This walk is another (like the one in Nunney) that I plucked from the pages of one of Geoff Mullett’s Walk West eBooks. Pensford is a small village just south of Bristol (down the A37) that I’m somewhat familiar with, as my sister has a friend that lives in the area and, over the last few years, I’ve played the roll of the taxi driver, long in to the night/early morning at times! But it’s not somewhere I’d previously explored beyond the usual road trips heading east through Chew Magna and so, with the promise to glimpse at nearby Stanton Drew’s own stone henges, I decided that this 6.5 mile walk would be worth of a Sunday afternoon.
My first walk along this route took place two weeks ago on the Sunday, while that heatwave was still around us (to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s officially gone or just hidden behind dark clouds of rain at the minute…). It turned out to be much better than I had expected. Along with the stone circles, there was a lot to take in with the surrounding views and a couple of other historic features. One day before this, I’d walked with one of the walk calendar organisers for the Brunel Walking Group and he was concerned by the number of ‘free’ weekends we had up as far as September… It wasn’t long after I go in that evening that I decided to sit down and send him an e-mail; submitting this as my second walk in as many months. 😉
So, the big day for my latest walk was in fact yesterday. Most of the photos you’ll see here were taken with my digital camera on the day that I ‘pre-walked’ it alone. I took a few extra with the group yesterday using my phone, but those were mainly to capture to larger stone circle that I didn’t fully explore on my own.
Now, Geoff’s guide encourages you to park in a concise area near to pub not far from the viaduct you can see above. On my first visit, I found that there were no free spaces and even, that making a three-point turn to exit the area was impossible (I think I managed it in eight). Having a little knowledge of the area though, I decided to park in the Memorial Hall car park closer to Publow and a little further up from the start point of the walk. Loads of a room, a nice playing field and it also provide the ideal ‘alternate meeting point’ for my group walk.
It starts off crossing a few fields (home to both sheep and cows) and beyond the All Saints church, Geoff’s direction seem to encourage you to cross over this impressive wooden bridge. Even though, at the other end, the non-pedestrian gate was tied shut… I encouraged my ten followers to climb over and follow in my lead, when we could easily have nipped through a steel gate earlier and bypassed this rather interesting feature.
I don’t recall there being much rainfall in the weeks leading up to the first walk but some of the scenes, under the burning sun on that day; it was almost like walking through a green-version of Africa (at least, as far as my imagination can see).
While some were content to keep themselves hydrated; other animals sought shade and shelter in any and every space where they could lay.
There was a building that caught my eye to the left as I headed solo in to the combe at the end of the final field. It wasn’t mentioned on the map or in Geoff’s text so, it could just have been the remains of any old house.
This combe leads you uphill (gently) with a chance for some shade as you climb. Those trees don’t last forever and you’re soon exposed to the elements again as you reach a tarmac path that begins to level out. But then, the views of the surrounding area begin to increase. You can look back beyond Publow; beyond our worn footsteps and to the hills in the distance.
This dry, hard path eventually leads you to a point further south down the A37 from where the walk started, where you must cross over and join a route on towards Stanton Wick. I found this part a bit arduous on my own but it seemed to last mere minutes with a group of ten following behind. There are several footpaths the break-away from this lane, through fields and wooded areas but, after a post-investigation using an online Ordnance Survey map, they only seem to lead you to other points along the often-busy road. So, if it’s a choice between following a quiet lane and squeezing past a sea of speeding cars; well, I think that says enough.
Dipping down through a narrow lane and in to a woodland area (which apparently used to home a railway line), you then reach the steepest climb of this route, which lasts for two fields, until you reach another country lane or road in Stanton Wick. From here, you do get some more views of the surrounding hills and countryside, as you pass a pub (one of three on this walk) on in search of the next footpath, leading us through more open fields.
It was only at this point that I really began to hesitate over the route I was following. Until now, pretty much everything was recognisable; I just had to trust my instincts. But, on the two occasions I’ve now lead the group, I’ve been a good thirty-seconds ahead of the pack… I could list various reasons as to why I do this but one major benefit is that it literally gives you time and space to think ahead. ‘Where are we going after this field?’ ‘Fairly soon, we’ll have to pass those cows...’ ‘I reckon we’ll reach the stone circles in about 30 minutes – that could be a good place for a lunch stop… Because Becky keeps asking! 😀‘.
We reached this corn or wheat field (perhaps I should call it a ‘crop field’) where the way-marked signs encourage you to turn left… But Geoff insists you go right, away from what is apparently a coal field. Because what you’re actually walking through now is the original coal field and, if you look beneath your feet, you can find carbonised lumps in all shapes and sizes (I was crumbling a golf ball-sized lump in my hands as we passed through yesterday). I’m not a geologist but I found it interest, just how brittle it was (why didn’t I take a photo?!).
A couple of fields further on and I was confronted by my fear of “curious” cows. Sometimes, they just don’t know when to leave you alone and to let you walk through in peace… This herd was all over the gate before I even set foot on their side of the fence! I was hoping that Geoff was wrong. I circled that field twice looking for another exit point, before realising I’d have to traipse along more sweating tarmac… So, I remembered what I had seen from a Yorkshireman on another walk the previous week and decided to be brave. I walked in to the field, closing the gate behind me. I confronted the cows, who barely moved as I walked towards them. As I made myself “BIG” [waving out-stretched arms around…] they began to allow me an opening; just like when Moses (apparently) parted the Red Sea… Walking through water is one thing but walking through the middle of a herd of cows is, I’m pretty sure, not the smartest idea. I could’ve been stampeded and trampled over, because I promise you; they did not give me an inch of breathing space as I made my way to the exit at the bottom of the field. That shuffling sound was quite frightening. They would pick up the pace as I tried to maintain my own. Each time I stopped to turn around, it was like one of those games we played in primary school… They became motionless in their line. More arm flailing and a few of them began to back away, until I continued in my footsteps.
