made out the upturned hull shape of Steep Holm island, the white lighthouse on neighbouring Flat Holm, the long spine of Mendip running inland, the far coast of Wales in a blur of distance – and on the shore below, the giant’s geometry set of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, still laboriously a-building.

Up on the top the wind blew cold. We followed wide grassy bridleways where hill ponies with ground-sweeping tails cropped the verges. A fantastically exhilarating ramble, east along the ancient green trackway evocatively titled The Great Road, then slanting steeply down to join the homeward path in the depths of Hodder’s Combe with its skein of rustling brooks and springs.

‘Upon smooth Quantock’s airy ridge we roved
Unchecked, or loitered ’mid her sylvan coombs*.’
*Wordsworth’s spelling.

That’s how Wordsworth remembered those happy Quantock days in ‘The Prelude’, and it neatly summed up our day, too.
How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate, some short climbs; moorland and valley tracks, some muddy; streams to ford
Start: Holford Bowling Green car park, Holford, Bridgwater TA5 1SA (OS ref ST 154410)
Getting there: At Holford (A39, Bridgwater-Minehead) follow lane by Plough Inn (brown sign ‘Combe House Hotel’) to car park.

Walk: Left along valley road. Follow ‘Quantock Greenway’/QG (green arrows), and ‘Coleridge Way’/CW (quill symbol) for 2 miles. Cross Smith’s Combe stream (132422, signposted); continue on QG, CW. Pass conifer plantation; in 150m, sharp left (129423, fingerpost, blue arrow/BA) up bridleway. In 450m at top of slope, left at track crossing (127420). Follow broad green bridleway south for 1 mile, keeping ahead over all track crossings, to Great Road trackway (132407, fire beaters). Left; in ⅔ mile, descend across widespread track crossing (141410); in 150m, fork right beside trees (BA, ‘No Vehicles’). In 300m cross track (145408); descend into Hodder’s Combe. Ford streams (144403); left along far bank for ¾ mile to car park.
Lunch: Plough Inn, Holford (01278-741652,
Accommodation: Combe House Hotel, Holford TA5 1RZ (01278-741382,

 Posted by at 01:27
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
Oct 272018

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

Information: National Park Centre, Dulverton (01398-323841);;

 Posted by at 02:22
Apr 292017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A glorious day of sun and wind, with cotton-wool clouds chasing each other across the deep blue sky over Corton Denham. Aubretia glowed in purple and pink along the garden walls of the South Somerset village, sprawled along its lanes at the foot of the long green down of Corton Hill.

Out in the fields skylarks sprang up singing from the chocolate-brown plough furrows, where chunks of pale limestone lay scattered. We headed north along the Monarch’s Way with an enormous prospect spread on our left hand, a wooded vale leading to Glastonbury Tor, the summit tower a tiny pimple at the apex of its steadily rising, beast-like back. The long line of the Mendip Hills closed the view, running off westward to the green wedge of Brent Knoll 25 miles away.

On the slopes under Parrock Hill a flock of sheep ran frantically bleating after the farmer as she puttered by on her quad to refill the feeder. One of the ewes came cautiously up to sniff my fingers. Her lamb peeped out shyly from the shelter of its mother’s flank, the sun shining shell-pink through its outsize propeller-shaped ears.

From the mellow stone houses of Sutton Montis the old greenway of Folly Lane brought us across the medieval ridge-and-furrow to South Cadbury, tucked in the lee of Cadbury Castle’s great ramparted hill fort. A look round the excellent archaeological display in the Camelot Inn, a glance at the 700-year-old figure of Thomas à Becket painted on a window arch in the village church, and we were climbing a stony cart track through the Iron Age ramparts to the wide, sloping summit of the hill.

Did King Arthur, the ‘once-and-future King’, ever feast here with his warriors and his treacherous queen? Undoubtedly not as Tennyson and Hollywood depict him, all in shining armour in many-towered Camelot. But a major excavation in 1966-70 brought to light the foundations of a great aisled feasting hall, built in the early Dark Ages at the crown of Cadbury Castle. And spectral riders still sally forth from the fort at midnight, local stories say, their horses shod with silver that flashes in the starlight.

Start: Queen’s Arms, Corton Denham, Somerset DT9 4LR (OS ref ST 635225)

Getting there: Corton Denham is signposted from South Cadbury (A303 between Wincanton and Sparkford)

Walk (7½ miles, lanes and field paths, OS Explorer 129): From Queen’s Arms, left. Opposite church, left along Middle Ridge Lane. Round left bend; in 30m, right (633224, ‘Woodhouse’) up lane. At top, over stile; west across 3 fields, then cross 2 stiles and turn right (625224, ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW). MW north for 1 mile; descend from Parrock Hill to road (629241).

Up road opposite (‘South Cadbury’); in 150m, left up stony lane to road (626246). Left to T-junction; right (‘Little Weston’) out of Sutton Montis. In ½ mile on left bend, right on footpath (620252, ‘Leland Trail’/LT, ‘South Cadbury’). In 100m (626256), left over stile (LT); right along hedge. Stiles, LT for 600m to Folly Lane; left to South Cadbury. At Camelot pub, right (632256); 100m past church, right up lane (632254, ‘Cadbury Camelot’) to Cadbury Castle hill fort.

Make circuit of ramparts; return to road. Right; in 500m pass Crang’s Lane on left. In 100m, left (633249, fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA), down across field, across brook (YA) and on ahead across field and past barn. At entrance to green lane (633246), right over stile; left along hedge, then line of trees, then bank on left. In ½ mile, right (637240, YA) down fenced path, then lane past Whitcombe Farm and on to road junction (631237). Left; pass road on left; in 100m, left up steps and over stile (‘Corton Denham’). Follow path up through hedges, on with hedge/fence on right for ⅔ mile. Through gate (635229); down green lane to road; left to Queen’s Arms.

