Sunday 6th March 2016
In this series of posts, I’ll be walking from the village of Pensford (situated between Bristol and Bath) and then following the Two Rivers Way alongside the River Avon, before diverting to Stantonbury Hill.
This is an opportunity for me to create a walk in excess of ten-miles long that I would feel comfortable leading with Brunel Walking Group.
Pensford, in that between-cities niche of North East Somerset, is one of my favourite countryside locations. There are some great walks available with the scenery to suit. While the terrain itself is rarely challenging.
I led a short walk here three-years ago (around about six-miles) and, although I’ve thought about ‘re-issuing’ that walk, I’d really like to come up with something different that includes my own touch.
Departing from the village hall car park near Publow, this walk quickly joins the Two Rivers Way that then heads on towards Keynsham (although I’m not following it that far). For your information, this is a walk that begins alongside the River Yeo in Congresbury (only a couple of miles west from where I live) and then continues north of the Mendip Hills past Chew Valley Lake and through historic villages like Stanton Drew. I hope to be able walk more of this throughout the year.
In the beginning, the walk was very familiar and I was confident in following in the footsteps of those I had walked several times before.
I was quite alarmed to be meeting these bulls [just look at those horns] so very early in to this walk, where I’ve previously been able to bypass them through a neighbouring field… But for all their stares and glares, they were content just as they were. My greatest concern came from the state of the footpath ahead of me.
It follows the left-hand edge of the field boundary and then around towards the church, where you join the road. You can see for yourselves how waterlogged it was. It looked as though many other people had already recently walked this way ahead of me.
Passing around the back of the church and on to the fields, I could look left to see this spectacular wooden bridge, which looked brand-new when I first walked over it back in 2013…
Back then, it wasn’t actually a legal right of way – I made an error in following a written description and then went on to lead half-a-dozen others along what was an unlawful trespass… This year though,you can see the timber has aged a little and also note the clearly visible waymarks, indicating a recent redirection from the path as plotted on my 2009 OS map. Unfortunately, there were no ‘redirection’ notices on the ground that I could see.
I was now heading through a hedge and towards a byway, where I would often previously turn right and head on towards Stanton Drew. It looks as though you can go left on the map but, I only encountered a dominant stream.
Rather than to complete a simple about-turn and take a direct route to rejoin the Two Rivers Way, I headed up the hill once more, looking to turn left and on to a previously-unexplored path.
Reaching the road, I turned left and headed down in to Woollard where I would rejoin my walk.
Continuing north-easterly, you can take one of two options. Until now, the Two Rivers Way had coincided with the Community Forest Path. But now, the Way was heading up a narrow lane while the Forest Path appeared to be crossing fields and farmland…
Can you guess which option I took? 😉
I noticed these sheep in the neighbouring field just down to my right. They seemed unusually close, considering how often a flock will dissipate from the slightest of noise. One even moved close towards me.
I assume he wanted or was hoping for something. I went to stroke his head but he didn’t like that (neither did I, to be honest – with those horns and the rough woolly texture, it wasn’t at all like stroking a dog or cat). I can only assume he wanted food. Of which, mine was not for sharing.
As I began to climb a short but steep slippery path up the hill, a group of hillrunners approached from behind and I stepped aside to allow them to pass. Shortly after that, I noticed them turning left through an unmarked field gate to join the lane. There was no waymarking but I made sense of it from my map and decided this was the point at which I would have to turn south-easterly and begin to head downhill… Following the break in the crops you see above, with a complete lack of waymarking.
Having stowed my compass away within my pocket, I found myself heading downhill – and again, I was able to relate this to what I was seeing on my map.
Part way down and there was a convenient line of rope that could help someone to maintain their footing, whether heading up or down the hill. That absence of waymarking remained but I felt confident that the Two Rivers Way was one local trail that was in very good hands.
