Sunday 3rd July 2016
My first walk of July was one that I decided would again be fairly close to home.
West Harptree is an area south of Chew Valley Lake that I hadn’t walked around thoroughly for a good few years. I’d also been intending to go trig-point hunting one evening but hadn’t made it happen. This was a time to do it all and revisit other less-frequented aspects of the Mendip Hills.
Destined to start at the side of the road bridge that divides the lake from Herriotts Mill Pool to the south, I’d plotted a route of thirteen-miles in length that I would follow in an anti-clockwise direction.
As I arrived, there were only two other cars present – both of which had been parked, suspiciously, upon the grass verge to the eastern end of the long layby. Had these vehicles been abandoned? Did they arrive during the peak hours of Saturday and spend the night sleeping in a field?
I was able to take clear and undisturbed shots from both sides of Herriotts Bridge. Setting off towards the road corner and North Widcombe, I would pass only a solitary dog walker.
I left the road to join a wooded byway beside Hart’s Farm Cottage. With many rocks and the residual rain of previous days, it was hard work claiming to the top of Burledge Hill; an Iron Age Hillfort.
Today, there is little that would compare it to the likes of Cadbury Camp in Tickenham, with limited public access and fencing either side of the main track.
Where my walk would continue east to join the road, I headed off on a brief detour north-east in search of a trig pillar. Down the steps, I continued to proceed across land that had since been vacated by the cows that had ruptured its terrain. In places, the mud was ankle deep and I was only half an hour in to this walk.
There were views over Bishop Sutton and further west, to Chew Valley Lake, as a measure of the height I’d suddenly gained; looking back towards the familiar ridge of the Mendips:
It was worth dipping my previously-cleaned boots for what was up ahead:
I can’t imagine too many walkers venturing up this way too often, aside from the locals. But this trig pillar remains in good condition, where many others have suffered a far worse fate in similar circumstances.
I’d left the footpath momentarily to head up here but the northern face Burledge Hill is Open Access Land.
From there, I would descended a mix of wet mud and reinforced wooden steps to continue up the road; walking south and away from Bishop Sutton.
A mile or so north of Hinton Blewett, I turned right and on to Whitehill Lane. But this is not to be confused with any route that your average road vehicle would attempt to follow… In places, the mud was so deep that even horses had climbed the narrow banks to avoid getting sucked in.
This went on for a while, as insects continued to buzz all around me. Every bend, twist and turn in the path would lead to an identical fate.
Approaching West End, I was grateful to be able to leave the byway and follow the edge of the field towards a farm house. I actually should’ve turned right at a junction here and, this momentary respite was almost ‘too little, too late’. But the long grass helped to brush of a portion of the wet mud.
From here, I could follow the road to reach Prospect Stile – not to be confused with another Prospect Stile at Lansdown. This place, with its pair of benches, offers superb views across the Chew Valley and on to Dundry Hill.
As I sat down, whipped out my lunch box and poured a cup of tea, I was joined by a group of Northern-sounding male cyclists. Two of them said hello… As they gathered for a group photograph ahead of the view, whilst making reference to an apparent news story where a tourist died after falling from a cliff whilst taking a selfie in Macchu Picchu…
Then, they were off again.
From here, I ‘accidentally’ veered off from the route I had planned a day earlier and continued north, down the hillside, through further mud and on to the next road.
It was my own fault, having neglected to make any markings on my OS map. As I reached the gate, I warned a passing trio of walkers of the muddy slopes behind me (a woman was wearing slip-on shoes, I think) and I was also intrigued by the consistent bang that could be heard from beneath the drain cover to my left.
It was a shame that I didn’t get to descend Coley Hill and instead, I followed the roads as far Coley Manor Farm. My left knee was already beginning to hurt – a probably that had only recently recurred, having started back in September – so, missing one steep descent was quite welcome, on that count.
I followed the wide farm track with a little caution, as I passed in front of buildings to my left. But the way ahead was clear and the old man I passed on his old tractor waved a friendly hello, with his grandson. Further along, I’d arrive at the entryway for a pair of successive reservoirs.
This first one is stated on the map, simply as ‘Lower Reservoir’. Warning signs exist at every turn; prohibiting you from leaving the footpath, without written consent.
Around the bend, I found this:
In complete contrast to my previous experience; there was not one warning sign. Together, they’re apparently known as the Litton Reservoirs.
This water was almost inviting, while the common features of the site provided a visual feast.
Further along the path and before it began to climb uphill, I would find a waterside shack, possibly used by fishermen and boat-users. A pair of men stood outside (smoking…) were talking about catches they had made, while kids and a dog played around them.
Suddenly, this was a feel-good kind of place to be.
From the top of the hill, I found steps leading down to those attractive jets of water.
Beyond the dam, I’d find Upper Reservoir. Riddled with algae but, without doubt, more appealing than that first section near the farm track.
My walk continued along the northern edge of the water; following a narrowing track between hedges that soon reached the road. I did find a small layby opposite that may provide space for three cars, at a push.
Crossing over the road, it took me a while to get this next section right as the number of accessible stiles appeared to outnumber the quantity of footpaths drawn on the map.
Having sussed it and managed to avoid a field full of cows, I found a small weir, before crossing what I first thought was a private garden; soon to emerge opposite the church of Litton.
Part One will end there. In Part Two, I’ll be looking for a lunch stop ahead of a return to the lake.