Sunday, 30 August 2009

Brent Knoll

St Mary's, East Brent

On the final day of our short stay in Somerset we decided to visit wonderful garden at Cothay Manor near Wellington. On the way we walked up Brent Knoll, a distinctive mound near Junction 22 on the M5, which we have passed many times, but never explored.

The walk begins in the village of Brent Knoll, by the church. The path leads briskly and steeply upwards. And we had hardly started when it began to rain, not heavily but a steady light rain. The path ahead began to look less inviting.

However, as we got nearer to the top, impressive views could be discerned among the murk.

At the top (137m) there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. There is also a memorial stone recoding bonfires held for Queen Victoria's jubilees in 1887 and 1897 and later those for George V and our own Queen's. The village website reveals that during the second world war the Home Guard had a gun emplacement on the knoll.

The weather improved a little while we were up there and a nice view towards another Somerset landmark, Crook Peak, became clearer.

We then began the descent on the far side of the Knoll towards the village of East Brent. The path stretches away along a ridge towards the spire of St Mary's church.

When we got to the church, the morning service has just ended and the parishioners were having coffee and cakes. They were all incredibly friendly and welcoming - offering us refreshments and pointing out features of note in the church.

The current church dates from the late 13th century: the nave was completed in 1298. The plaster ceiling of 1637 in the nave is especially lovely. There is a similar one, by the same Italian craftsman, in St John's church at Axbridge.

Another special feature of the church is the wonderful 15th century pew ends which came from Glastonbury Abbey after a refurbishment there.

Leaving the church, the route then skirts the north side of the Knoll and involves a long series of fields and stiles (there are 25 on the whole walk). The unfamiliar northern view of the Knoll clearly shows the presence of the iron age defensive works.

Eventually, you emerge in the north west corner, where there is a lovely view of Bridgewater Bay and beyond.

From here, a couple more stiles lead to a very steep descent down to the village and a lane which leads back to the church. We didn't go in because a christening was underway.

Distance: 3 miles.

From: Shortish Walks: The Levels and South Somerset by Robert Hesketh (Bossiney Books).

Map: Explorer 153 (Weston Super Mare).

Rating: Four stars. Surprisingly strenuous for a short walk. Wonderful views and a delightful church.

Flower of the day

There were several clumps of Great Willow-herb on the way up.

Saturday, 29 August 2009


St Mary's, Wedmore

We met up with friends for this walk from the centre of the attractive ancient village of Wedmore. Its place in history was assured by the Treaty of Wedmore signed in 878 between King Alfred and the Danish King Guthrum which defined the Saxon and Danish territories and also resulted in the Danish king being baptised. Alfred had defeated Guthrum at the battle of Edington in (relatively distant) Wiltshire.

The walk begins from the handsome church of St Mary's which dates mainly from the early 15th century, although the lowest level of the tower is much older, perhaps dating from about 1200. Just to the left of the tower as you look from the nave is 1520 wall painting of St Christopher, which was re-discovered when the church was renovated in 1880.

At the bottom of Church St you turn right and then follow the road towards Wells passing the "Wedmore International Business Park" on the left. This scruffy structure seems to be operating under false pretenses: it's certainly in Wedmore, but it is hard to credit any of the other words.

Soon you turn into Mutton Lane, climbing steadily and then turning left into Mill Lane. This begins as a tarmaced road with houses, but soon becomes a green lane. At 70m, this is the highest point for miles around and there are splendid views to the northeast over the Levels to the Mendips. Nyland Hill (76m) can be seen in the middle distance.

At the end of Mill Lane, you turn right and right again and follow a lane west towards Sand. Now there are further nice views over the Levels to the south.

Approaching Sand, you swing right to return to Wedmore. We were very taken with this thatched cottage of 1820.

Distance: 3.25 miles.

From: Shortish Walks: The Levels and South Somerset by Robert Hesketh (Bossiney Books).

Map: Explorer 141 (Cheddar Gorge).

Rating: three and half stars.