Fortunately, this herd was nowhere to be seen when I took the group through there yesterday. 😉
This then lead us through a farm that has some ponies, a gaggle of geese (not pictured) and, on my return visit with the group; there was another horse-like creature that kept sniggering its teeth at me… I want too say it was a llama but it could easily have been one of those “clones” (you know; the ones everyone mistakes for being a llama but it’s got some ridiculous name…). I didn’t stop long enough to photograph it because it was unpenned and, with the way it was looking at me, I was worried it might charge.
We were in Stanton Drew and now very close to the lesser-known stone circles of this area. As if we hadn’t seen enough of the domesticated animals already; we passed a field with two donkeys… And a horse, which didn’t sit right in my mind. To me, it’s like putting an otter in with a sea lion – ‘Oh, they almost look the same…‘
I’ll be honest and say that the small stone circle isn’t much to rave about. Of course, it’s an important part of our heritage and history but it’s not going to ‘wow’ you in the sense that I imagine stone henge near Salisbury and the other circles around Avebury may also do. Much of this one is disguised by long grass and it’s hard to make out the full ‘circle’. It did make for a lovely lunch stop though!
The largest stone circle in this area is also visible from this same field so, on my pre-walk, I was quite happy to try and capture that view with my camera… That photo doesn’t do it much justice but it is apparently one of the largest monolithic structures or arrangements of its type in the UK. Yet, it’s still very much unknown. I’ll bet many commuters drive within three miles of it every day; unbeknown to its existence… On my first trip, I avoided stepping inside because I was certain you were expected to pay. So, I went on a slight detour around the village and on to another henge that resides in a pub garden (that’s the second of three!).
These stones were, individually, probably the largest in the local area. Their formation is tiny but their balance appeared rather delicate. I did have to try to angle my shot carefully, so as to avoid parked cars on one side and pub-lunchers on the other! Upon leaving the pub garden (it is mainly for customers), we headed back towards the farm but this time, I decided to take a chance by leading us toward the largest of stone circles, which I decided not to close in on during my lone visit.
Last time, I ignored it simply because I was under the impression that English Heritage enforced an entrance fee (even though you could potentially sneak in through the side gate…). After that walk, I took a look at their website, where it appeared as though entry is actually free, even if you’re not a member. As we closed in on the main gate, there was a large sign asking for £1 per person. The temptation was to press on an not pay, without any figure of authority in sight. But, a keen-eyed walker spotted in the available leaflet that they only ask you to consider placing your donation in the Honesty Box… Ironically, she was also the one to march ahead without any honesty(!) so, I called her back to drop a coin or two in the box, along with the rest of us.
These stones were (to me, at least) much larger than they had appeared from a distance. It was difficult to make out the concentricity of the ‘circle’ but I also realised that there’s another small circle in the north-east corner of this same field. I regret not trying to take a group photo of everyone here but it was nice to be able to walk around and explore this sacred space, before we got back on track.
By now, people might have expected that they had seen all they were going to see, as we were less than one hour’s walk from the finish point at a lovely pub garden. We crossed more fields, accidentally startled a cow, passed through a meadow and then, just before the pub stop, Pensford’s railway viaduct came in to view…
That’s the same structure I showed you at the very start of this post. In all the times I’ve driven to Pensford; times where I’ve parked up the bottom of the hill on the A37, before walking back uphill… If only I’d raised my head and looked left a little more often, I might have noticed this spectacular sight at least once before!
Our walk did end in a lovely little garden beside a stream, not at all far from the bridge you see above. We were blessed with the calming sounds of falling water, along with the sun still shining high in the sky. And to think; it was raining on and off as we departed from the car park several hours earlier… I’d like to thank Laura for buying me a coke, which I accepted in exchange for standard fuel costs that the drivers expect. £2.60 can be dear for a pint glass (of coke) but it covered the bill perfectly. To the penny, even!
On a personal note, I came away from the walk with an immense feeling of satisfaction inside. But that word alone doesn’t describe how it felt… My anxieties in the start eased very quickly, especially once we got passed the confusion over the start time. It was great to see familiar faces, especially of those who were on my only previous walk and also, another who had said they would’ve joined that one, if not for other commitments. This feeling is something I don’t get in any other part of my life, which is why I intend to keep leading walks. I’ve made some incredible close friends in the last year or less but there’s something about sharing your own joy (a walk that you liked) with a group of others and, when that feeling becomes mutual… That’s it. That’s what I’m alive for.
As we made our way back across the main road and uphill to our cars, I forgot to point out this one final monument known locally as The Round House. I actually meant to do some research in to the history of this one before hand.
I used to worry about things like whether people would not enjoy a walk I’d put on but, just because I’ve walked it before, it doesn’t mean to say that they have also. People wouldn’t make an effort if they were expecting to be dissatisfied. I feel like I’ve earned a level of ‘trust’ or similar as a walk leader it again makes me feel good inside.
Thanks for reading and a huge THANK YOU to everyone who came along, whether or not you ever come to read this. For the entire album of my photos, please click here.