A day out in Somerset.
Initially, the arrangement was Mrs Roaming commandeering the car for the day. Not an issue, as I had decided that it might be an opportunity to chill, listen to bad music and go for a long walk about the vale. The location she was heading for was ‘Bristolish’. However, an idea occurred to me that it might be a good location for a roam. On further investigation, it revealed that the Bristol postcode was firmly within the Mendips. This was an area that I had always admired, but as yet, not explored.
I had the notion of going along for the journey, and having a good day’s roam, a wander, a hike and to generally investigate the area. Also in my mind was the possibility of a good pub lunch, and maybe a beer or two, and a beautiful spring day.
To the Mendips
Thus, early on a Saturday morning (quite early for me and far too early for her) we set off.
Traffic was light, but our planning was bad. We had to stop for petrol: thankfully time was still on our side. A map was consulted near the destination, public toilets were visited, and we arrived in good time.
Now, it being spring time, spring weather was expected. Alas, winter seemed to still be having its way. The weather forecast was for solid, substantial rain, with periods of light rain in between. Thus, although disappointed by the lack of spring weather, I prepared. Assorted layers of insulation, waterproofs, boots (always) trousers, hats, gaiters, etc, were packed and initially deployed.
We arrived, and Mrs Roaming was warmly greeted by Mr @simpsonsisters, as was I. A quick addition of over trousers, and I quickly legged it as was keen to get on in the reasonable weather.
I quickly discovered that the Village of Burrington was an entirely charming place, and thankfully devoid of traffic. A few yards into my walk I found myself in what was known as “The Square”, an area of road, or tarmac, outside the school and church. This location would have been parking / traffic anarchy in most places. A few vehicles loitered nonchalantly about it, peace and quiet reigned.
I passed a fine house with a fine grass verge, with stones to protect its innocence that alas, a larger vehicle had not respected. Farrow and Ball colour schemes abounded in this village against mellow stonework.
The lane soon giving way to countryside to the west, and the hedgerow was thoroughly populated by the wonderful, fragrant wild garlic.
A junction in the road came about, and I took a left and headed up the lane that was a dead end to vehicles. This is where the pleasant stroll ended, and work began, as did the rain.
Up the hill I walk
A steep road was to greet me, and up I went. I put on the coat and the hat, gaiters and over-trousers had been installed at the start, however, in light spirit I trotted on. Up the road for a while, until the path I desired led me astray. I passed some fine, characterful houses and some modern stock, then I took a right and headed for the hills.
On joining the path, I wasn’t sure if it was the weather or a local feature, but I seemed to be walking up some sort of stream. It was a pleasant change from mud – although wet, grip was good. I soon learnt that many paths around here were also part time streams.
Scrubby wood was my initial companion, from what I could see through my misted glasses. As I ascended, the woods became more serious, interspersed by what might have been old industrial or mining activity. Heavier rain accompanied me as I ascended, and I became increasingly warm and agitated. Opposing me in direction was possibly the only person I greeted on my walk, going sensibly downhill towards civilisation and presumably a dry place. I made a joke about the weather: I’m not sure how well it was received.
A mud road decided to become adjacent and parallel, before going on its own way, but my way forward seemed to become a verticality of mud and rock.
I ascended, and it wasn’t quite as traumatic as I imagined.
As the path flattened out, the landscape changed to pleasant heath, or maybe low lever moor. Flat and open, trees around the edge, cattle dotted around the perimeter keeping a respectful distance.
Stopping for water and oxygen, I noticed the rain had ceased so the coat came off, followed in short order by the jumper that I somehow managed to cover in mud.
Re-hydrated, and with fewer clothes, I set off, confident I had conquered most of the slope, if not the weather.
Soon I was across Burrington Ham and within earshot of the B road through Burrington Combe. The occasional thrum of cars passing over a cattle grid that marked its vehicular extremity.
A short wander up the B road led me to an ancient track way, a road of history. Alas, the maintenance of the track was also a matter of history, and the surface became quite challenging, the sort of thing that off-roaders probably have pleasing dreams about. This was my second exposure to the intriguing geology of the Mendips. I marvelled not only at the tracks extreme surface, but at how it seemed to be made out of pure bedrock: angry, irregular bedrock.
I imagined that in the past, the track might have been a road of some sort, where the manor or estate maintained it, or perhaps the parish lengths man or local industry. However, it was apparent that it had not received any attention for many years save that of the unsteady hoof and foot.
Black Down – Heath and open space
At the summit of this path (but not the hill) it changed into a marvel of mud, flattening out towards a gate that led to Black Down. The track passed through a gate into a wilderness of mud, footprints and hoof prints. Paths seemed to explode in all directions onto the heath land, like fizzy drink excitedly evacuating its container. My chosen route followed the contours but for some short time still enjoyed the mud – I picked my way carefully.
|A little bit of mud|
The route now gently downhill, with a pleasant if misty view to the summit on the left, and a valley view to the right. The gentle slope hiding the gorge of Burrington Combe. The path was undulating and very well populated with rocks, boulders and puddles, designed to keep the ramblers eyes on the floor rather than the scenery.
