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THE MENDIP RING - Leg 9
Westhay Nature Reserve Car Park to Ashcott Corner Car Park 6.5 Miles
Starting from Grid Ref ST 482 49
From the car park, follow the road straight ahead towards Westhay. On reaching London Drove on your right (approx. 0.6 mile), turn left into the footpath and follow this well defined track as it bears left into a field; keep to the track as the footpath has no bridge over the rhyne. Once over the bridge turn right over a smaller rhyne then onto the wooden bridge over White's River. Cross this, turn right and follow the river until you reach another bridge on your right; cross this, turn left and follow the river to reach the Main Road (B3151) at Westhay.
Turn left and walk through the village. Where the road bends to the left, turn right into Shapwick Road and at the next left bend continue straight ahead into a path through an old farm. Keep straight on (not down the drive) and you will come out onto a lane. Turn right heading for Honeygar Farm and as you approach the farm look for a stile on your left (path differs from OS map). Keeping the buildings on your right, walk work around the farm to reach an old grassy track; here turn left through a Bristol gate and down to Burtle Road.
Turn right, then left after the bend; follow the track with the peat works on your right, continue along it as it bears shortly left, pass through the metal field gate, and keep straight ahead for 0.6 mile(s) ignoring all side tracks until you reach Shapwick Road. Turn right pass the Avalon Marshes Centre and just after Station Farm on your right you reach the old railway line which is now Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve. Turn left along the old track bed and walk for approximately 2 miles to reach Ashcott Corner Car Park. St 482 498
Points of Historical Interest
At the footbridge on White's River there is a WWII pill box in the right hand corner of the field. To the left is the site of Meare Pool, the fish pond of the Abbots of Glastonbury. So nearly seven hundred years of history are here, within the turn of a head.
Meare Pool was a great freshwater lake. Five miles in circumference, it provided fish, eels and waterfowl for the monastery. It was drained in the 17th century as part of the reclamation of the wetlands, but it can
still sometimes be seen again when the Moors flood.
The Abbots Fish House, built between1322-25 for the storage and smoking of fish, is on the south west bank of the pool. Grade I Listed it is the property of English Heritage. The village of Meare, identified by the square church tower, is directly ahead at this point.
A step aside moment
Meare was originally an island called Feramee, that 'ey' suffix again. It was a summer residence for the Abbots of Glastonbury. The Manor House next to the church incorporates some of that palace, which was built about 1340. The Parish church of St Mary and All Saints was built around 1323 and rebuilt by Abbot Selwood in the 1470's. There is a guide to the church in the church and a booklet 'St Mary's, Meare' on sale. There are good information boards on the wall of the cemetery opposite the church and a handsome village cross. Meare has a Post Office and Stores.
Towards Westhay, the site of the Glastonbury Lake Village is on the left. In 1892 the site was discovered, almost by chance, by Arthur Bullied a local doctor and amateur archaeologist. From then until 1917 it was in almost continuous excavation and it revolutionised knowledge of the Iron Age in southern England. It was a man made structure of clay and timber called a crannog, with a landing stage and palisade. There was no attempt at drainage here, only a building up of a summer settlement in a shallow part of the freshwater lake. On the crannog, clay spreads had been laid to make floors, and round houses of timber and wattle and daub had been constructed. The village was begun in about 250BC and inhabited on and off over a period of 200 years. The finds are in the Glastonbury Lake Village Museum at Glastonbury.
The route now joins the River Brue last seen at its source in Leg 3b. The straightness of the river here is artificial. It was recorded as 'embanked and run towards the Mere', being the Meare pool, before 1294.
A further WWII pill box is at the next field junction and there is another on the edge of Westhay Bridge. These are part of the Taunton Stop Line, which ran from Bridgewater to the Dorset coast, and was designed to cut off the South West peninsular in case of German landings in Devon and Cornwall. Although quickly built, many pill boxes have survived half a century of neglect and are now listed as part of the 'Defence of Britain' project. This is a record by the Council for British Archaeology of some 20,000 UK military sites of the 20th century.
There was mention of a Bridge at Westhay in 1558. Between the Bridge and Mudgely to the north, is Bound's Ditch, the first boundary rhyne agreed between the Bishop of Wells and the Abbot of Glastonbury in 1327.
The road between Shapwick and Wedmore, now the B3151, was turnpiked by the Wedmore Trust in 1827 starting at Pedwell, between Glastonbury and Taunton, and ending near Churchill Gate. This was a very important road for the development of the Moors as it was the first to run north to south, thus avoiding the previous lengthy journey around Glastonbury and Wells.
Westhay, previously 'Westereie', is another settlement with a name indicating an island. In the immediate area of the junction of Main Road there are four Grade II Listed buildings.
On either side of Honeygar Lane a number of flints have been recorded. There have been medieval pottery finds in a field on the approach to Honeygar Farm at ST 427 425. There is a Trig Point (see Leg 8a) at the last turn in the track to the farm.
There are modern peat workings on the Burtle Road.
The Avalon Visitor Centre on Westhay Level is presently under refurbishment. It has extensive information on the area and includes a reconstruction of an Iron Age settlement and of the Sweet Track. Here also is the site hut used by Arthur Bulleid during the excavations at the Glastonbury Lake Village. There is a café at the Centre.
Shapwick Railway Station was across the canal, opposite Station Farm.
The long drove back to Ashcott Corner has Meare Heath on the left and the Shapwick Heath Nature Reserve on the right. The Nature Reserve is a major wetland reserve of just over 400 hectares. The heaths of the raised bog of the areas of Ashcott and Shapwick were reclaimed in 1797. There are information panels and a network of paths and viewing points here.
The Sweet Track is signposted to the south. Dated at about 4000BC, this is the oldest known roadway in the world. It was discovered by Ray Sweet, a turf cutter and archaeologist in 1970. It is a Neolithic pathway between the Poldens (Leg 1) and Westhay a distance of 1.3 miles across swampy marshes which would have been much deeper 6,000 years ago than they are today.
Spare a thought for those walkers - so much more intrepid than us - from a long time ago.