4 great winter walks in Somerset
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The Ramblers Society shares its favourite hikes in the county for you to try
The Ramblers would usually be looking forward to its Festival of Winter Walks at this time of year, with a focus on our led groups walks, but the uncertainty of COVID-19 means they’ll be doing things a little differently this year.
The group has a collection of well over 3,000 walks that people can enjoy on their own, with their immediate family, or their dog etc, so it has picked four of its favourite Somerset routes for you to try, if regulations allow.
Thurloxton, West Monkton, Hestercombe and Nerrolds Farm.
Leisurely walk. Distance: 5.2 miles / 8.3 km.
Approximate walking time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
This linear walk through the pleasant countryside and villages north of Taunton starts from the bus stop in the lay-by of A38 at Thurloxton junction (TA2 8RN).
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Leaving the road, the route will take you through fields, woodland and past hedges and streams, via plenty of stiles. Make sure to cross the A38 with care, one carriageway at a time, as traffic travels very fast along it on this stretch. The name Thurloxton means ‘Through the animal pen’ from the Old English purh and locian, or alternatively ‘Thurlac’s tun’, the holding of the original Saxon owner Thurlac. The manor and church were held by the monks of Taunton Priory until the dissolution of the monasteries, and after that by the Portmans of Orchard Portman.
Passing a large house named Overton, you’ll continue through West Monkton village, the charter for which was given to Glastonbury Abbey by the Saxon king Centwine in 682 – the monks from the abbey gave the village the first part of its name Monkton (it was west of the other estates of the abbey). Continuing on into more fields, your route will follow a lane uphill to a crossroads and then to views of Hestercombe House, which was originally built in the 16th century and which boasts restored early 20th century gardens – this listed building and estate are on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England, and the site is used for roosting by lesser horseshoe bats.
Arriving at a T junction, you’ll pass a church and cottage onto a track – which can become very wet in winter – and walk alongside new nursery woodland before passing Nerrols Farmhouse on the left to reach the main road between Taunton and Monkton Heathfield. In a short distance the bus stop will be reached where the bus can be boarded for the return to Thurloxton.
Nether Stowey, Bincombe Green and Frian
Moderately challenging walk. Distance: 3.8 miles / 6.1 km. Approximate walking time: 2 hours.
This circular walk starts from the village of Nether Stowey and goes up onto the Quantock Hills - the first area in Britain to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty - offering fine views over the Bristol Channel to South Wales from the higher slopes before passing Stowey Castle and Poole House in Nether Stowey on the return.
Leaving the village via Banneson Road onto footpath through fields and then uphill, you will eventually reach the hamlet of Friarn, with its fine views back to Nether Stowey and the Bristol Channel. The Quantock Hills offer a wide range of scenery with paths and tracks criss-crossing in every direction. Waters from the springs on the top have carved combes into the sides of the hills. Most of these are thickly wooded with hoar oaks and offer tranquil walking along the tumbling waters of the streams. The hilltops are covered with gorse, heather and bracken. The hills are the home of red deer - they are elusive creatures but can sometimes be seen on the skylines of the hills and in the combes.
Next, you’ll continue into woodland, and downhill to more fields and a road, crossing a small stream on a footbridge by the side of a ford. Then the walk leads uphill alongside Stowey Castle – now the ruins of an early motte and bailey castle which may have been destroyed in the 12th century Civil War. Alfred of Spain is the Norman Lord of Stowey recorded in the Doomsday and the building of the castle is attributed to him and his daughter Isobel. The castle was destroyed in the 15th century, which may have been as a penalty for the local Lord Audley’s involvement in the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 led by Perkin Welbeck. Some of the stone was used in the building of Stowey Court in the village.
Follow the lane uphill to reach a road. Turn left and go downhill into Nether Stowey. Keep straight ahead through the village, passing Poole House – thought to have been built in the late 17th century, the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge spent much time in Poole House, reading and writing in the barrel room. William Wordsworth and his sister were also frequent visitors.
Finally, you’ll reaching a T junction by a clock tower. Turn right and follow St Mary’s Street where after approximately 200 yards you will reach Banneson Road again.
READ MORE: Try this walk for history lovers
The Somerset Levels
Leisurely walk. Distance: 8.8 miles / 14.1 km. Approximate walking time: 4 hours.
This fascinating and fairly easy ramble over Curry Moor starts from the car park at Creech St Michael. It follows canal and river banks, together with some field paths and country lanes. The pretty village of North Curry is mid-point on the circuit.
You’ll set off beside the canal towpath, passing a canal bridge by Cathill Farm, then a converted canal engine house before reaching Charlton Bridge.The Bridgwater and Taunton Canal was opened in 1827, linking Bridgwater and the River Parrett with Taunton and the River Tone. It was restored and re-opened in 1994.
Crossing the railway, you’ll come to a stream and join the Rover Tone, where boats of up to 15 tons used to discharge their cargo at Knapp Bridge and New Bridge. along with coal barges came at high tide.
Passing Knapp Bridge, there are withy beds where you may see snipe in winter, you’ll use numerous gates to reach a road. Among the several industries of the Somerset Levels, willow growing and basket making are perhaps the best known. Willow trees are also a prominent feature of the landscape, although they are seldom used for basket making now, during World War One, willow baskets were so essential for carrying coal and other goods that Somerset basket makers were given exemption from joining the armed forces.
Taking a bridge over a road, you’ll now have the river on your left and will gradually descend to the moor. This is the area most likely to be flooded, so if you cannot see the grass, don’t chance it! Return to the road, go left, and walk with care to North Curry.
If the moor is clear, cross the grass aiming for a distant water pump. Leaving the moor, the track begins a climb that becomes steep and rough for a short distance (the only real climb on the walk). Your route will then take you to the hamlet of Moredon, thought to be the site of a defensive earthwork dating to Roman times. Its Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, on high ground and with Norman origins, is frequently referred to as ‘The Cathedral of the Moors’.
Your return journey begins in The Shambles, opposite the hamlet’s Bird in the Hand pub. It takes in cottages, stiles and fields, and crosses a bridge to bring you back to the River Tone, and then via road to Ham Mills, then footpath and riverbank to Creech St. Michael before returning you to your start point.
Combwich, Otterhampton, Cannington and River Parrett
Leisurely walk. Distance: 8.8 miles / 14.1 km. Approximate walking time: 4 hours 30 minutes.
Taking in the villages and countryside around the River Parrett estuary, this circular walk starts from Combwich’s riverside car park, and offers views of water birds feeding on the mudbanks of the river.
Combwich is in the Domesday Book and was the site of an ancient ferry crossing, and then a port from the 15th century. The Steart Marshes are a major wetland reserve on the south side of the peninsula, completed in 2014 and managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.
Take the riverside path left (west) running parallel to the road, and follow a signed path to Otterhampton. Pass Otterhampton Church, continuing uphill and enter a wood, then fields – the track eventually brings you out to Withycombe Hill Road by Dame Withycombe’s Cottage and across fields. You’ll cross a sleeper bridge and then a footbridge and head for a quarry, before heading uphill to more woodland, then down again past developments of young trees before reaching the thriving village of Cannington.
Passing the Globe Inn and crossing the village churchyard, a tarmac road will take you across a stone river bridge. to a main road, you’ll eventually pass the 13th century Gurney Manor house (which is now available as Landmark Trust holiday accommodation), college buildings and a golf course, before eventually reaching a field below the bank of the river Parrett.
Following the riverbank path alongside the Parrett, you’ll reach the edge of Combwich, before your route takes you to Combwich Quay and back to the car park.