Four mysterious figures were stood in a line across the hillside. They seemed to be performing some sort of canine training, with the throwing of various objects and blowing of assorted whistles in a very controlled fashion. Perhaps some sort of strange countryside ritual, but more likely gun dog training. In this sort of weather the temptation to have a mischievous mutt rather than a honed hound must have been great.
Water, dancing streams
The path started to descend, and became more interesting. The sounds of water greeted my ears, and larger quantities of mud greeted my boots. The path descended slightly, bending left and following the contours, thus revealing a beautiful ravine with a crystal clear stream tumbling over rocks and ledges. Easy to ford in sensible footwear, the path ascended again in a mirror of the other side. Shortly after, another little ravine and stream similar to the last, almost identical the previous path down, again led up a slope onto more heath land.
A check of the map informed me not to be tempted by the path ahead, but to bear left; otherwise I would be returning in short order to near where I started in Burrington.
Pot hole heaven and Swallets
The path here was wet and intersected by small streams, and at times was a stream; the type of stream that you only find in this geology, that of an impermeable rock with a sponge of peaty soil atop it. These streams never make it to the bottom of the valley, Burrington Combe below, but have a rather more eventful journey. The geology of the Mendips being worthy of a blog of their own, as next to the impermeable rock, the well holed limestone. This whole area is covered in Swallets: the opposite of springs. Rather than water issuing out of the rock, the water disappears into it.
|Swallet: into the depths|
Holes abound here: not caused by industrious mining for minerals, but rather by dint of geology and the forces of nature. Some streams seem to terminate in a puddle that never seems to get bigger. In other places big indentations in the landscape occur with openings within them leading down to the dark depths. This is pothole heaven, and without suitable gear, I steered clear of close inspection for fear of a slip or a trip giving me a closer view inside than I had bargained for. Interesting terrain continued thus for a while, and it’s in my mind to return when it’s not one of the rainiest months on record to see what the water situation is like under more normal circumstances.
Of interest along this whole section was that large swathes of bracken had been mown and gathered up into the sort of enormous agricultural rolls that litter the arable autumn scene. Bracken, whilst in many ways quite scenic, is a plant bully, and given time converts any acidic soil into its empire. In years past braken was harvested for animal bedding, but this has fallen out of favour, and has little in the way of natural predators. It’s good to see this pestilential plant converted into artificial logs for open fires, with the multiple environmental benefits of improving biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and saving trees!
Further along, the land to the right (north) rose into a hill and the land to the left became a valley, a gate is passed through; a meeting of tracks and a change of direction.
An expanse of grassland initially, the path rises and the vegetation changes to scrub and wood. Easy walking for a while, passing a plantation (mud, again) briefly whilst going up a hill. Then there appear signs of former mining activity. Peace and quiet reign here, the only sounds are those of the birds singing and the distant clop of horse hooves on the far side of the valley.
Another ascent and the reward is now in sight!
|Iron Age Hill Fort|
The ramparts of a hill fort become apparent, the shape and form distinctive to anyone acquainted with such structures. An unusual feature of this site is an abundance of limestone scree. Most hill forts that I’m acquainted with are on the chalky downs of Wiltshire and Dorset, so the presence of so much rubble is a surprise.
Entering the hill fort I ignore the inner sanctum, and head directly up the remains of the ramparts to the summit. The weather having initially been quite anti-social; however, the day was now showing considerable promise. It had not rained for some time, and a few minutes after getting to the summit the sun made a watery appearance. I basked with joy in the mild warmth it brought, but there was still a quantity of cloud about.
|The View from the top of Dolebury Warren|
Although hazy, the views were stunning! It is well worth the effort of the climb, and I will return on a clear day – I suspect that the Bristol Channel and Wales would be visible in the distance.
Time for lunch, off to the pub
For many reasons the walk had taken longer than usual, mostly my examination of assorted features along the route, constant photography, faffing with clothes and general meandering. As such my innards were hinting that it was time for luncheon and I had few supplies with me as I was planning on visiting a public house.
|Hill Fort Features|
I set off through the hill fort with a purpose, downhill through the aforementioned features. At the bottom, westerly end of the fort, a track started. Slippery and slick with damp and the polish of time. A trickier-than-it-should-be section down this old road, through a gate and into a sprinkle of houses, the noise from the nearby A39 becoming louder and invasive.
The pleasant little hamlet of Churchill Batch greeted me, and guided me to the valley floor after a left turn. A stream running through the valley being of interest due to it’s indecision of where it should run its course. Thus, quite a bit of the next section involved walking through the stream, it choosing the track as a more convenient place to flow rather than over its own river bed. Having missed my turn for the next path, I performed an about turn and located a path up the side of the valley.
Up through the garlic
Here the valley was woods carpeted with the fragrant and impossibly green wild garlic, the wafts of which were taunting me with the promise of food. Out onto a country lane, lunch now firmly in mind.
