Saturday 11th July 2015
Climbing out of bed around five-minutes later than intended, my goal remained to arrive in Bristol in time for a group-led walk around the Brecon Beacons… But the meeting point was in Clifton; an area I, for some reason, struggle to arrive at in time. This walk was no exception to that unwritten rule and so, arriving a good ten-minutes after others had supposedly departed, I was on my way home again, filling my head with negative and self-critical thoughts.
Somehow that morning, I managed to revolve my thinking in to a plan of action to set out on an afternoon walk that would most likely see me returning home a little late for my evening meal, but still safely ahead of nightfall. That’s when I settled upon a walk I’d drawn up weeks earlier, beginning in the village of Wellow (a few miles south of Bath), with by far the biggest attraction being the chance to finally visit Stoney Littleton Long Barrow along the way.
If you hunt around online, you’ll find several guided walks available to print off that also take in the long barrow but I was struggling to find anything longer than four-miles. A couple of these began at the spacious free car park in Wellow and so I knew that this would be a good place to start, as rural villages aren’t as often blessed with as much space to freely leave your vehicle behind.
I followed the guidance of my SatNav for a good fifty-minutes. In the process, I also discovered a quicker route from my home, over the A38 and on to the A368. Beyond that, the drive was mostly similar to the first section of the route I followed down to Dorset on Friday.
From the signed car park (which is more of an open grass field, but hey, it’s free), I walked up to the High Street and followed this east through the village, along an elevated route that passed beneath the church.
Passing beneath a bridge, I was looking for a the entrance to a byway on the left, almost immediately after the local horse-riding centre (Google Street View helped me to identify this ahead of my arrival). Leaving this village behind, I could see the countryside expand beyond the tarmac beneath my boots.
Following this byway, my route ahead was clear, with the delight of a golden wheat field just over the fence.
As I came to a field gate, I realised I was going to have to face the old enemy on the other side… Fortunately though, these beasts were of the timid and submissive variety (plus, I wasn’t leading or trailing a dog at my side).
Keeping left at a fork towards the far end of a woodland patch, I then made a right-turn at the next junction, following a path that was almost hidden beyond the grass that filled the majority of the field. My best bet for navigation was to keep the stream to my left.
Striding out in to the sun, the fields that followed were well maintained, free of livestock and pleasantly contoured the lowest point of the hill to my right.
Fairly soon, I was on my way towards a farmhouse after an absence of waymarking, that would see my arrival in Hinton Charterhouse.
I’d come across the name of this village before but looking at an OS map, the one feature that stood out for me was the italic scripture of Hinton House. From my location though, access to the right of way here meant having to brave a good half-a-mile of tarmac… A road bound only by the National Speed Limit (60mph) and, due to the frequency of traffic for a Saturday afternoon, I could see that it’s a frequent rat-run to the A36 and back.
Needless to say; if I end up leading a group walk in this area, I will do my utmost to avoid this bit.
There’s another footpath that cross this busy road but to get there would mean a greater diversion plus an extended march along man-made ground. It’s a shame because, once you’ve escaped the traffic, the landscape is inviting.
Along with the dozens of sheep, you get an early glimpse of the local church while soon passing the aforementioned Hinton House from a distance:
This footpath exits in to the churchyard before reaching a quite road.
It was here that I noticed this significant ‘resting place’, unlike anything else in the vicinity:
For my eyes, the carved text was far to worn to be decipherable and I’ve yet to find any information onlines as to who was buried here.
Crossing the quiet road, I passed through a wooden kissing gate to discover my first stretch of ‘unkempt‘ footpaths on this walk. It tried to throw me off at one point, before the greens climbed almost to the height of my shoulders… But I made it in the end.
Further fields were more forgiving. It was almost as if the landowner(s) were more than happy to oblige in their duties of maintaining our right to roam.
Nearing a small wind turbine (which I assume generated energy for nearby Norwood Farm), I got my first glimpse of a White Horse, somewhere to the east:
I assume this was Westbury White Horse; one of at least two I’ve not yet seen up close.
Nearing the main road as I close in on Norton St. Philip, I’d intended to cut diagonally across the field above, but for obvious reasons. Navigating the perimeter was another impossibility and so, I returned to the tarmac, passing a sign that warned me this stretch was private and to ‘keep out’.
It was also at this point that a waymark reminded me I was within the Mendip District of Somerset… Albeit, towards the eastern end, which has a reputation for overgrown and less-frequented footpaths (at least, in my own experience). I assume that’s because, when people do flock to the Mendips, they headed instead for Cheddar Gorge, Crook Peak and Black Down; all of which lie tens of miles to the west.
Following the south-easterly road through Norton St. Philip, I missed the right-turn I was looking for, which I suspect was somewhere in or beyond the pub car park.
Marching on in search of a quiet lane (as I don’t like to turn around or retrace my steps), I passed the first of what would become three modern housing developments in this village.
This is a topic that has caused a lot of heated debate in villages surrounding my home this year. For whatever reason, the construction of these estates and its certainly ‘less-affordable‘ housing has received approval. I know that there are other villages only a stone’s throw to the north under a similar threat.
Free from the bricks, cars and concrete once more, I was setting off on a two-mile journey to a point named Tucker’s Grave Bottom… When you see that on a map, you just have to go and have a look, don’t you?
It was from this point onwards that was again reminded of which end of the Mendip Hills I was walking in.
This gate, securely chained not to open, in spite of its distinct waymark, should’ve been my first indicator to choose a different route.
