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THE MENDIP RING - Leg 1a
Ashcott Corner to Walton Hill. 7 Miles
Starting from the car park at Ashcott Corner. Grid Ref. ST 449 397
From the car park cross the road, you can either walk along the cycleway on the right or the footpath on the left of the rhyne, you will have to cross a bridge
onto the cycleway halfway along if you use the footpath. The cycle has
information boards on the nature reserve, the canal and the railway Follow
this to Sharpham Crossing; turn right into Sharpham Drove passing the Tearooms
on your right, after you pass Durston's Works and the junction on your right,
look for and cross a stile on your left into the RSPB reserve. Follow this path,
which turns right, at the next right turn go over the stile on your left then
over the one on your right. Follow the rhyne on your right down to cross the
bridge. Go over the rhyne and into the field then head straight across to the
gate on the far side. Go through the gate and cross over the bridge, turn left,
follow the path down the hedge on your right to a gate at the bottom, turn right
through the gate and aim for the buildings straight ahead to regain Sharpham
Drove. Turn left to reach the entrance to Abbots Sharpham.
At the entrance to Abbots Sharpham turn right over the bridge then left through the gate and follow the path for approx 400m and then turn right at a footpath. Follow this path up the hill to reach the gravel drive into Sharpham Park, turn left and follow the drive out to the road. Turn left, then take the first path on your left, and go over the bridge follow the hedge on your left then over a stile down the side of a fence on your right to reach a field, continue down the field with the hedge on your left. You will cross four fields in total before you lose the hedge in the fifth field, aim for the houses ahead going over three stiles, then aim for the gas pumping station next to which you will find a stile, cross this onto the road, turn left up the hill to reach the A39.
Turn right pass the Walton Gateway pub then cross the road to turn left into Bramble Hill signposted Ivy Thorne. After a few metres turn left into the enclosed path just before
the second (a new one has been built) cottage, follow this path through the fields to reach a housing
estate, on reaching the road turn right and take the path through metal barriers
by the side of a garage out to another lane. Cross this entering the enclosed
path opposite, follow the hedge on your left and as it turns left and right up the field edge, ignore the first stile in a corner on your left. Continue up the field crossing three stiles
to eventually reach the road. Take care here as the road is a very busy one.
Cross the road to a small signpost where you will find a stile on your left,
cross this and walk up the hill passing the old windmill to reach the car park
on top of Walton Hill. finishing Grid Ref. ST 466 350.
Points of Historical Interest
Ashcott Corner. The old Ashcott and Meare railway station of the Somerset Central Line is opposite the car park. It is now privately owned. The edge of the brick platform is just visible from the footpath. In the 1850s there was a preaching place for the Primitive Methodists at Ashcott Corner.
Peat cutting or Turbary is first recorded in Ashcott Moor in 1344 when tenants were charged with cutting without licence. From 1808 following draining activities (Leg 8a), turbary allotments were bought and sold and by the 1830s houses were being built on them. Commercial exploitation of peat began in 1851. By the 1920s a peat factory had been established near the railway station producing such as fuel, bulb fibre and firelighters. The number of workers increased into the 1970s. Since then, and following environmental concerns, the industry has been in decline.
The Ham Wall National Nature Reserve includes the Glastonbury Canal. It was opened in 1833 establishing a link to the sea and for a time revitalising the area. It closed in 1853 as the Somerset Central Railway Line, now the footpath, opened in 1854. The Line closed in 1966. There are descriptions of the nature reserve, the canal and the railway on the information boards along the cycle track.
Professor Mick Aston said in a lecture on Glastonbury,
'Never underestimate the importance of a good visual landmark to the medieval traveller'. Glastonbury Tor, now ahead to the east, is just such a landmark.
The chapel of St Michael on the summit of the Tor was built in the 13th century. Only the tower remains. It was here that Abbot Whiting and two of his monks were executed after refusing to accept the King, Henry VIII, as the Head of a Reformed Church in England. The Tor and the lower slopes now belong to the National Trust.
Glastonbury was one of the earliest Christian settlements in Britain. In 658AD the Saxons recorded an already well-established religious house. Ravaged by the Danes, it was brilliantly restored by St Dunstan in the late 10th century, but a disastrous fire in 1184 brought it nearly to ruins again. At about this time stories started to circulate that Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus, had visited Glastonbury and even that his nephew had been with him. More than 600 years later William Blake was inspired by this story to write The Glastonbury Hymn, which was set to music by C.E.Parry and became known as ‘Jerusalem’.
It was also reported that the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere had been discovered and later rumours arose that the Holy Grail was hidden somewhere in the precincts. It has been said that the monks needed to keep the pilgrims and their money coming to their ruined Abbey and were not above a little spin, but who knows? During the 14th and 15th centuries the Abbey became increasingly rich and influential, owning and receiving income from an eighth of all the land in the County. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 it was sacked and its lands and property redistributed by the Crown.
Glastonbury has a Tourist Information Centre and a Museum.
At Sharpham Crossing there is a Railway Keepers cottage, now rather changed in appearance, one of the few remaining from the Somerset & Dorset Railway (Leg 3a).
