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Wonderful walks in Somerset

PUBLISHED: 13:19 23 December 2016

Harridge Woods (c) Andrew Avery

Harridge Woods (c) Andrew Avery

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Walk off that Christmas dinner with this selection of fabulous routes from Somerset Wildlife Trust

Harridge Woods (c) Andrew Avery Harridge Woods (c) Andrew Avery

There’s something that feels so great about putting on a favourite woolly hat and a winter coat and gathering friends and family to enjoy a good old fashioned winter walk after you’ve enjoyed a hearty lunch.

And there’s no other lunch which deserves a special post walk more than Christmas lunch. So, with the help of Somerset Wildlife Trust and its reserves, we’ve brought together five rather special walks across the county where you can work off the figgy pudding and take in some chilly air before you head back for the Queen’s speech and call in that promise of mulled wine.

Harridge Woods…for a winter woodland wonderland

Harridge Woods is a truly magical place. From the moment you step inside you get an immediate sense of its history and, after just a short walk you’ll be held hostage by the variety of wonderful features including tinkling streams and ancient stoggles (veteran trees). This popular reserve offers two fantastic way-marked trails to help you explore. You can choose either a short trail at 1.3km long and a slightly longer trail of 2km - both of which start from Harridge Wood West’s main entrance.

1. Starting just by the stream you will walk straight along the crisp ground passing an oak tree that hosts a bat box that could have one of 11 species of bat snuggled up for hibernation over the colder months. Resist the temptation to veer off left a little further along, and follow the path round to the right slightly and you will reach an open wonderful expanse of conifer woodland.

2. This is where you make your choice whether to walk off a bit more of that Christmas turkey and continue on a longer walk. If festive treats call you home stay on the green trail where along the way you’ll find some stoggles as you work your way back to the start. These intriguing trees are remnant’s of ancient woodland management, and provide fantastic habitats for mosses, lichens, ferns and insects – keep an eye out for roe deer as you go.

3. If you chose to extend your adventure, you’ll turn left, head down the steps and over the bridge and up the other side and arrive at Keeper’s Cottage, an 18th century building, which is now home to seven species of bat. Continuing along you’ll see weirs in the stream that were constructed to create trout pools for fishing and some lovely hazel coppice - good habitat for the scarce and vulnerable hazel dormouse.

4. Keep along the track and turn right up hill alongside the wall to carry on with the long trail. The path will take you right to the top of the hill to give your legs a really good stretch– please be aware here, particularly if you have children or dogs, that there a steep, unprotected drop. Once you have made it there the down hill will then be a breeze and you’ll meet the shorter trail at the bottom and head back to where you started. You’ll have definitely earnt a mince pie or two.

CattCott (c) Matthew Marshall CattCott (c) Matthew Marshall

How to get there:

The reserve is open all year round, and is east of the A367, around three miles north-east of Shepton Mallet in Somerset. Coaches and minibuses for school parties are advised to drop passengers at the nature reserve entrance on the A367. There is no cycling on the reserve, but if you are arriving by bicycle the nearest National Cycle Network route is in Midsomer Norton and Radstock, five miles to the north of Harridge Woods.

Grid Reference:ST 652 480. There is roadside parking for cars, but it can be muddy.

Catcott….for a winter world of wading birds

For a true exploration on a winter’s day, there is no place better than the Catcott Complex - one of the lowest points in the Brue Valley and 130 acres of traditional hay meadows, wet woodland, grassland and Fen. At Catcott Lows you can enjoy stunning views across the marshes to Somerset’s iconic Glastonbury Tor, and for those that want a gentle start to their festive amble, you can get some immediate gratification by peeping into the bird hide next to the car park. Here you’ll regularly see peregrine and marsh harrier, snipe and redshank.

1. Following the way-markers from the car park you will walk for a few hundred metres and turn left.

2. After 1km you will be led to a little bridge - there you can choose to go on a short walk or a longer adventure. The ‘Coot’ walk is a 3km stroll that loops around the open water and reed-beds - look out for the way-markers with bird footprints. Or, if you want to delve a little deeper, look at for the hoof marks as that takes you on the roe deer trail, which will stretch out your walk a little and enable you to explore the new boardwalk that leads to the amphitheatre seating area.

3. No matter what trail you choose, don’t miss the Tower Hide which is 1.3 km from the car park and can be reached on both trails. It’s a perfect place to take shelter from the chilly air, perhaps with a flask of something hot, and take in the beautiful frosty reed beds, and enjoy the merriment of the wintering and passage birds and keep a contemplative look out for the elusive otter.

Dundon Beacon (c) Paul Keen Dundon Beacon (c) Paul Keen

How to get there:

Open all year round to the public, Catcott Lows is a mile north of the village of Catcott in Somerset.

Access to Catcott Heath is on foot, east-south-east from ST 399 405 along the drove, about half a mile (800 metres) to the reserve entrance in a wooded area on the right. The nearest postcode is TA7 8NQ - this will get you close to the reserve but you will need the grid reference for the exact location. Grid Reference:(ST 400 414). Parking on site.

Dundon Beacon…to find a host of holy history

Dundon Beacon is a heady mix of calcareous grassland, scrub and ancient oak woodland, steeped in history.

1. Start at the Castlebrook Inn, TA11 6PR (and end there if you need to quench your thirst before going home), take a left and follow the main road (taking care) for about 100 metres to a public footpath signposted on your right.