Had I looked to my left ahead of this pool of water, I’d have noticed a wooden footbridge, that would’ve saved me having to dance over the occasional scattered rock below.
I saw tadpoles swimming happily beneath the surface (yes, the first time I had ever seen tadpoles on a walk).
At a junction, I made a decision, avoiding a steeper climb and it appeared to begin so well…
Until I found myself wading through greens that were already high above my elbows! Thoughts of turning back began to grow. Yet the signs that someone else (if only twelve-months ago) had walked through here at some point, kept me going… Sadly, the next field wasn’t any better, to put it kindly.
Further ahead, I braved a small band of cows (one of whom, appeared curious, yet not determined enough to follow close to my lead), before reaching the sanctuary of a solid road just outside of Faulkland. That long barrow was getting closer!
It’s a funny sensation when you find yourself appreciating the firmness of a road. I passed another field with a gang of calves watching me closely. Several times, I played the game of pretending to hide away, only to hide behind a hedge and re-emerge once they’d edged closer to the gate (a bit like when someone descends a previously unknown staircase, hidden behind a wall, for example) but I couldn’t get them to creep close enough (maybe they could smell the Wine Gums in my pocket?).
I passed another view of the Westbury White Horse before turning left, to follow a clearly-defined bridleway running between New Plantation and Littletone Wood.
Walking on without paying too much attention to my surroundings, I paused at a crossroads and pondered over the paths available. I could see the western edge of the plantation sweeping away to my left, which encouraged me to follow and unmarked but defined to my right and heading north…
This gamble payed off. I was soon passing through a waymarked gate, heading downhill before the inevitable climb up towards the long barrow.
I don’t recall crossing paths with any other human along any of the public footpaths on this walk. But as I begin to climb, I noticed another solo-walker heading in the same direction, albeit from a path closer to the farmhouse.
According to my OS map, the only right of way here continues up alongside the hedge to the left. But I saw the other guy climb over a stile ahead of the gate I was aiming for and, as I approached in his trail, I realised this must’ve been the permissive path that several routes I’d read had alluded to.
Something had set the birds off at this point. I don’t know; they were just buzzing around without any apparent purpose.
I saw the other guy circumnavigating the barrow in one direction and so I deliberately followed, in the hope of avoiding a social confrontation.
There’s only one accessible entrance in to this long barrow, where as some of the others dotted around the country may contain several.
As I investigated this portal for myself, whipping out my camera for this shot, the other guy emerged with a friendly greeting. He asked simply whether I knew anything about this ancient monument – despite reading bits on Wikipedia only hours earlier, my mind drew a blank. To be honest, I was expecting to find an information board here, just like the one at Belas Knap.
He’d not heard of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow before. Living up in Oxfordshire, he happened to be driving through the area, saw the sign and decided to investigate, as he was coincidentally following a long-distance footpath nearby (I only wish I could remember which one). He’s heard of West Kennet in Wiltshire and I felt good in being able to tell him of the others I was aware of including (including Belas Knap). I hope he’ll be making an effort to visit them. Maybe we’ll cross paths again some day!
Through the sole entrance is a crawl space (if you’re really determined – or vertically challenged), around 12m (36ft) long. That alone is superior to the internal length of West Kennet Long Barrow. At the very back, although I was unprepared to reach it without knee pads, there appeared to be some form of a shrine or memorial in place.
By the time, I was done, a young family came along, including two kids who wanted to stand on top of the tumulus but then immediately wanted to get down again. This was my time to depart and draw a close to the walk.
I made the daft decision to continue north from the barrow, without returning to the path I was following earlier… An unlocked gate doesn’t always indicate an assured route of passage, even when it looks as though someone else may once have walked this way… As I was soon reminded; striding through crops in an easterly direction as I strived for the actual right of way!
Returning to Wellow, I discovered this road; wide enough only for a single car, with Wellow Brook running directly beneath it.
A bridge up to the left ensures a safe right of passage for walkers and cyclists.
But I had to wonder; how high does the water really climb in the most severe of weather conditions?
A narrow lane, running uphill between houses, would return me to the High Street and from there, I could arrive back at the car park.
As I climbed, I noticed something moving, on the ground just ahead of me and to my left… This lane was darkened, as the evening sky remained obscured beyond the trees above. Yet I could see well enough, that it was no rodent… It was wriggling, almost in a slither…
My photo lacks the clarity but it was A SNAKE!!! By the time my shutter closed, it had mostly disappeared behind the leaves and twigs. It was black, it probably wasn’t that big but it was the first I’d ever noticed on a walk. I’ve yet to identify it but this was only weeks after a conversation where someone suggested that the population of grass snakes is apparently on the rise.
I learned in this moment, that I do not like snakes!!
That aside, I was able to return to my car ahead of an evening drive with fewer cars on the roads.
There’s a good chance I’ll repeat this walk, in the hope of rewriting the route for a clearer passage that others could follow. It’s been a while since I saw ‘long barrow‘ on the calendar of the local Ramblers group.
Total distance of walk: 9.5 miles (approximately)
I managed to draw this up using Bing Maps. It’s a little fiddly and I’ve done this without any permission but I found this guide to be quite helpful and from that, I was able to produce a screenshot (Shift + PrtSc), which I could paste in to Paint (Windows), crop and then upload as an image file. It should give you a good idea of the route I followed and I aim to continue doing this in future walk write-ups.
To see all photos from this walk, please click here.
Thanks for reading.