Sharpham Drove. A drove was a route for moving beasts. Often ancient and in a straight line, it would usually be enclosed by banks, hedges, or in this area, by ditches (Leg 8b).
Before Sharpham Bridge and on both sides of the drove is an archaeological site called Tinney's Ground. It is a peat field with multiple Bronze Age timber trackways between settlements across the bog. There are also two heavy platforms used perhaps for hunting and fowling. The tracks, which have been monitored by the Somerset Levels project since 1973, date from approximately 2300BC. Part of the site, to the right of the drove, is now a Scheduled Monument.
Bronze Age dates are generally taken as being roughly between 2400 to 550BC.
Scheduling provides legal protection to archaeological sites that are considered to be of national importance
Abbots Sharpham and Sharpham Park are private property. These were part of the estates of Glastonbury Abbey possibly as early as 1260. Here in September 1539, Henry VIII's Commissioners examined the Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, before his trial at Wells and execution on the Tor. With the Dissolution of the monastery Henry VIII gave these lands, with others at Walton and Butleigh later in this walk, to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, the brother of Queen Jane Seymour. Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones was born here in 1707. Partially demolished before 1799, there has been careful rebuilding in the late 20th century, using old materials and illustrations. Shields of arms from the original building are incorporated on the north and south facades. The house is a Grade II* Listed Building.
A Park was an essential part of a large Estate. An enclosed area of mixed woodland and grassland it was for the management of stock and deer herds. Very large Parks could include hunting boxes, rabbit warrens, fishponds and lodges. This latter was not necessarily an important building but a base, often on a hillside, where the Parker could store winter feed, keep an eye on the animals and watch out for poachers. Sharpham Park was described in an early survey as being two miles in circuit with 160 fallow deer and 80 acres of woodland set with oak, ash and maple for rotational felling.
Turning south past Park End Farm, the tiled perpendicular spire of Walton church, a style described as peculiar to Somerset, is a landmark on the skyline.
Below Small Moor Rhyne, the field down to the junction with Whitley Road is an archaeological site. Now visible only as a promontory with a flat top, it is a Prehistoric settlement. Seasonal crop marks show up the defensive banks and ditches.
The description 'prehistoric', if not more specific, could mean any time before 2000BC.
The road, now the A39, was turnpiked in 1753 by the Wells Turnpike Trust. The advent of these Trusts was a major turning point in the economy of the country. The Trustees took responsibility for the state of roads that had previously been little more than unfenced trackways. The cost of road maintenance was covered by charges at tollgates and toll bars. This road is on an old track, in an almost straight line from the Parrett Estuary through Walton to a major crossroads at Christian's Cross above Kingweston.
Walton is said to be the geographical centre of Somerset. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the name of Sir John Thynne of Longleat (Leg 4a) appears at Walton, as a lessee of Edward Seymour. There has been a church recorded here since 1168. The Old Parsonage, now privately owned, is a late medieval building. There is a booklet on the church for sale in the church.
Medieval dates can be taken as the period approximately between 900 and 1500.
Walton Windmill. This landmark, which is private property, was built in 1342 at a cost of over
£11.12 shillings. It was worked as a mill from January 1343 for the manors of Street and Walton. After the Dissolution it was let and later sold. Still working in1622, it was repaired and rebuilt several times and eventually passed to the Viscount Weymouth (Thynne) of Longleat in 1739. It went out of use in 1906 and in 1926 was bought by the Rev. Evans of Westonzoyland and converted into a house. The importance of a mill in a local economy, whether windmill or watermill, cannot be overestimated. Neither can the power of the Miller.
At the windmill and looking north, the cathedral towers of the City of Wells are just visible beyond Glastonbury Tor. Wells was established as a separate Bishopric in 909 causing all sorts of arguments, mostly over money of course. After the abortive rebellion in favour of the Duke of Monmouth in 1685, the Assize at Wells was the last to be held by the infamous
'hanging' Judge Jeffreys. 500 prisoners were brought to trial of whom 400 were transported and 97 hanged. Wells is the smallest City in England and the only City in Somerset. Wells has a Tourist Office and a Museum.
The red brick chimney to the north is the site of Clark's Village at Street. The Clark's shoe making empire started with two brothers in 1825. By 1841 they had 29 shoemakers, mostly outworkers. By 1859 there were a 1000, including 150 in the factory, where innovative cutting and sewing machines were installed. Devout Quakers, the Clark family concerned themselves with the housing, education, and welfare of their workers. By 1985 there were 23,000 workers worldwide and an output of 40 million pairs of shoes a year. Clarks Village of retail outlets, was built over the old factory site in 1993. It is open every day. Clarks were, and remain, major employers in the area.
The other serious economic presence in Street is Millfield School. Established in 1935, it is one of the largest independent schools in the country.
Street has a Shoe Museum and a Tourist Information Office.
Walton Hill. There are information boards at the National Trust viewing point. To the southwest is Sedgemoor, the site of the last battle fought on English soil in 1685, when the uprising against King James II in favour of the protestant Duke of Monmouth, was finally ended.