2. Then, walking through the kissing gate you’ll follow a footpath along the edge of the fields which then joins the historical 18th century flagstone church path, which links Compton with the parish church in Dundon.

3. From here turn left, passing a metal gate and follow the steep track up Dundon Hill to Dundon Beacon Nature Reserve- a perfect way to work off those roast potatoes. When you reach the top you will see a Somerset Wildlife Trust noticeboard, and will be rewarded with views across the surrounding moors and hills from the Beacon.

Bishopswood Meadow (c) Valerie Godsmark Bishopswood Meadow (c) Valerie Godsmark

4. Here’s where you can go native a little and explore the ancient hill fort and species-rich grassland, but make sure to return to the information board so you can head back down the track. After a short distance, turn left along a path and then right down the hill (onto a permissive path across neighbouring farmland), which is steep in places and meanders between ant hills. The grassland here supports many other insects and plants that thrive on the limestone soil.

5. At the foot of the slope you join a footpath that leads to the church path, from where you can either head back to the Castlebrook Inn or visit the parish Church of St Andrew, dating from the 14th century, and its ancient yew tree, believed to be more than 1,700 years old. You can also carry on to Lollover Hill for a little extra exertion if you fancy it - from here you’ll not be far from the pub if your legs give way.

How to get there:

The reserve is open all year, and you can access the reserve from School Lane at Dundon Village, near Compton Dundon. Grid Reference ST 484 326. Parking at Dundon Village.

Bishopswood Meadow…for a frosty fungi foray

This reserve, filled with species-rich limestone and meadows beside River Yarty, is a great adventure for hikers and strollers alike. One of the best things about this walk is that it starts and ends at a cosy winter pub - the lovely Candlelight Inn (TA20 3RS).

1. Starting from the pub, wander down to the bottom car-park and walk down the side to the footbridge which goes over the river - an important habitat, used by otters, kingfisher and dippers.

Draycott Sleights one (c) Valerie Godsmark Draycott Sleights one (c) Valerie Godsmark

2. Over the stile you go, to cut a diagonal line across the field and, after a second stile, you’ll be on the right track and will have entered Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Jan Hobbs reserve.

3. After a short way you’ll head through Milkham Copse to explore ancient, wintery woodland and then head on to the reserve’s open frosty fields to really blow the cobwebs away. All of the fields in the reserve have thick hedgerows of hazel, hawthorn, field maple, and ash amongst others, within which hazel dormice will be snuggled up and snoring.

4. Turning left will take you up the hill past Cross Hill Farm and then, after passing through Moorseek Farm, you’ll go down the field, fork left over the footbridge across the River Yarty and come into the Trust’s Bishopswood Meadows Reserve.

5. You can either turn left along the River Yarty to the Lime Kiln, then loop back through the reserve or take a right up the field and through the kissing gate. In the second half of the 19th century an extensive lime burning industry was based around the Bishopswood area - with Lime Kiln, the distinctive key hole shaped quarry and its access tracks and paths still visible today.

6. Keeping a look out for a wide range of fanciful fungi along the way, go along the track-way to the road and keep left on the road past Woodend Farm and Otterford Parish Hall, left again at the main road and walk down hill to get back to where you started - the Candlelight Inn where warming up by the open fire is well advised.

How to get there:

The reserve, which is open all year round, can reached by a public footpath along a track from the road, just to the west of Woodend Farm at ST 252 129, 400 metres from Bishopswood village. Parking is in the village. (We ask people to walk around the edges of the hay fields until they’ve been cut).

Draycott Sleights…for super scenic sights

This reserve, which covers more than 50 hectares high on the southern slopes of the Mendip Hills, is a place where you can properly blow out the cobwebs, whistle down the wind and touch the clouds – as well as suck in some of the most wonderful panoramic views in the county. Its incredible cliff top walk is a fantastic reason in itself to head out of the house after a Christmas dinner.

This site has been managed for hundreds of years by sheep-grazing (‘sleight’ means sheep pasture). Limestone grassland that hasn’t been ‘improved’ by modern agriculture is increasingly difficult to find, which is why Draycott Sleights is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

1. The trail which starts at the main entrance of the reserve is a circular 1.7km walk, marked green on way-marking post. You will first be met with a flat, stony track, perfect for a gentle amble, although parts can get a little slippery in the winter months. Just over half way as you reach the far side of the reserve you will need to use all that mince pie power to drive you up a steep climb, to get you to a path that runs along a rock outcrop – take care here as there is an unprotected drop.

2. Once you have made it to the top, the effort will have been worth it as you will be rewarded with a spectacular view that stretches across the Quantocks, Bristol Channel and Somerset Levels. And if you are lucky you may get the picturesque view of the levels poking through the low lying mist. Along the way keep your eyes peeled for fieldfares and redwings feeding on hawthorn berries and foxes, or rabbits and stoats scuttling over the frosty grassland.

If you don’t fancy such a steep climb, you can go straight along the path and back again and there is still plenty to see. For birders this is a delight as the Sleights’ many birds include numerous raptors, including buzzards, Tawny and Little Owl, kestrels and Peregrine falcons.

How to get there:

Open all year to the public you can reach Draycott by taking the minor road leading north east out of the village. The reserve is just over half a mile away, on either side of the road. Please park considerately as agricultural machinery needs to pass on the narrow road. If you cycle there, there is a cycle route in Rodney Stoke (avoiding the busy A371) but the nearest National Cycle Network route is on the Mendip plateau, two miles to the east of the nature reserve.

Grid Reference: ST 485 505.

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