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THE MENDIP RING - Leg 8a
Burrington Combe to Rodney Stoke. 8.4 Miles
Starting from Burrington Combe Car Park. Grid Ref. ST 489 581
Cross the road (B3134) and take the path opposite. Cross the road (B3134) and take the path opposite. You are now on the Limestone Link. Follow this for about 300 yards and at the junction of paths take the middle track and climb up to Beacon Batch. At 326m this is the highest point on the Mendips. Turn back and follow the track towards the twin radio masts. Follow the Butcombe trail for a short distance and then take the first path on the right and follow it to the road.
Cross the road and then follow the path down to Velvet Bottom and walk through Black Rock. When you come to the road (B3135) cross over and follow the path up the hill towards Draycott. At the top of the hill turn left on a grassy path, then shortly after follow the gravel track on your left passing through a gate into the access land. A few yards further on bear left up the grassy path by the waymarker post, (this one still has a Ring sign on it) and on reaching the gravel cross-track turn left through gate / over stile. Follow the gravel track via a kissing gate and go downhill left towards the road, but take the grass track on your right; take this track and walk parallel to the stone wall. This is access land so you can walk wherever you want to. Make your way through the fields to a stile in the right hand corner of the last field by the road.
Turn right and walk down the road (B3135) until you get to a fork on your left. Take the path on your right and bear right uphill onto Middle Down Drove Track. At the junction with the West Mendip Way, you turn left, and follow it for 200 yards. After the bridle gate, go right and down the bridleway, following it left through a gate and continue just below the fence to the road. Turn left and follow the path to the road. Cross the road (New Road) and take the path opposite. Go straight across the fields passing near an old stone building and into Rodney Stoke Nature Reserve via a wall stile. Follow the often slippery down hill track to a field. Walk down hill through the field to a stile in bottom right hand corner. Come out onto the road (Scadden's Lane) and turn right by a modern looking house. Where the road bends to the left, take the path down by the stream, to emerge on the main road (A371) by a bus stop. Cross the road, turn left and then take the road on the right to the church.ST 482 498
Points of Historical Interest
The walk coincides again here with the Limestone Link (see Leg 7b).
Beacon Batch is approached through areas of small mounds. These were a WWII anti aircraft landing measure grassed over for camouflage. They were also sometimes set alight to distract enemy bombers away from Bristol. The site is a Scheduled Monument. The plaque on the trig point records that Beacon Batch is the highest spot on the Mendips at 1086ft. In the days before electric positioning, Trig (triangulation) Points were a tool to give a frame of reference. The theodolite was fitted into the metal disc on top of the point.
In the fields below the track to the BT masts, are the remains of medieval ridge and furrow earthworks. These are associated with the deserted village of Charterhouse.
In the Combe on the right, adjoining the road, were several cottages. In one of these, in April 1872, William Leaze, a lead miner, believing his wife to be unfaithful, beat and kicked her to death. He was hanged in Taunton Jail. The retelling of the death of the innocent wife, the plight of the orphaned children and the remorse of the murderer became a popular moral ballad of the day. The often reported violent and lawless nature of the mining communities may have been partly due to the effects of lead poisoning.
The boundary stone between Charterhouse and Blagdon is on the right hand end of the stone wall of the garden on the southern side of the road.
The phrase, the Mendip Forest, was used to cover the whole range of these hills. Unlike the Forest of Selwood (Leg 3a) it was probably not heavily wooded, but was open countryside similar to Exmoor and Dartmoor. It was an important hunting centre from the time of King Alfred. After the Conquest it became part of a much larger Royal Forest, stretching from the Axe estuary to the edge of Frome. The term, Mendip Forest, is still used on maps today.
A step aside moment
Charterhouse is about a quarter of a mile to the east. It was the centre of Roman lead mining activities and there are extensive archaeological features from the period in the area. The lands were later owned by the Carthusian monastery at Witham Friary (Leg 3a). The chapel is dedicated to St Hugh, the one time Abbot of Witham and later Bishop of Lincoln. The museum at Wells and the County Museum at Taunton both have displays and finds from this area. There is no village here as such and little to see. The old school buildings are now the Mendip Field Study and Outdoor Activity Centre.
Black Rock is National Trust land. Here the walk is very briefly joined by the Samaritans Way South West, a 100 mile walk from Bristol to Lynton in Devon. All profits go to The Samaritans Society. Also here is the West Mendip Way, 28 miles long and between Wells and Uphill, near Weston super Mare. It was devised by the local Rotary Clubs to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
A step aside moment
From Black Rock there is access to Cheddar Gorge and Cheddar village, with its range of shops, cafes and B&B's. Cheddar has a Tourist Information office.
On the trackway up to Middle Down Drove there are archaeological features which pre-date the Drove, along with complex medieval and post-medieval earthworks. The Drove itself is an ancient medieval trackway.
Middle Down Nature Reserve on the right is described as 100 acres of flower rich grassland. There is a stone lined pond here, one of several in the area. At the top of the Drove there is a large late Neolithic/early Bronze Age field system. Cheddar Reservoir is below to the right. Brent Knoll is at 2.00 o'clock with the Severn estuary behind it. Here the walk briefly coincides again with the West Mendip Way and where the two diverge there is a ditch or hollow running south which marks an early parish boundary. This may be the 'Foxway' or 'Voxway' that marked the 13th century bounds of the Mendip Forest.
The orange wind sock of the Mendip Gliding Club is on the left. The airstrip was opened in 1947 as the Advanced Soaring Site for the Air Training Corps. It became the Mendip Gliding Club in 1984.
The Draycott Sleights (pronounced 'slates') Nature Reserve at the bottom of the valley is managed by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. Covering nearly 100 acres, it is described as 'flora diverse' with two hundred different species recorded. New Road was new in 1800.
The Rodney Stoke National Nature Reserve has an information board at the top of the hill. The seat at the southern edge of the woods was donated by the owners of Scadden Farm in 2003.
Medieval lynchetts, field boundaries, furrows and linear marks are recorded in the area to the north of the junction of the footpath with Scaddens Lane, between Scadden Farm and Newell Farm. Where Scaddens Lane joins the main road there is an Edward VII post box.
The A371 is a very old road between Wells and Axbridge. It was turnpiked by the Wells, Highbridge and Cheddar Trust in 1841. The Trust maintained this and the Wells to Highbridge road (Leg 9) until 1870. The two roads met at Portway Elm, still a well known landmark, one mile west of Wells.
The south facing slopes here were for many years known as The Strawberry Belt. From Cheddar through to Rodney Stoke, it was reported in 1873 that 'the whole face of the hill 'is a series of market gardens, high cultivated and producing early and heavy crops'. The Axbridge to Cheddar railway line, locally called the Strawberry Line, opened in 1869 greatly increasing the market. The line closed in the 1960's.
Rodney Stoke was called Stoke Giffard, until a final Miss Stoke married a Sir Richard de Rodney. The same family continues to this day. All the older houses here are built of the local dolomitic conglomerate that was mined around the adjoining village of Draycott and became known as Draycott marble. Part of the front of Temple Meads station in Bristol is faced with this pinkish coloured stone. The church of St Leonard is medieval.
Rodney Stoke is a 'Thankful Village' and a stained glass window records the safe return from the First World War of all the men and women from here who had set out to fight. Sadly the village was not so fortunate in the Second World War. There is guide to the church in the church.