Category Archives: Somerset.

A long day of Somerset wandering.

Compton Martin – Tunley.

My b and b continued to surprise, a man in his pyjamas and stocking feet gave me one cup of tea, previously ordered scrambled egg and promptly disappeared [presumably back to bed] never to be seen again. I let myself out. It had rained all night and back on the wooded slopes of the Mendips the luxuriant undergrowth was damp a pleasant feeling after the last three days heat. Monarch’s Way was encountered for a few fields. Buzzards were a constant sight and sound. Little villages were encountered, West Harptree having a rare shop where I was able to buy a fresh sandwich. Even at this stage of the day I was making silly navigation mistakes through not concentrating, maybe I was tiring. A steep hill brought me up to  Prospect Viewpoint and seat with the Chew Valley lake below, I was joined by a couple of dog walkers and a cyclist. A short distance further and I couldn’t resist a morning coffee in the Ring o Bells pub, Hinton Blewett. I looked behind me and there were 20 -30 cyclists arriving, desperate for beer and food, the place was heaving. A large sociable group had come from Bristol.

Prospect viewpoint.

Prospect viewpoint.


I then had difficulty finding my way out of the village, coffee only I assure you, and I had now walked off my OS Explorer map and onto my photocopied bits of paper. At one point the path through a couple of fields had been freshly mown – thank you. In the next barley field there was a constant popping sound which I couldn’t trace  – must have been seed pods of some plant in the field.    

Walking up a lane a couple climbed a stile to my right which I would have missed, this led to a high traverse above a valley with hundreds of anthills. Then I became lost walking out past a farm onto a road, the paths just didn’t fit but I pressed on into more fields with no stiles, out came the compass, I don’t have GPS, and I realised I wasn’t at all sure of my whereabouts, I’d walked off my map. It wasn’t helped by my the fact that my photocopied map was disintegrating from sweat in my pocket. I had only one choice, knock on the door of the only cottage in sight and ask “can you tell me where I am?” The young lady was so helpful and pointed me in the right direction and after some creative walking within 30mins I was back on route.A surprise section in a deep wooded gorge brought me onto a disused railway and then a disused canal at Timsbury Basin. This was the terminus of the Somerset Coal Canal running to Bath, parts of the basin are still evident and I walked a stretch of the canal towpath. Elsewhere I used the disused railway which replaced the canal. There had been many collieries in this area, all now assimilated into the landscape. I remember reading an account of William Smith’s contribution to  geology and this was highlighted by his observations whilst surveying in this area for the canal. He recognised  from fossils that the earth was laid down in strata and this was replicated throughout the country. He published the first Geological map which went against the current religious thinking that the earth was only a few thousand years old. He suffered for his forward thinking, became bankrupt and discredited and only later recognised as the ‘father of geology’.

If a public footpath comes through your garden what do you do?  In the next mile I came across two frustrating solutions and their occupants.                                                                                           1. Ignore it.  The first delightful garden was entered on a signed way but then I was left to wander about looking for an exit. The pleasant man pointed out a gate exit. We had a long chat about the canal, dieting, immigration, bees etc but it had never occurred to him to put an arrow on the gate to get people off his property.                                                                                                2. Divert it.  A little further at a gate guarded by three friendly dogs the sign said go straight through but there was an obvious way round. The owner appeared and agreed that hundreds of people used this route, he had provided a simple ‘unofficial’ diversion but not signed it. He did not want to pay for an official diversion and I did  not want to walk through his garden.

Someone's garden.

Someone’s garden.

Both these examples show the owners’ resistance to public rights of way across their properties and their ineffectual ways of dealing with the problem. They knew about the footpath when they purchased but have buried their heads in the sand.  Come on be reasonable. Both gentlemen were pleasant enough and it was good to meet them but how simple is to resolve the problem and make life easier for all. I shall be writing to the relevant highways authorities.

Moving on I followed the Cam valley further and then climbed the steep hill to my wonderful Airbnb near Tunley with views south across the valley.  Another day without rain.



Somerset Levels and Polden Hills.


Bridgwater – Street.

The sign above my Bridgwater b and b stated “simple home comforts for hard working folk”. Most of the hard working folk here are Eastern European and they are up and about all night. Makes me realise what a sheltered life I lead in my Lancashire village. Bridgwater is an old port and the constant screaming of seagulls give it a nautical air. 

It took a while to walk out of and I was glad to be in the rural Levels, a flood plain that has been drained to provide agricultural land, both arable and pastoral. A lot of the fields are divided by ditches rather than hedges. The paths were poorly marked and overgrown, a large scale OS map was essential to find the little plank bridges spanning the dykes. 

 The walking was of course level as I made my way between small hamlets – Chedzoy, Parchy, Sutton Mallet and Moorlinch. Interesting  squat Somerset churches were visited. The one in Sutton being particularly fine with its wooden box pews. In the church yard I sat on a seat donated by the BBC after shooting an episode of The Monocled Mutineer, a historical drama I had missed.

Behind were the Quantocks and ahead I slowly climbed into The Poldens. There was a messy section through farmland where you were made to feel unwelcome. Any  Samaritans Way signs had been a rarity.

Public Footpath.

Public Footpath.

At last I was on open ground past the conspicuous Windmill Farm and onto the highest point Walton Hill 82m!  A nearby viewfinder from 1940 has been made redundant by tree growth. In other areas there were good vistas across the Levels and to the north up popped the strange Glastonbury Tor. 

All downhill now to Street which came as quite a shock – a shopping extravaganza and a busy outdoor pool resembling the seaside, the temperature was in the high 20s. Cider and fish and chips seemed appropriate.

Glastonbury, more Levels and The Mendips.

Street – Cheddar.