Wedmore is the main place on the Isle of Wedmore, reflecting of course the era before the Levels were drained. Although I have been to Wedmore many times, this clockwise walk along relatively high ground has for the first time made real the idea that it was once literally an island, at least when then the surrounding marshes were flooded. A book on the Somerset Levels by Robin and Romey Williams (Ex Libris press) contains the assertion that sea-going ships ventured as far inland as Wedmore in the fourteenth century, but this really is difficult to credit.

At a more general level, a walk like this invites reflection on why the countryside looks the way it is - and brings you up against your own ignorance. More reading beckons!

"How are you on trees?" I was asked. Pretty rubbish really. I think I will add a tree of the day to my flower of the day as part of a drive to improve.

Flower of the day

The delightfully named Meadow Sweet. I have seen it before without knowing the name, and also hitherto failed to take a reasonable picture.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Dunkery Beacon

View east from Dunkery Gate

In Somerset for a long weekend, we decided to go further afield than usual and try this walk on the edge of Exmoor, which I found in Country Walking magazine (Spring 2009).

Dunkery Beacon, owned by the National Trust, is the highest point in Somerset and on Exmoor, at 519m (1705 feet). There is a small car park on a minor road at Dunkery Bridge and from here a wide track leads up through the heather towards the beacon, although this is not visible from this point. As the picture above shows, the views even from the car park at 380m are splendid as you look east towards Wheddon Cross.

It was sunny as we set out, although showers were forecast, and quite soon as we climbed up the slope we saw a rainbow: a sign of things to come.

The views from the Beacon were wonderful in all directions. This is the view east ....

.. and this is north towards Barry in south Wales.

From here, the route heads along the ridge towards a series of cairns and tumuli on Great Rowberrow head. It was of course really windy on the Beacon and on the ridge and now it began to rain as we walked into the wind.

However, reaching the cairn at Great Rowberrow the weather relented and allowed a good view back along the ridge to Dunkery Beacon.

But the weather here comes from the west, and looking south west we saw another walker on a nearby cairn under the gathering clouds.

The route back involved a descent through heather and a sharp left turn onto a long track which followed the edge of the moor, overlooking fields, back to the start point. It was now raining hard into our backs and we reached the car with sodden trousers and feeling very cold. We have never been more grateful for the heated seats in the car!

Distance: four miles.

Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).

Rating: four stars. Quite, wonderful views, exhilarating.


We did have waterproofs, but overall we clearly underestimated how difficult it can be on a high moor even on a summer's day. Winter boots, another layer of clothing, over-trousers perhaps, would all have been sensible. I am not sure we needed to go as far as emergency rations.

Flower of the day

Heather - and not much else, a bit of broom here and there. This picture shows the heather on either side of the route up to the Beacon.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


St Mary's, Fairford

Another walking opportunity en route to Gloucester. The walk begins by the Bull Hotel in the market square, but before starting I made the short detour to see the town's chief glory, St Mary's church. The church was consecrated in 1497 and is unique for having a complete set of late medieval stained glass.

The windows have a lot of clear glass with lightly drawn designs, enlivened with splashes of colour. There are educational biblical scenes, but also images of fifteenth century life.

The route crosses the main road and quickly reaches the bank of the river Coln. You follow the left bank, heading east through meadows. The river itself is shallow fast flowing.

After a while, you turn left and make a tour around a lake, now a nature reserve, formed from a former gravel pit. The drawback is that the path is fenced off and is some way back from the water's edge. Lots of coots were in evidence and a single Great Crested Grebe.

On reaching the end of the circuit, a path leads back to the town.

Distance: Said to be four miles, but more like 3.25.

From: Pub walks in Gloucestershire by Nigel Hammond (Countryside Books).

Map: Explorer OL 45 (The Cotswolds).

Rating: 3 stars. Too short. The river was pretty, but the lake was a disappointment.

Flowers of the day

I saw this very pretty Water forget-me-not by the side of the River Coln.

And later, this impressive Marjoram in a meadow by the lake.

The dominant flower around the lake was this Himalayan Balsam (impatiens glandulifera).