The lane was quiet and mercifully free of traffic, save for what I presume was a DoE expedition. Clumps of teenagers shambling along, occasionally consulting a map and even more occasionally interpreting the maps information correctly. A small and charming church was passed, and an ancient brick wall, the other side the ground level with the top and offering a low level vista of more garlic. A rise up a hill, and finally the hostelry hove into view.
|St Michael & all angels, Rowberrow|
The Swan Inn is a splendid place, and seemed highly welcoming of walkers – the potential for mud not an issue as the floor was sensibly of stone and devoid of carpet. Victuals were sought and consumed, and subsequently written about – see Ploughmans Reviewed.
|Luncheon View – The Swan, Rowberrow|
The area seemed popular with horses. Rather, I should say popular with the people that sit on horses, as I do not know the actual opinions of the horses. The popularity sensible: the pub having a place to tie them up in the car/horse park, and there being a good supply of quiet roads, tracks and bridle ways about.
Satisfied after a fine lunch
Leaving the pub, heading down the lane and turning left twice, a beautiful rural scene greets the eyes. A stone wall is a vertical garden, a great abundance of flowers and wildlife on this mini man made cliff.
|Flower Wall – Aubrieta|
Pretty houses ancient and modern, the road descends gradually increasing its decline, strong Farrow and Ball territory again. I re-join the valley departed prior to lunch, and ford the little stream; a very modern building upstream contrasting with a very decorative building downstream.
A track leads up the side of the hill, and now I’m glad my lunch wasn’t too heavy, but enough to fuel me up and leave me satisfied. After the initial assault the route became more civilised, an undulating route of gentle up and down. Areas of forest on this side of the valley, now being opposite side of the valley to my journey out. Plantations of trees of assorted ages: areas that had been clearly felled in the past few years, some similarly treated a decade ago, an area of majestic, mighty, mature and imposing conifers, new saplings, also areas of robust mud.
The track mostly level, the valley bottom rises to greet me. Another track sidles up the valley and becomes parallel, and like a traitor I cross to it. An intersection of another track brings me full circle on the second part of my walk, and I retrace a few of my pre-luncheon steps. Dolebury Warren again on my left, but this time I continue and head along the track that will eventually return me to Burrington Combe.
The Woodland Trust
To the right is the Mendip Lodge Estate. Easily recognisable by the many signs informing the general public that they are not welcome, that the footpath is elsewhere but not precisely where it is – just generally other than here, and with the veiled, implied menace that trespassers might be accidentally shot!
|That way, not this way. Keep out!|
On the left, the National Trust land runs out and becomes the Woodland Trust. A fine, possibly the finest I have seen, wooden five bar gate adorns the entrance. As I have time on my side, I chose to lean against the gate for a while. An opportunity to absorb the scenery, the peace and quiet, the birdsong and the occasional distant roar of aircraft escaping Bristol Airport.
A lidded, wooden box attached to a fence promises leaflets containing information on the works of the Woodland Trust here. I lift the lid and it fell off. The box is empty. I replace the lid, and remain un-informed.
The track starts a slow bend to the right, and whilst wide, becomes increasingly steep and uneven, bedrock polished by centuries of foot traffic, offering the opportunity to slip over at any step.
A path to the right takes me past what might have formerly been a style, and into a wilderness of Laurel. The Laurel is to be a major feature for some distance, and surely not very good for the woodland it has invaded. I wonder if the Mendip Lodge Estate might be better to focus on dealing with this invasive evergreen rather than with menacing lost pedestrians.
A levelish track now follows the contour of the hill, and was presumably once an important access. Crowded with Laurel, and interspersed with areas of marsh, it is a reasonably easy amble. A ruin of a once sizeable and impressive Mendip Lodge stands forlorn along this track, the only clue to its identity, a laminated advert for a book on the Rev Dr Thomas Sedwick Walley.
|Mendip Lodge Ruins|
The next section is more of this track, and to be honest, not very interesting.
Eventually, the path swings about again, with a few more dire warnings from the estate, and a carpet of garlic, the path suddenly spills onto a little country lane. I swing left. Within a few yards a little path on my right piques my interest, with a sign declaring it “Restricted Byway”, so I investigate.
I think calling it a byway of any sort is pushing it. In places it required quite a scramble over rocks, and it terminated in what seemed to be someone’s front garden, the gap barely big enough for a horse and impossible on wheels unless you are one of those downhill mountain bike acrobats.
Thus I am delivered to Burrington Combe, and a quick hop back to the car and Mrs Roaming. I am not going to delve into it here (hurrah you say) but I wandered off in a different direction and did not finish the walk as planned, but wandered off up the Combe. As I passed this spot again an hour hence, having time to spare, I will edit out the detour and take us down the Combe towards Burrington.
Wandering up the country lane shortly after the car park I was surprised by a hill that I wasn’t fully expecting, but I tackled gamely, surprising still with a spring in my step.
At the summit I re-joined my previous passage from the village, now free of rain and heading down hill. The view across the vale a good reward and a fitting finish to my roaming, the fine church and manor house making the view a stereotypical rural scene. A stop on a bench in the village allowed me the opportunity to remove gaiters and restore some decorum to my clothing.
Shortly after I re-joined Mrs Roaming where I had left her earlier, she too had had an enjoyable and productive day.
|Flower. A sweet end.|