20110918_MHW_Cheddar Gorge and Mendip Hills (B-Walk)
Who : The Midland Hill Walkers – B-Party
Where : Mendip Hills – Somerset – England
Maps used : 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Landranger map no. 182 Weston-Super-Mare & Bridgwater area.
Start Point : ST475,513 [Draycott] End Point : ST446,597 [Churchill]
Distance : Approx 16.6 km (10.3 miles)
Approx significant heights : Climb-1 = 200m (656 ft) ; Climb-2 = 220m (722 ft) ; Climb-3 = 105m (328 ft)
As with all MHW walks, the coach left almost dead on 7:00 a.m. which had meant being out of the house by about 6:25 for the drive to Kenilworth. Rather than go through all the blurb about car parks, timings, etc., again please use these links to see my earlier post about the MHW and the MHW’s own web-site.
The coach headed off down the motorway system eventually leaving the M5 to drive right through Cheddar heading towards Wells. Because today was my sister Janet’s birthday and she was walking today, and my other sister Julie was also out on the walk, I decided to join them with the B-walkers for the day. We and the rest of the B-party were regurgitated from in the village of Draycott about two miles outside of Cheddar on the A371, on the edge of the Somerset levels …. we were only about 30m above sea level here, even though we were miles from the coast. The A-party stayed on the coach for an extra mile or so, to the village of Rodney Stoke, for the start of their slightly longer route.
Being so close to sea level, meant only two things could happen :- 1) we could start off pretty much on the flat, or 2) we could set off uphill. Unsurprisingly, being called The Midland Hill Walkers we had a hill to climb. This entailed crossing the main road and then a more minor road, heading north-east(ish), before a surprisingly steep ascent kicked in on a grassy rise up past Batcombe Farm; the going was good underfoot so this wasn’t particularly difficult. Above the farm we continued uphill in a mini-valley, but soon after made a right turn (still rising) doubling back on ourselves to do a big zig-zag, ending up still heading parallel to our original direction. After a while (near the top of the mini-valley) we tended to the left towards the field boundary as the gradient started to ease. From here the effort level began to drop, but unfortunately so did the rain, as the low, monotonous grey clouds decided it was time to stop being just flat and miserable and become fully fledged rain – Meaning waterproofs in variety of colours (mostly shades of blue) were rapidly found and donned before moving off again.
It didn’t take long before we reached the top of our climb, took a big swing left and then followed the path (I think it might have been a bridle-way) passing above Carscliff Farm. We were now generally heading in a north-westerly direction on a long descent of maybe a couple of miles towards Cheddar. The way was on grassy fields, a narrow muddy enclosed track and later country lanes as we passed through Bradley Cross to reach the outskirts of Cheddar, having now lost literally all of the height we’d initially gained at the start of the walk.
However, we didn’t make the final drop into the small town (or is it a large village?), famous for its cheese; instead turning right to start regaining all that lost height on a steep rise to emerge in a clearing. At one end of the clearing is a metal observation tower, which a good handful of us climbed to the octagonal viewing platform. This afforded some super views westwards over Cheddar and its oddly circular reservoir and beyond over the Somerset Levels to the coast to the south of Western-Super-Mare (or Western-Super-Mud as we’ve always joking called it). However, today, because of the miserable cloudy weather the sea couldn’t be made-out in the far distance. Looking more to the east though, there was a half-decent view (albeit a rather damp one) up the lower reaches of Cheddar Gorge and the famous cliffs.
Once the handful of us had negotiated the descent of the tower, we rejoined our fellow walkers who’d patiently waited for us. At least the rain had now eased to a very slight drizzle and the optimistic among us had removed coats (the majority were pessimistic though and kept theirs on) and we again set off uphill. We were now following the southern edges of Cheddar Gorge, not that we could see much due to the trees and scrub hereabouts, but every now and then a viewpoint would afford some better views of the largest gorge in the UK.
As we climbed higher, the views became more expansive, especially where side paths branched off to reach out onto the tops of the cliff bastions / buttresses protruding out into the canyon below. The rain had now restarted (the pessimists had been right this time) and keeping my camera dry became a difficult task and made me think I’d been right plumping for the Pentax K200D with its weather-seals. This couldn’t stop the lens being covered in rain-drops though and I’ve ended up with a disappointing set of images of the gorge, although I’ve kept a few just as a record of the walk (and to illustrate this diary post).
