A historic walk in Somerset

The ‘Rock of Ages’ in Burrington Combe which, allegedly, inspired the hymn. PHOTO: Simone Stanbrook-

The ‘Rock of Ages’ in Burrington Combe which, allegedly, inspired the hymn. PHOTO: Simone Stanbrook-Byrne - Credit: SUB

An underground world lives beneath this walk in the Mendip Hills

Burrington Combe

The expansive Mendip Hills offer a huge variety of walks and up near the northern end of their range is Burrington Combe. The lofty heights surrounding the combe are crisscrossed with enticing, and often strenuous, paths, but it is also a place of hidden depths.

Beneath the big views of this ancient landscape lies a dark, enclosed world. Entrances to caves and potholes abound – although they should only be ventured into by the properly qualified and equipped.

One of these, visible from the road through the combe, is Aveline’s Hole, famous for being the earliest scientifically-dated cemetery in the British Isles.


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It was accidentally rediscovered in 1797 by two men digging for rabbits. Early explorations recorded up to 100 skeletons, but in the early 20th century excavation by Bristol University found the remains of just 21 burials. These were relocated to Bristol Museum but were largely destroyed by bombing during World War Two. In 2003 tests on a few remaining bone fragments revealed them to be around 10,000 years old.

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Also in the combe is the enormous hulk of the Rock of Ages. This was, allegedly, the place where Reverend Toplady took shelter from rain and which subsequently inspired the hymn of the same name which he wrote in 1776 – a tale upon which doubt has since been cast.

See this month’s Somerset Life magazine for more walks from Simone, who is the author of A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset and other West Country guides.

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