Breakfast was chaotic, I was down at 7.30 wanting an early start before the heat, but was beaten to it by a coachload of Isreali tourists. They were giving the waiter a hard time with all their demands. As well as breakfast they were preparing lunch at the tables and asking for ingredients stored in the kitchens fridge. I settled down to copious fruit juices and observed the farce, my cooked meal not appearing for an hour when they had gone their way to no doubt create mayhem elsewhere. I congratulated the Spanish waiter and his backup on their cool manner.

I was almost at the top of Wearyall Hill when a man hailed me asking the whereabouts of the thorn tree. I had heard the legends of holy thorn trees being planted here, going back to Joseph of Arimathea from Christ’s time sticking his staff in the land. The man, not Joseph, had come from Poland on a pilgrimage to search out holy sites. So we joined forces to find it  and in fact stumbled on it within yards. It looked dead following recent vandalism but was hung with ribbons from the faithful who feel the forces. A local lady joined in with more information and we had a pleasant interlude up here all the time overlooked by Glastonbury Tor.

My Polish friend and the tree.

My Polish friend and the tree.

On my way down I came across a group led by a girl scattering rose petals as they  climbed up – but this Avalon, land of long skirts, beads and crystals all very evident in the town.

I listened to music on the long flat miles through the next levels, I find The Traveling Wilburys a good walking beat.

Ahead was a small ridge to cross and the paths again seemed unused, several were blocked and there were lots of annoying electric fences with those awkward hook ups. I was hot and bothered by the time I reached the pub in Westbury sub Mendip, an ice cold drink did the trick. Sub Mendip meant there was climbing to be faced but the views back to Glastonbury Tor were outstanding. Along the ridge there was a succession of stone stiles  featuring a large stone to be mounted.

Looking down on Cheddar I fell into conversation with a local man reminiscing on his childhood in the 50s with this as his playground, we had lots in common.


Cheddar below.

Cheddar below.

Ice cream was my next priority, the delights of the gorge can wait till tomorrow.


When I sit and reflect on UK long distance walks that I’ve completed over the years I realise I’ve walked most of the land. I wont bore you with lists. I was out the other day with Sir Hugh, a prolific long distance walker, who in the past has gone end to end in one continuous push. This set me thinking, I’m never going to emulate that but what about filling in any gaps. There’s a large chunk from Inverness to John O’Groats,  a link from the Pennine Way to the West Highland Way and the SW below Bath.

I found an interesting website covering the whole of the route in stages –   Sadly I read that the author passed away in 2011 but his site is maintained and provides a wealth of information and inspiration. Hamish Brown’s 1981 book should also prove helpful.

I’ve a spare week coming up so have planned a short section linking Bridgwater with Bath. The LDWA website showed a plethora of paths winding through Somerset and I have hopefully plotted an interesting outline route based on them. Mainly the Samaritans Way SW, A Somerset Way and The Limestone Link. This enables me to visit some new hill areas – Polden Hills, The Mendips and the Camerton Hills just south of Bath. – and in contrast The Somerset Levels.

Enough waffle, the train is booked and the weather down there should be better, time to pack the sack.

Cheddar Gorge and Beacon Batch.

Cheddar – Compton Martin.

My accommodation for tonight doesn’t open until 6, see later, so I organise the day to fit. Lie in, leisurely breakfast and a stroll up the Gorge. The open top buses are already packed and every commercial outlet is touting for business. I’ve come to look at the famous Coronation Street, a climb I did with Rod about 15 yrs ago.Today from directly below it looks frightening, I remember it was when we climbed it just finishing before sunset and the onset of rain.  Curiosity satisfied I came back down to find everywhere even busier but stumbled upon a semi-decent place for a coffee and snack – the rear garden of Lion Rock Cafe.

Coronation Street. E1 5b. 350ft.

Coronation Street. E1 5b. 350ft.


From the cafe it is a stiff climb straight up onto the northern rim, I am disappointed with the views into the gorge as the rocks are in shadow – I should have known. It is good to see families up here walking the circuit although I was dismayed at the woman with lots of little ones picnicking on the very edge.

Spot the picnickers.

Spot the picnickers.

A ‘roller-coaster’ led me into the wooded limestone valleys at the heart of The Mendips where I found The West Mendip Way going in my direction. It took me up onto the tops once more and then across to a different landscape. The acidic ground of Black Down was a complete contrast. Rough walking through heather and gorse to the trig. of Beacon Batch [strange name] at 325m the highest point of the Mendips.  I was not expecting to see anybody up on this remote spot let alone on a cycle. But there was this pleasant chap, not at all surly,  on an interesting Surly bike pedaling his way across country to a festival near Cheddar.

Classic Mendips valley

Classic Mendips valley

Beacon Batch.

Beacon Batch.


Not at all 'surly' cyclist.

Not at all ‘surly’ cyclist.


To the north I could see a change back to limestone on a wooded range of hills on the edge of the Mendips and this is where I picked up the Limestone Link waymarks which I followed, or tried to, for the rest of the trip in this area mainly on long straight paths and old lanes. There was almost a geometrical theme to the walking hereabouts through estates previously owned by the Sainsbury family, I patiently watched a fox ahead of me but never managed a photo.

Eventually I came down a lane into a combe in which nestled Compton Martin with its millpond, Ring o Bells pub and fine Norman church [the latter unusually has a dovecote built into it for the priest’s use]. By now the pub was open, my room was OK but there was a strange atmosphere to the place. Owned by some music entrepreneur there were signed pictures of rock stars on the walls and million selling disc tributes, all a bit egocentric but I guess that’s the nature of pop music. Apparently Kylie Minogue sang here last year, tonight it was only screaming kids – probably very similar.

Compton Martin.

Compton Martin.