At the top of the climb, we then had to negotiate a very slippery muddy path down through an area of woodland, not the easiest of tasks especially as the smooth limestone rocks had become treacherous in the wet; there were at least couple of people who inadvertently ended up sat on their bottoms in the middle of the path. This descent through the woods to meet the B3135 road (which runs through the bottom of the gorge) wasn’t too long in length though and we regrouped before crossing virtually straight over the B-road to enter an area known as Black Rock.
This steep sided valley is really just the top end of Cheddar Gorge, although much shallower now and has a different feel about it. There is a wide track in the bottom making walking very easy and the sides are covered in trees, the canopy creating a gloom and permanent dampness, perfect for mosses and ivy on the stone walls and exposed rock here. It was towards the top end of this area that we stopped for lunch … I plumped for standing out in the open in the steady rain, whilst others headed under some trees hoping they’ afford some protection – to me I couldn’t see much difference, only the size of the droplets being much larger under the branches and leaves, only maybe fewer of them … either way we stood eating in the rain – a necessity, but NOT a pleasant experience! …. However, a nice treat was in store for us all, as Janet (my sister who’s birthday it was) took out two big Tupperware pots of home-made cakes to hand around :- Very nice Jan’ thank-you.
Once packed away, we set off again and soon emerged onto high almost level pastureland where the rain although still persistent seemed to have brightened – bright-rain rather than dull-rain. The walking had become easier again and the pace quickened and low and behold the rain eased back down to a drizzle. This was most welcome as the inclement weather had become really quite tiresome; I think my other sis’ Julie really wasn’t enjoying herself by now!
After a while, we picked up a farm track (heading north) at Gorsey Bigbury and then, at its end, turned left onto a minor road heading east to Tyning’s Farm (a riding centre). We’d all got spread out somewhat along the road, and we used this as a regrouping place.We’d been walking on The West Mendip Way, but now (rather than continue on its route towards Shipham) we turned right up a muddy track, wire fenced on both sides to reach a pair of gates which in turn led onto an area of rougher land. We were now on Black Down, the highest place on the Mendips. There are various paths heading off in different directions here.
- One to the right would lead to the highest point of Black Down at Beacon Batch (325m/1066 feet above sea level); this would be the A-parties route, but not ours.
- A path to the left headed past what looked like a war-time bunker of sorts. It turns out that a decoy bombing town (known as Starfish) was constructed here in World War II in the hope of diverting bombing raids away from Bristol.
- However, our path went straight ahead on a track heading out into rough grass, heather, bracken and gorse heathland.
The big wide open space was a pleasant contrast to the walk done so far, especially as the bright rain had now given way to dry and patches of weak sunshine breaking through onto the fields below us. However, it was very wet underfoot; all the recent rain filling the ruts and hollows of the track making us weave left and right to find a way ahead.
As we crested the rise, some super views opened up in front of us including, in the distance, the Severn Estuary and beyond this to Wales. As we dropped on the northern flanks of the hill, we then turned off to the left on a narrow track through an extensive area of waist high bracken, dropping gently to a conifer plantation at Rowberrow Warren. We now headed further north on a track and then hung left once again rising gently onto the hill of Dolebury Warren.
At the western end of Dolebury Warren we had to climb the earth banks of an ancient hill fort (Iron Age) and then the route took us right through the middle of the sizeable fort cum medieval rabbit warren, to then drop through some woods to a minor settlement, crossed the A38 main road and then one final little rise to join a minor road (well access drive really) for the final drop down, (passing two pubs, one small and one large) to the A368 at Churchill, where we had to find the coach … turned out it was parked in a lay-by just outside the village.
Although the final stretch of the walk had allowed my clothes to dry, I changed into clean clothes, before joining my fellow hikers in the walk back up to The Crown Inn which we’d passed earlier (the small pub) which, from the outside, could quite easily be mistaken for a normal residential cottage. The inside was like a throw back in time – absolutely no frills, but the beer was certainly drinkable!
Six more mini-cakes appeared from a ruck-sack …. They’d been carried for the entire length of the walk by my sister Julie, along with birthday candles, which were promptly lit and a rendition of the eternal “Happy Birthday To You” was sung to Janet. With smiles all-round. The toilets were as traditional as the bar areas – I mean they were in an outhouse in the back garden, next to a bunch of beer kegs (I’m guessing empty!) …. And then it was back to the coach for the sleepy drive back up the M5 to Kenilworth …. I can’t say it was the best day of walking I’ve ever had, rain does that to a walk! But – it’s a super area for walking and it was a good day nonetheless.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings and my photo’s …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel welcome.