It was the final day in a year from which I can retain many positive memories with great feelings of personal achievement. As someone who isn’t overly social and continually abstains from alcohol though, what else was I going to do to on such an occasion but to head off on a rather extensive walk?!
This one began in my current home-village of Wrington. My car remained stationary; my walking boots were on before I departed out through the front door.
There’s a distinct bovine theme to the opening of this walk, as I headed south towards the A38 and the Mendip Hills beyond. But the fact I’d like to underline right away is that I had a mid-point destination in mind for this one. It wasn’t a spontaneous, ‘aimless’ ramble and yet, I’d not planned so extensively as to be able to confidently predict whether I would arrive back home before nightfall…
It was 9.15am as I removed my key from the door that final time. I soon reached the outskirts of Lower Langford and took an often by-passed footpath opposite Stepstones Farm (who housed The Wurzels for one night, back in June). There always seem to be cows in this field. Big, black ones, too. I passed through the gate with caution and the big one, closest to me at first, seemed aware but undisturbed.
Without warning, three of the others made a run towards me and, with their suspicions aroused, another one in the distance (possibly an overly-concerned parent) began making an audible fuss! These cows were running at me and I’m sure one would’ve bowled me over had I not raised my arms and told it to stop! Maybe they were just expecting food. I’ve found some cows can be difficult in the (summer) evenings. They didn’t follow me for much further as the parent and I was able to ‘escape’ over the next stile without any further threat to my life. It just a bit too much of a heart-thumper, only fifteen minutes in to the walk!
I confidently followed an un-sign-posted route that eventually leads to a lane that crosses land owned by the Bristol University‘s School of Veterinary Science campus.
Throughout my short-time in Wrington (just over one-year), I’ve learned that this area is notorious for “Rogue Landowners” who don’t offer enough consideration to the public rights of way. I’m assuming it’s one person because these obstructions are all clustered neatly together.
While that impassable stile is bad enough (I just scraped over, with my 6ft1in of height); at the other end, you come to a damaged stile (although I small gate lies beside it. This marks a crossroads where you should be able to continue straight on and over the lane. But can you see the blue chain that secures both gates in the background of the photo below?
These are both incidents I shall be reporting to the local authority.
Moving on and over the B3133 in the direction of Churchill; I’m pleased to say that there were no such issues for much of the remainder of this walk. It all started with this surprisingly inviting footpath that skirts around what I believe was the site of Monaghan Mushrooms. This farm used to pollute the busy road with its undeniable stench. But, if they haven’t made great efforts to reduce their output then perhaps I’ve just become accustomed to it?!
More cows lay in wait for me as I approached the next stile and although heads were already turned upon my arrival, it was almost as if their hooves were affixed to the ground.
Isn’t this the way you were bought up to understand cattle in the accessible parts of our countryside?
I soon picked up a road just around the bend from my local doctor’s surgery and from here, looking at my map, I was destined towards an area of woodland.
Would you believe what I found in the centre of this mini-forest…
Yes, that’s right!
They were mostly too busy eating something to attempt firm eye contact but there were most definitely pigs living and serving a purpose in the middle of these thin, upright trees.
I see so many cows and sheep on my walks that it’s a real treat to spy an animal like this. Wait until you see what I met a few miles further on!
Leaving the woods, I made a brief but steep climb to the top of Windmill Hill. Above, you can see my view gazing back towards Dolebury Warren and the ‘hub’ of the Mendips.
Heading down in to Churchill, I needed to prepare for my first crossing of the A38.
This theme of ‘red’ continues at least as far as one substantial home back in Lower Langford.
That sign quite clearly defines the footpath but, it’s not an officially issued waymark sign… Does it need to be reported?
Climbing up and around the site of what was once apparently a quarry (although unable to see through the trees), I realise that I’m passing the tail-end of an entrance up to Dolebury Warren, which implies, to me, that I possibly walked a further stretch of this lane once before, on a walk with a friend last year… It’s funny how no two paths look alike! I also earned my first sighting of Crook Peak, which was always going to be the midway point having come this far!
I was now following the Lynchcombe Lane Path in to Sandford Wood. This proved to be a popular spot for dog walkers and was one of the most highly-visited areas I visited on this outing.
I’ll have to look in to the destination at the end of the sign above, as it could well be convenient when walking with others.
I didn’t continue far enough through the woods and in to the heart of Sandford for a glimpse of the quarry (there are several in this area). From here, I almost turned back on myself to take a descending path down to Uplands Cottages.
This time, I was greeted by a rather eager (and somewhat lonely) donkey!
I felt extremely sorry for him, in there all on his own. He didn’t look like he had enough to occupy his time. Without any hesitation, he poked his head between the rails and decided my hand was only there to stroke his head.
Have you ever heard a donkey whine before? It’s the saddest sound. I stayed for a good 5 minutes, as I don’t often see donkeys in places like this – even when I do, they’re largely docile, unaware and almost in a sedative state. I expect I’ll be walking through there again some day!
I’d been walking a good three-hours now, without a rest and I could only think reaching a convenient place for lunch. Looking at my map, I could only see a succession of uphill segments in my immediate vicinity and so I forced myself to keep marching on.
I followed the West Mendip Way along Winscombe Drove back in June and that memory was an entire world away from the reality of the ice and mud of this day.
Reaching King’s Wood, I discovered the usual and highly-anticipated overflowing car park; not to mention a couple of new(or restored)-looking paths heading down through the woods. Somehow, the opportunity to overtake people enlightens my legs to keep pushing on and to climb up towards the trig point at Wavering Down.