The pink flowers are undeniably attractive, but the plant is decried as an invasive species, having escaped from gardens and vigorously propagated itself in just this sort of location. It is the tallest annual in Britain.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Mendip plateau near Priddy

We were in Somerset for the day, and having completed our business, finished the day with a late afternoon walk at Priddy - east along the Mendip scarp from Cheddar Gorge, where we walked only two weeks ago. Priddy is famous for being the highest village in the Mendips at 800 ft and also for its 600 year old Sheep Fair.

We hadn't realised it was on today! So we had to park on the edge of the village, rather than in the centre as planned. But quite by chance the farm used for temporary parking for the Fair was on the return route of the walk, so it all turned out quite nicely.

We walked into the centre of Priddy against a swelling tide of returning fair-goers and heard the appalling sound of "Yesterday" being sung as if it was a traditional folk song. We walked along the side of the famous village green, today covered of course with side shows and entertainments. We didn't see any sheep, but doubtless they were tucked away somewhere.

But soon we had left the village, heading west and already views of the plateau were opening up. We then turned south onto a path across a series of fields. It was already very windy, as you might expect on a high plateau, but we saw some butterflies (including, aptly enough, a Wall) sheltering from the wind and taking the sun on the stone field wall.

There were soon lovely views away to the west ...

... and then the path reached the edge of the Mendip scarp and there were simply fabulous views over the Somerset Levels.

You turn left (east) at this point - and walk along a wide grassy track along the edge of the scarp towards the Deer Leap viewpoint. The views looking across in that direction are even better, and you can see Glastonbury Tor just below the horizon.

After a short walk up the road from the view point, you turn left onto an old sheep drove, Dursdon Drove, and after following this for a while, left onto a farm track which eventually leads to the Wells road on the outskirts of Priddy. This is all very pleasant, but nothing compared to the earlier part of the walk.

Distance: 5.25 miles.

From: More Mendip walks by Sue Gearing (Cromwell Press, Trowbridge).

Map: Explorer 141 (Mendip Hills and Cheddar Gorge West).

Rating: four stars.

Flowers of the day

We saw a lot of this Corn Mint in the early part of the walk.

And several examples of this Wayfaring Tree (viburnam lantana) along Dursdon Drove. It is apparently characteristic for the berries to ripen unevenly from red to black.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Kingsclere: Hollowshot Lane and Hannington Village 3

The North Hampshire Downs

We wanted to show a friend who was staying for the weekend how nice the walking could be near us, and what could be better than the Downs near Kingsclere. I did both the short version and the full version of this walk in 2007. Today we decided on the short version.

You walk up from the village centre, across the playing field and along Hollowshot Lane. Plenty of butterflies and flowers in view as we passed by. There were lovely views along the line of the downs.

After the long climb to Plantation Farm, the short route turns right along Plantation Hill, descends for a while and then follows Freemantle Park Down, just below the Hannington TV mast, a landmark for miles around. We loved the curious bands of colour in this field.

The route back to the village follows some horse gallops. Drama here: I was stung on the leg by something, I didn't see what, and the day after had a absolutely vast and rapidly growing inflamed swelling. Cue contact with the doctor and assorted drugs. Seems to be going down now (Tuesday).

From: Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers’ Association Group.

Maps: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke).

Rating: four stars
. So wide open, quiet, wonderful views.


We saw several wild roses with this fluffy growth. Some sort of parasite was the consensus at the time. A bit of internet research later revealed that the red growth is known as a bedeguar, or robin's pincushion. It is the result of chemical interference with an unopened leaf axillary or terminal bud by a gall wasp.

I think I saw some Chalkhill Blues - buy maybe they were just Common Blues. Must try harder to master the differentiating factors!

Flowers of the day

We saw this striking bloom at the side of Hollowshot Lane. It looks to be a hollyhock which has escaped from a garden.

