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Walking in Somerset

Part of the South West peninsular of England, Somerset is a predominantly rural county and a major holiday destination. It's popularity is hardly surprising considering the rich mixture of quiet pastoral landscapes, wild moors, stunning limestone gorges and the spectacular northern coastline. Five ranges of hills, the Mendips, the Quantocks, the Poldens, the Blackdowns, and the Brendons, provide wonderful walking and spectacular views.

South Somerset is a rural idyll with gentle landscapes, sleepy villages and colourful beauty in the fields, orchards and woods. The important and hauntingly beautiful Somerset Levels provides a complete contrast to the deep and dramatic Cheddar Gorge with its soaring limestone cliffs, and yet these different landscapes are but a few miles apart.

The west of the county is dominated by the magnificent Exmoor National Park, a walker's paradise. Softer, benign and more compact than Dartmoor, there is still a feeling of space and wilderness on the open moors. The many enticing combes through which tumble sparkling streams add to the walker's delight. Further east the Quantock Hills provide more splendid walks on a more intimate scale.

In the east of the county the deep limestone gorges and caves of the Mendip Hills provide a stunningly different landscape. Stone from Mendip quarries was used to build the magnificent Wells cathedral and many other fine churches in Somerset. The central and southern areas are a undulating pastoral landscape of farmland, woods and quiet rivers. For such a small area the landscape is remarkably varied. Dramatic wooded escarpments drop down to the broad sweep of the Blackmore Vale and contrast vividly with the flat moorlands of the rivers Yeo, Ile and Parrett that stretch towards the Somerset Levels. The Vale of Taunton Deane south of the Quantocks gives a taste of peaceful, pleasant walking.

To the south of the Mendips lie the ecologically important Somerset Levels, one of Europe's most important wetlands. This area, often referred to as the Plain of Sedgemoor, is a low-lying landscape of willow edged quiet streams which drain into the rivers Parrett and Brue, which, in turn, flow into the Bristol Channel. The maze of drainage ditches, or Rhines, criss-crossing the Levels do not make for easy walking, but running through the centre of this region are the Polden Hills; although these are never more than 300ft high they provide the means to walk and explore this area and provide good views across the Levels to the north and south.

Luxborough (Kingsbridge)

Luxborough is a large parish of scattered hamlets hidden away in the heart of the Brendon Hills south of Dunster. Kingsbridge is a small hamlet clustered around a bridge over the Washford River. It is set in a wide green valley. Steep wooded hillsides descend to lush pastures typical of the Brendons. Sunken lanes bordered with flowers ramble over the hills, linking the small settlements within this scattered parish.

A Walk from Kingsbridge [SS 984377] OS Maps: Explorerâ„¢ OL9

This walk follows a woodland path, then a quiet lane to Churchtown, the oldest hamlet in the parish. Here, the ancient church of St Mary, high on the southern slope of Croydon Hill, provides glorious views over Exmoor. The route climbs another sunken track with far-reaching views over the Washford Valley before descending through woodland to return to Kingsbridge. The walk leaves Kingsbridge along the Samaritans Way following the course of a stream. There are carpets of wild daffodils along here in springtime. On meeting a lane the route descends into the valley, crosses the stream and climbs to Churchtown. From the church the route climbs along a sunken lane and follows the hillside before descending into a narrow valley and turning south returns to Kingsbridge. About 3.5 miles.
Best Pub for this walk
Royal Oak, Kingsbridge Tel: 01984 640319 (Good Pub Guide)
This delightful pub dates back to the 14th century and has a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It is full of character with low beams, inglenook fireplaces, flagstones in the public bar and two dining rooms. An excellent menu choice can include shellfish bisque, lamb koftas with mint yoghurt, grilled rib-eye steak with stilton sauce, or seared Cornish scallops with coriander pesto. Simpler fare such as baguettes and ploughman's are also available. There are tables outside for summertime eating.

South Somerset

South Somerset is mainly a peaceful farming region which has the same unspoilt rural atmosphere as Dorset. If you want a relaxing walking break in a landscape of fields, woods, orchards and meandering rivers you could do much worse than visit South Somerset. Yeovil is the largest town and provides a good base and shopping, although some of the smaller market towns are equally convenient for walking and perhaps quieter. Bruton, Castle Cary, Crewkerne, Langport, and Somerton are particularly attractive towns. The area has its fair share of public footpaths and, armed with an OS map (Explorer 129), planning interesting routes in this agricultural area is relatively easy. In additions there are two excellent long distance trails passing through the region.

Corton Denham (ST 632234) is a tiny peaceful village nestled beneath Corton Hill in South Somerset. This is a rural landscape of woodland, steep ridges and undulating green fields. A walk from the village along the footpath zigzagging up the steep ridge to the top of Corton Hill (194m) is rewarded with an idyllic vista of the village below and beautiful unspoilt countryside stretching into the distance. Two long distance footpaths pass close to the village, the Macmillan Way and the Monarch’s Way.

Quantock Hills

The Quantock Hills are probably one of Somerset’s best kept secrets, nestling against the much larger and famous Exmoor National Park which overshadows them. However, the Quantocks have a character all of their own and deserve to be explored and their special qualities appreciated. This gentle twelve-mile ridge of uplands rises from just a few feet above sea level at Taunton to over 1200 feet at Wills Neck and stretches north-west to descend on the Bristol Channel coast. In this small area there is beauty comparable to anywhere in England. Indeed, Coleridge and Wordsworth captured the areas simple beauty in verse and in doing so, wrote some of the country’s most celebrated literature while staying in the hills in the 1790’s.
Part of the fascination today is that little has changed since the days of the romantic poets. So little wonder, with all the wonderful facets the hills have to offer, the open moorland, Jurassic coastline, charismatic farmland, and magnificent woodland, that in 1956 the Quantocks were awarded the distinction of being England’s first Area of Outstanding Natural beauty.


Leyland TrailThe Leland Trail is a 45km route beginning at Penselwood (ST 78311) and taking a generally south westerly direction to finish at Ham Hill Country Park near Montacute (ST 495167). The landscape is one of dairy and arable farming and passes through a number of attractive villages. The theme of the route is John Leland, keeper of the royal libraries under king Henry VIII, who travelled the route under commission to document England's antiquities.

Liberty TrailThe Liberty Trail, also about 45km, continues from the end of The Leland Trail at Montacute and heads south across undulating hills and vales into Dorset and finishing on the south coast at Lyme Regis (SY 339914). You will need OS Explorer 116 (Lyme Regis and Bridport) for this trail. The theme this time is supporters of the Monmouth rebellion of 1685 who made the trip to Lyme Regis to join the Duke of Monmouth in his ill fated campaign. Somerset is steeped in this fascinating period of our history.


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