This was where I chose to rest. Crook Peak remained another thirty minutes away and I decided it would be better to refuel at this point, or risk forcing myself up one hill too many. After only ten minutes, the sharp sense of winter had set in and I was reaching for my gloves and hat for the first time in over an hour.
However, this would end up becoming the one and only walk where I did not continue all the way to the summit of Crook Peak!
I turned right well before the final rise and went off in a downhill direction towards the village of Winscombe.
I never pay much attention to the right (north) of Crook Peak but it’s actually very nice.
Despite the sun and the dry forecast, this was not a day for long-distance landscape photography.
It was a day for others to reign on top of the world.
Some time passed before I found my next path. There were several paths worn across the field; at least three heading in separate directions. The two that looked closest to my match came to an apparent end with no further waymarking… I walked up and down; back and around for what must’ve been a good half-an-hour. I perfected my confused-map-reading-face in case any irate landowners happened to pop up.
Then, I realised that a large wooden field gate at the end of the ‘middle’ path was unlocked. Anyone could lift the hasp to permit passage through and I could spot a clear route down through the trees, complete with the stamps of horseshoes.
At the bottom of the slope, the waymarks returned and I next found myself following Barton Drove, which became a surfaced lane providing access to a farmhouse before I turned left to head down over Church Knoll.
I passed a family climbing up from what appeared to be the obvious right of way (and there is only one shown on the map) but moments before reaching that gate, I spied a definite metal kissing gate just beyond the bracken to my right.
It may appear to be another case of a landowner not permitting full access along a public right of way but, as I mentioned just now; there is another gate that allows you to continue. Either way (as I found out, after scrambling over the wire fence!), both paths will lead you down and in to the rear of the churchyard.
I took the next photo moments before losing both of my feet and falling almost 90° backwards!
All I could think of was to protect my recently-repaired camera! My right harm somehow saved that from much of the slick mud on the slope beneath me and, if not for my backpack, I could’ve done far worse than to have painted my backside in brown!
It’s almost frightening, if you think about things like this too much… Without a backpack, I could’ve hit my head. If I was walking up that hill, I could’ve fallen face first or at least hurt my arms in a desperate attempt for survival. Had I been a few inches further back, I’d had risked colliding with a stone wall… But, if we were to live and think like that all of the time then we’d remain permanently and securely strapped to our beds, never to step outside our own front doors!!
These gates beside the entrance strongly caught my interest as well. Very ‘un-church-like’, compared to just about every other holy building I’ve visited on my travels.
I can no longer remember precisely what time it was but I’m certain it was beyond 14.00 and I’d always hoped to be back by 16.30, by which time it would be quite dark… Having two hours to spare sounds about right. From here, I decided not to mess around too much and took a few paths across fields before reaching the Strawberry Line.
This former-railway line is a very popular route for cyclists, where one end resides in Cheddar and the other leads you directly to the railway station in Yatton.
My intention was to follow it as far as Congresbury (less than 2 miles from Yatton), after which I could hopefully make a late dash across familiar fields to avoid the risk of night-time traffic.
I’ve walked the majority of the route leading back down to Cheddar and I know the stint between Congresbury and Yatton as well. But this section, leading up through Sandford, was a new one for me.
I’ll be blunt though… As far as the terrain goes, there isn’t much here that would intensely satisfy your average long-distance walker. It is a cycle track, after all (even though pedestrians legally have the right of way). Landscape views and few and far in between. Although, for railway history buffs, there’s perhaps excitement to be found in both the following of this line and also, the passing of what once was a series of platforms and stations.
In recent years, there have been talks about extending the line down as far as Wells but it still seems as though we’re a long way off from seeing those plans come in to fruition.
While following the Strawberry Line through the Thatcher’s Cider brewery, I notice signs stating that this portion of route is closed annually on Christmas Day. No reason is given.
It wasn’t long after leaving Winscombe – even, before joining the cycle path – that my left leg behind to tighten up on the outside and around the area of my knee… I walked with a slight but increasing limp almost as far as Congresbury, before I found a bench to rest at briefly (I was racing against the fall of night). It was around 16.00. Perhaps my slip in the churchyard had aggravated it. My familiar right-foot pain was in attendance as well.
That five minute rest, along with some serious stretching, seemed to alleviate the difficulty down my left side but, by the time I’d turned off and in to Congresbury, meandering my way down residential streets, it had returned. A wooden footbridge crossing the River Yeo could not be found quickly enough.
It was already 16.30 by the time I reached those final fields, with the river as my guide. It would be dark by the time I returned to the road that would lead me home and too boggy beyond Iwood for me to consider contending with (not to mention the cows). Fortunately, I’d packed both my headtorch and a small hand torch before leaving home (even though I forgot my hi-vis).
By the time I unlocked my front door and flicked on the kitchen lights, it was 17.15. I was very sore and, even after an immediate shower, that pain would return the very next day, with the stiffness intensifying… What a way to welcome in the new year!!
An enjoyable walk, in spite of all physical suffering and I’m not sure I could say I’ve ever experienced a greater New Year’s Eve (Day)!
In review, it looks like a did a good 10 miles before I stopped for lunch atop Wavering Down – not bad going, considering my average winter walks are never long than 12 miles from start to finish. I almost completed 13 miles before reaching the Strawberry Line and then an additional 4 miles (17 miles in total) before taking a detour through Congresbury.
That leaves my final tally standing proud at 20.5 miles with the aid of a car!!
Happy New Year! I took last weekend off in order to nurse the pain (missing out on a trip to Glastonbury Tor, even) but I look forward to my first walk of 2015 and I’m certain you’ll get to read about it soon!