I saw this beautiful little flower in several places on a hillside meadow where I had strayed off the track in my search for Chalkhill Blues. I am pretty confident that it is a Marsh Gentian, apparently quite rare.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Whitchurch Hill and Boze Down

St Mary, Whitchurch

After a hectic few days, time for a relaxing Friday afternoon stroll. This walk begins in Pangbourne. You first cross the Thames on the Whitchurch toll bridge (photo and description in my post about the Pangbourne to Reading Bridge section of the Berkshire Way) and then make a small detour past the old mill to see the church. According to Pevsner it was wholly rebuilt in the 14th century style in 1858 by Henry Woodyer.

Then you walk up the village high street, turn left up another road past the war memorial and left again to climb a field and follow a track. These exertions bring you - reasonably enough - to the village of Whitchurch Hill. You soon leave the village and pass through a splendid flower meadow, full of Greater Knapweed, with numerous Dingy Skippers and the odd Common Blue.

The meadow leads to a track which offers splendid views to the south. The river can be glimpsed, with Reading dimly in the background.

Reaching Path Hill, you descend through woodland to reach Boze Down ...

... and shortly afterwards join the road for the long plod back to Whitchurch. This stretch is enlivened only by passing the alpacas of Boze Down farm.

From: Rambling for pleasure around Reading (second series) by David Bounds for the East Berkshire Ramblers.

Map: Explorer 159 (Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne).

Rating: two stars. Way too much road, although the middle section of the walk was lovely. On reflection, it seems clear that this walk simply started in the wrong place, since the route both starts and ends with about a mile of road.


I saw this wonderful moth startled out of a hedge by a passing car. It took less than a minute on the excellent UK moths site to identify it as The Magpie.

Flower of the day

I haven't managed to establish what this delicate yellow flower is,

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Leith Hill

Leith Hill Tower

We met up with friends for the second of what will hopefully be a long series of walks chosen alternately. The first was on Box Hill and this one was also in the Surrey Hills AONB, at Leith Hill.

With lunch in mind, we started at the Stephan Langton Inn in the hamlet of Friday Street. The odd spelling demands a little investigation and it turns out that he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1207 in the reign of King John and was later one of the signatories of Magna Carta. The pub's website helpfully offers various explanations for his connection with the locality. I still don't know why Stephan is spelled with an a.

From here we walked southeast along, skilfully guided through a complex network of paths towards Leith Hill. The route was mainly on tracks through the woods, but there were some glimpses of open country and we enjoyed these delightfully posed bullocks set against the intense green of the field behind them.

Eventually we began the steady climb to Leith Hill and emerged under a warm, misty and still overcast sky.

Leith Hill Tower is the highest point in the south east of England - the top of the tower is 317 metres (1,029 ft) above sea level. The 19.5 metre (64 ft) tower, was built in 1765 by Richard Hull of Leith Hill Place for the express purpose of taking the hill top above 1000 ft. Pevsner provides further useful information about it. The original tower was raised in 1788 and the battlements and stair turret were added in 1864. It is, he says, an accurate cope of a Wealden (East Sussex) church tower of about 1300 - and a remarkable design for 1764.

According to the National Trust, which now owns the site, on a clear day it is possible to see 13 counties and as far as St Paul's Cathedral. It was too hazy for anything like that, but the views were still impressive.

After a restorative break for coffee and water, we began our descent, on an elliptical northwest route back to Friday Street. Initially we followed the route of the Greensand Way, hitherto unknown to us. It turns out that it is a 108 mile path linking Haslemere in Surrey with Hamstreet, near Ashford, in Kent and is named after the sandstone ridge which crosses Hampshire, Surrey and Kent.

Later we followed Abinger Bottom, a delightful path along the bottom (obviously) of a wooded valley, and in due course emerged at Friday Street for a pleasant lunch at the pub.

Distance: about 6 miles.

Map: Explorer146 (Dorking, Box Hill and Reigate).

Rating: four stars. Wonderfully quiet and green, lovely views. Possibly slightly claustrophobic, being in woodland so much.

Flower of the day

We didn't see many flowers, but this Large-flowered Hemp-nettle was widespread beside the woodland tracks