At the bottom, I found this makeshift gateway, with the river only a few metres beyond. Walking around Somerset, you get used to finding all sorts of ‘surprises’…
Yes, that must’ve been the ‘FB’ I could see highlighted on my map – I was glad to have found it! It took a minute or so of hesitation before I decided to cross it. Before which, of course, I gave it a good shove. It didn’t move then but I decided it might’ve subsided if the river banks had burst during the floods, earlier in the year.
I survived, despite almost losing my footing (and the lack of waymarking) to turn left and continue my walk alongside the opposite banks of the river, where I appeared to be passing through what must be a private fishing area of some sort.
I then came to a farm, with no clear indication as to where to go or how to get through. Casually wandering up to the gates to the yard (there was no kissing gate), I couldn’t see a route I would be confident following and noticed cars that suggested people would be present. Rather than to hang around, I began retracing my steps.
Still certain that I was on the right path, I ventured back towards the farm alongside the fence… But still, although I could hear horse riders approaching, there was no blatant permissive path for public access. So, I retraced my steps, crossed back over that bridge and began walking along the other side of the river.
That’s when I encountered the roaring weir in the photo above. Quite a site to behold – but clearly, not anywhere near to the Two Rivers Way or any other public footpath! My compass also confirmed that I was heading in the wrong direction and then, I realised that I must be near to Mill Farm.
It was time to take the rope back to the top of the hill!
I lost a good half-hour in my time from all of that, even though I avoided being spotted and, as I can proudly claim, survived two trips across that bridge! Looking far ahead, I could see two hills. Unsure of this at the time, I now know that Stantonbury Hill is the tree-topped mound to the left, where I would intend to stop for lunch.
Within minutes, I discovered the correct footbridge, passed a friendly fisherman on this Sunday morning and was heading in to Compton Dando.
There was a pair of these wooden benches beside a pond and I can only presume they are in fact privately owned and for private usage. Although the footpath crossed the house’s driveway, there was nothing else to suggest this might’ve been a public space.
Having already lost a good thirty-minutes, I didn’t want to lose any more time to even a five-minute stop in the village.
From Compton Dando, I left the Two Rivers Way on a more direct route towards Stantonbury Hill. This involved an unfavourable amount of road walking, divided by several hundred metres following a near-ankle-deep bridleway.
But this walking did present some decent north-westerly views towards Dundry.
Almost following the original course of the Wansdyke (which remains prominent across Wiltshire), I arrived at a junction with the busy, noisy and unwelcome A39 near Marksbury. Not for the first time in recent miles on this walk, I felt as though I wouldn’t feel comfortable leading a group this way.
Over the road, the hill was unmistakable.
I can imagine this first field succumbing to over-grown crops during the summer months. This doesn’t appear to be a hill that is climbed or explored very often. Mud along here was of the kind that’s thick enough to cling on to your soles and increase your overall height by a good 3in.
These views towards Bath, however, would be the last I would see before completing my ascent and crossing over to the southern side of the hill.
There was no denying the route up to the top, which was frequently signposted, with additional notices informing you to keep dogs on leads and stick to the footpaths. I lost my way a bit once upon the top and ended up following a track as far as a parked and abandoned car… Retracing those steps to the top of the hill, I encountered two men – the younger of which was equipped with a shotgun, while the older gentleman was keen to understand my intentions and highlight the fact that I wasn’t currently on a footpath.
Luckily, I never got my head blown off!
Stantonbury Hill is a lot like Danesborough (or Dowsborough) on the Quantocks, in the sense that it so densely covered with trees on all sides that there are no panoramic visual rewards for your ten-minutes of sweat and ascent. Worse still, you can quite clearly hear the breeze of passing traffic from the north.
In part two, I’ll walk you back to Pensford along my chosen from Stanton Prior. I have so far neglected to mention that I began this walk around 9am on Mother’s Day… Bearing in mind the start point is almost a thirty-minute drive from my home, I was also required to be attending a pre-arranged pub meal a few hours later…