Lunch: The Camelot, South Cadbury (01963-441685, – features Cadbury Castle exhibition

Accommodation: Queen’s Arms, Corton Denham (01963-220317, – stylish, comfortable village inn.

Info: Yeovil TIC (01935-462781)

Walk The Wight: Sponsored charity walk across the Isle of Wight, Sunday 14 May –;;

 Posted by at 05:37
Feb 132016

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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 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; – cheerful, bustling pub
Info: Wells TIC (01749-671770);;

 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
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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
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
May 242014

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
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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 ( 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.

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Lunch: Picnic. NB: Castlebrook Inn, Compton Dundon, currently closed – due to reopen shortly

Collard Hill Nature Reserve (NT):; Large Blue blog –;

Large blue flight season: Generally early June-mid July (check website!)

 Posted by at 02:06
Feb 152014

When the kids were tiny, a winter treat was a visit to the Greyhound Inn at Staple Fitzpaine to watch the morris men. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On this cold midwinter day the old grey stone Somerset inn still smelt and felt much as we remembered it from back then, a rich and heady mix of open log fire, furniture polish, beer, good food and a whiff of muddy boots. But I’d forgotten how the church tower stood tall behind its trees in a prickly welter of crocketed pinnacles and the goat-faced, humpbacked gargoyles that are known in this part of the world as hunky-punks.

We went up the long farm track past Staple Park and Staple Lawns, then turned south through the woods and began to climb the escarpment of the Blackdown Hills. The silver grey clouds over the hills parted reluctantly enough, and I felt the lift of the heart that comes with the first honest sun of the year warming a face too long chilled by the east winds of winter. The countryside dipped and rose in waves of grey and cream-coloured stubbles and olive-green pastures rising to the leafless woods on Blackdown ridge.

A buzzard flew down and landed on an oak branch, and we stopped still to admire its speckled breast and fiercely hooked yellow beak. The path led on among the trees, gradually gaining height, with a grand view opening behind us across Taunton Vale for 30 miles to the long blue bar of the Mendip Hills on the northward horizon. We crossed a string of former commons, now partly overgrown with well-managed woodland, in other parts still lying open and pimpled with the tussocky nests of yellow meadow ants. Boggy ground had invaded the small fields around the ruined farm of Britty, and there were the mossy remnants of old cart lanes to follow up to the sandy heights of ancient Neroche Forest.

Saxon kings hunted Neroche, and so did the Norman lords who superseded them. But the broad summit of the range with its wide views to all quarters must always have been a valuable strongpoint. When Robert Count of Mortain, half-brother to William the Conqueror, came to construct a castle at the top of the forest, he founded it on a great ramparted fort that Iron Age tribesmen built up here.

We went up through enormous earthen ramparts to find the motte or castle mound and the ruin of its baileys and ditches among widely spaced oaks and beeches. Between the trees we looked south towards the green hills of East Devon, and then made for Staple Fitzpaine with Somerset’s flatlands and hill ranges spread out before us, a feast of West Country landscape lying waiting for spring.

Start & finish: Greyhound Inn, Staple Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA3 5SP (OS ref ST 264184)
Getting there: Bus – Stagecoach ( service 99, Taunton-Yeovil
Road: Staple Fitzpaine is signed from Bickenhall, off A358 Taunton-Chard road (M5, Jct 25)
Walk (7 miles, easy, OS Explorer 128): From crossroads by Greyhound Inn, follow ‘Park Farm’ road. In 150m, on left bend, keep ahead (262182). In ½ mile pass Staple Park Farm; keep ahead (‘Bridleway’ fingerpost, blue arrows/BA) through gates on gravel track (‘East Deane Way’/EDW) and Herepath Trail/HP. Dogleg round Staple Lawns Farm. In Oakey Copse, turn left (245185) on broad bridleway. In 1 mile turn right up Underhill Lane (247173). In 300m, opposite cream-coloured house, left through kissing gate (247169, EDW). Ahead along grassy ride, keeping close to fence on left, following EDW and yellow arrows/YA. In 350m go through a gate (248166, EDW), cross a track, through another gate (YA) and keep ahead. In 200m dip to cross a stream beside a wooden railing with EDW arrow. Follow main track uphill to reach T-junction of tracks just below conifers. Left here (EDW, BA) on path, to meet track above Mount Fancy Farm (251163).

Turn right up track; left into wood through gate (EDW). Follow surfaced bridleway, then main path (EDW, HP) for ½ mile to Britty ruin (258160). Right (EDW, BA) along lane. In ¾ mile cross road and on (267159, EDW) into trees. In 150m, track bends left; in 400m, at 3-finger post (271161), turn right (‘Castle Neroche car park’) up track to castle ramparts. Return to 3-finger post; ahead downhill (BA) along Green Lane. At road, right (270167); pass drive, then in 10m right up lane past former chapel. Through V-stile; follow hedge round to left; through another V-stile; ahead through 4 fields by stiles to cross road (274174). Down Crosses Farm equestrian centre’s drive opposite (fingerpost with YA). Over stile by barn; over following gate; through boggy field. Follow path round to right; in 100m, left at fingerpost, through bushes; follow path over rough ground to Perry Hall (seen ahead). Cross farm drive (271179); through gate ahead (YA). In first field keep hedge on right; in 2nd and 3rd fields, hedge on left; cross stream in dip (270183); ahead to Staple Farm on skyline. At road (268184), left into Staple Fitzpaine.

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Lunch: Greyhound Inn (good food, beer, cheer, smells) – 01823-480227;
More info: Taunton TIC (01823-336344)

 Posted by at 07:35