A peaceful walk exploring two villages on the Mendip Hills
PUBLISHED: 10:14 30 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:14 30 October 2018
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne explores two villages on the Mendip Hills and the tranquil paths that link them
This shortish gem of a walk has everything: attractive countryside, pastoral views, verdant woodland, pubs, wildlife and a good smattering of history.
While strolling through idyllic Harptree Combe, a richly historic site, excellent for wildlife and a designated SSSI, we had a serendipitous and unexpected meeting with two very knowledgeable historians: Nick Richards and Peter Burr. They told us a heap of fascinating facts about the area – not least about the old zinc mines and the story of the 19th century recluse who, when she died, was found to have vast quantities of gold hidden in her home, much to the excitement of her family. Check out Peter’s book on the mining and social history of the locality: Mines and Minerals of the Mendip Hills.
And, in the meantime, go and explore for yourself, relishing some gorgeous hidden places just off the beaten track.
1. From the church in West Harptree walk through the village, The Crown to your left and village shop to your right.
In just over 100m, when the main road swings left towards Bath, cross over with care and keep ahead on the broad track signed as a public footpath. This is Whistley Lane, part of the Limestone Link, a 36 mile long-distance footpath joining the limestone region of the Cotswolds to that of the Mendip Hills. It soon carries you away from the bustle. Ignore the footpath going left in 70m and stay with Whistley Lane, ignoring any gates into fields and enjoying the lushness of wild flowers in the hedgebanks. About 500m from the road the track passes Whistley Farm. Keep going for another 400m at which point the track goes left.
2. Leave the track here to pass through a yellow-arrowed gate, crossing a footbridge.
15m beyond the footbridge another yellow arrow points right – take this, passing through a metal kissing gate and leaving the Limestone Link. Walk through the field, following the line of the right-hand boundary with lovely views ahead towards the church in East Harptree. Continue through the field to a kissing gate in the corner. Go through and turn right, towards the corner, then go left, still in the same field and following the right-hand hedge to the end.
Leave the field and turn left along the road for 60m (care – there is no pavement), soon passing the East Harptree sign.
3. To your right is a graveyard; cross the road (caution!) towards its gate and find the footpath going right off the road near here. Molly Brook is babbling merrily to the right of the path.
Once in the field walk diagonally left across the middle to the far boundary, heading towards the left of two gaps that you can see in the hedgeline (the one on the right is a trough, not a gate). When you get there, pass through into the next field then walk straight ahead, following the line of a fence to your right, an arrow directs. Go through the gate at the end of the field and follow the direction of another arrow, heading left towards a stone wall around the church – the church itself is well-concealed by trees.
Steps lead up to the stile through the wall, an appealing arrangement. Follow the well-trodden path alongside the churchyard of St Lawrence’s to reach the lane in East Harptree.
4. From here the walk turns right, following the lane through the village, but first you may wish to investigate the historic church, phone-box-book-shop or Waldegrave Arms – or possibly all three.
Follow the lane, passing The Old Rectory on your right and ignoring a road called Ashwood on the left. Stay on the lane for almost 500m until it bends sharp left. Here go right on the clearly-signed footpath, Combe Lane. Initially this is surfaced and passes a couple of pretty cottages together with a footpath going right just by them, which you ignore.
5. In another 70m, as the surfaced lane bears left, you reach a footpath fingerpost by Richmonte Lodge.
Three footpaths converge here; go immediately right through the wooden gate beside Copse End Lodge, entering Harptree Combe, an idyllically lovely place of cascading birdsong. Up in the trees lie the remains of ancient Richmont Castle (spellings vary); the castle was demolished during Tudor times by its owner, Sir John Newton, whose memorial is in the church.
You are permitted to explore the other woodland paths but the walk follows the path straight ahead, beside Copse End Lodge, along the bottom of the wood. If you’re out of breath you’re on the wrong path. This is a glorious stretch of walking, in spring the fragrance of wild garlic is delicious.
Keep ahead on the clear path which eventually widens beneath a large tree sporting the dangling remnants of tree swings. The path drops gently and runs alongside Molly Brook, whom we encountered earlier. Follow it, water to your left, through an utterly lovely area rich with wild flowers and, on a bright day, sun-spangled water.
Soon, in the middle of the woodland, you reach the lofty overhead section of a Victorian aqueduct, built in 1851 and still in use. The path and Molly Brook pass beneath the aqueduct, keep going, sparing a glance back at the aqueduct, so unexpectedly striking amongst the trees.
6. Follow the path to a stile leading out of the woods and into a field.
Cross it and keep ahead for about 30m, at which point follow the path left and across a small footbridge over the brook. Cross a stone stile then walk straight ahead across the field; over to the left as you proceed is a distinctive sculptural tree with a definite face.
This line heads towards a three-way fingerpost 250m away on the far side of the field. Go straight past it, keeping the post over to your right, to reach the field boundary, where you find a metal footpath gate. Pass through, steps lead down to a plank bridge and another gate. Bear left on the well-trodden path, Bungalow Farm is concealed beyond the hedge.
Follow the right-hand boundary and in the field corner join a narrow path towards a red-roofed house. Go through a metal gate, entering a small field with assorted play equipment. Follow the left hedge and join a surfaced path beside the house.
This path emerges on Millennium Way. Turn right and you are swiftly back at the main road in West Harptree. The Crown and your car await.
• Map: OS Explorer 141 Cheddar Gorge and Mendip Hills West 1:25 000
• Distance: 3 miles (4.8km)
• Exertion: Easy
• Start point and parking: West Harptree village centre. Postcode: BS40 6AY. Grid ref: ST560568. On-street parking in the village, please be considerate towards residents. If you are a customer of the Crown they are happy for you to park there (thank you, Julia!)
• Directions to start: West Harptree is situated on the A368 in North East Somerset, about 13 miles south of Bristol
• Public transport: Occasional buses serve West Harptree, see travelinesw.com
• Terrain: Tracks, field and woodland paths. Potential mud after wet weather. Some road walking
• Dog friendliness: Not all stiles are dog-friendly and there is some road walking. Animals grazing in fields
• Facilities and refreshments: The Crown, West Harptree, BS40 6AY (01761 221432); The Waldegrave Arms, East Harptree, BS40 6BD (01761 221429)
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne & James Clancy are authors of A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset.