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THE MENDIP RING - Leg 3b
Batcombe to Deerwood Common. 7.3 Miles
Starting from Grid Ref. ST 690 390
Take the kissing gate opposite the church into the field and over the stile ahead. Walk down through the field to the stile at the bottom. Cross the stream and turn right down the road. Take the first road on the left (Saite Lane) and walk about 0.5 miles up to the path on the right through the double field gates at ST 698 383. Continue through the fields over 4 stiles and then cross the A359
Walk down the lane opposite and take the left fork down Hassock's Lane (no road name sign.) Continue on toward Float Bridge and just before you get to the bridge take the lane on your left ST 717 377. About 200 yards down the lane, take the next path on your right over a stile and into the field. Cross over the stile and plank bridge at the other side of the field and then turn left. Do not go through the gate but continue around the field edge. Cross the stile in the top left hand corner go over another stile and then go diagonally across the next field to a field gate in the top corner. Continue until you come to a field gate on to the road (Strap Lane). Turn right and pass the sewage works; cross the bridge over the railway line and pass the entrance to Downs Farm. Continue down the lane until you come to a fork about 300yds past Woods Farm. Take the left hand lane that leads into Cannwood Lane.
Follow this lane to pass through a wood. Eventually you will come to a road. Turn left up this road to climb up Druley Hill. Take the path into the woods just before the green grit bin. Pass through the woods until you come to the road. Turn right and walk up the hill. Do not take the McMillan Way on your left but continue up the hill and take the path on your left just below the lodge fence. Continue into the wood. Keep on the top path through the woods to Deerwood car park just before a metalled track crosses the path ST 771 389.
Points of Historical Interest
Sait Farm, also called Seat House, is pre-1700 and Grade II Listed. The Bisse Arms mounted on the house are those of the notable local family associated with Batcombe between 1524 and 1613.
At the top of Seat Hill it is possible to see Steep Holm, in the Bristol Channel, some 30 miles to the west. To the east is Alfred’s Tower (Leg 3a). Further north is the smooth bump of Cley Hill. 784 feet tall and on the outskirts of Warminster, it is a chalk outcrop on the edge of Salisbury Plain. Just visible beyond that is the White Horse at Westbury. It is an 18th century replacement for an earlier horse.
The A359 Bruton to Frome road is on a trackway described, even in medieval times, as an Old Way. It was turnpiked by the Bruton Trust in 1810.
The western edge of the Royal Forest of Selwood is at about this point. These were woodlands where hunting was specifically vested in the Crown or some grantee of the Crown, with appropriately severe punishments for anyone caught trespassing or poaching. Some of the boundaries are still marked by place names such as Hardway Gate, Yarnfield Gate and Forest Gate.
Strap Lane. This name is believed to derive from 'Estropp' which was the medieval name for a group of outlying farms stretching to North Brewham to the east or 'Est' of the manor of Bruton. In the will of Richard of Bruton in 1417 there is money left to repair the way from the 'house of the sheepfold', now possibly Sheephouse Farm, 'belonging to the Prior of Bruton to Esthropp and beyond'.
The railway bridge here passes over the Great Western line between Frome and Castle Cary. There was a Strap Lane Halt here until the 1930's.
Cannwood Lane. At a spot near Woods Farm (previously Bungalow Farm), where Cannwood Lane crosses the boundary into Witham Friary, there was once the entrance to the Kings Park and the Royal Hunting Lodge of Brucomb, traditionally associated with King John and now represented by Brewham Lodge Farm to the southeast. This spot on Cannwood Lane was also the entrance to the Carthusian Monastery at Witham, of which more later.
Cannwood Farm has also been called Cannwood House. In the Royal Forest perambulation of 1276 there is mention of ‘the house of Gilbert of Northfolke (possibly a member of the Arundel family) which is within the Forest’. Research suggests this is where the farm now stands, but the name Cannwood itself is not mentioned before 1550. At the disafforestation, it was granted to the Berkeley family. The present house, which is privately owned, is Grade II Listed and dated 1760.
The source of the River Brue is in this area and is variously described as in the fields on the right hand side of the track beyond Cannwood Farm, just where the land starts to rise, or two miles north of South Brewham in Kings Wood. The River Frome rises here at Cannwood and flows down through Witham.
There is an archaeological site recorded as Druley Deserted Medieval Village in the open fields on the left.
The road to Druley Hill originally ran behind Druley Hill Farm. The farm itself was, in about 1900, an inn called The Beckwith Arms.
'Druley' may derive from the celtic word drewyth, meaning Oak Man. The word 'druid' is from the same source.
From Yarnfield Gate the walk is on the Huntersway, a very old track which ran through the Royal Forest from Kingsettle Hill, now the site of Alfred's Tower, to Cley Hill and beyond. By the 18th century parts of the Huntersway had become the eastern edge of the forest. At Yarnfield Gate the land to the south of the track belonged, and still does belong, to the Duke of Somerset.
On the Huntersway above Witham Park Farm and looking north, it is possible to see the site of the Carthusian monastery. A railway line now runs through the middle of the site, so a passing train may help with identification.
The monastery was founded by Henry II in 1179 as part of his penance from the Pope following the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. An austere order, the Carthusians led lives of prayer and meditation. The most notable Abbot was St Hugh of Avalon, who became the Bishop of Lincoln. It was said that he returned every year, in retreat, to the austerity of the settlement in the forest. The monastery was dispersed at the Dissolution in 1539.
In the foreground on the left of the track is a small wood called Pound Copse. A Tiger Moth airplane from RAF Abingdon crashed here on 8th April 1942 killing one of the crew.
In the background at 1 o'clock is Marston House.
The Marston estate was bought in 1641 by Richard Boyle, the Earl of Cork, an Anglo Irish title that later became Cork and Orrery. The original design for the house was by the Elizabethan architect, John Smythson. The centre block with its recessed front represents that house. It was updated in 1751 and again in 1776 when the 7th Earl added the wings. In the mid 19th century the 9th Earl went for a major rebuild turning the house back to front with a new entrance to the south. At the same time the West Wing was rebuilt to include a ballroom, a terrace and a conservatory. In 1905 it was sold by the 10th Earl to the Bonham Christie family.
The Army requisitioned the house for, among others, the Coldstream Guards during WWII and as with other stately homes it was badly damaged by that occupation. Almost derelict in 1984 it was bought by the quarry company Foster Yeoman Ltd as its headquarters. The house has now been sensitively restored.
N B If Marston House is not clearly visible from this point, it can be seen from the grounds of St Michael's church, Gaer Hill at the beginning of the next Leg.
Stone has been quarried on the Mendips for centuries. In many places where maps show a quarry, the stone will almost always have been for immediate local use. It was not until the coming of the railways in the 1850's, that large scale extraction and distribution became possible, particularly for the growth markets of south east England. Most of the industry is now in this eastern part of Mendip between Frome and Shepton Mallet.