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Walking in the footsteps of Coleridge and Wordsworth

PUBLISHED: 10:15 03 July 2013 | UPDATED: 10:15 03 July 2013

The Quantocks north from Dowsborough. Photo: Copyright National Trust/Matthew Oates

The Quantocks north from Dowsborough. Photo: Copyright National Trust/Matthew Oates

National Trust/Matthew Oates

The National Trust takes us on a trip through history - starting in Nether Stowey.

This walk contrasts the landscape and its wildlife then and now.

The poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth must have walked many times along this route, as it includes much of the most direct route between

Coleridge’s cottage and where the Wordsworths lived at Alfoxton,

near Holford (now a hotel).

Terrain

Undulating, part wooded, part farmland, part heathland and one muddy lane.

Two moderately steep ascents and one moderately steep and uneven descent.

Majority of route runs along village streets or designated rights of way. This walk leads half way to Alfoxton, but you can continue along the signed

Coleridge Way to Alfoxton (a right of way leads past the hotel).

See the route guide on the Coleridge Way website (coleridgeway.co.uk).

Things to see:

The path to the hill fort runs beneath the low growth of ancient

coppiced oaks.

This woodland was once actively coppiced; bark would have been used in the tannery owned by Coleridge’s close friend and neighbour, Tom Poole.

Beneath this dense woodland is a simple ground flora, of bilberry and wood sorrel.

The twisted oaks throw curious tricks of light that would have delighted the poets, particularly Coleridge who revelled in altered states of reality.

We know that the poets rampaged through this woodland on moonlit nights, when the wooded landscape must have looked highly surreal.

In the poets’ day the heath would have been heavily grazed, gorse would have been cut for fodder and fuel, and bracken harvested for animal bedding.

Look out for meadow pipits and stonechats and butterflies such as green

hairstreaks on the gorse and grayling, small heath and small

copper along the paths.

Coleridge Cottage, Lime Street, Nether Stowey, Taunton.

The walk:

Start: Public car park in Nether Stowey, grid ref: ST191397 or Coleridge Cottage, grid ref: ST191399.

1. From the library car park in central Nether Stowey, turn left down Castle Street and left again opposite the George Hotel and clock tower. Head up Lime Street towards Coleridge Cottage.

2. Coleridge Cottage is open from Thursday to Monday (inclusive), from 11am to 5pm. It was revamped in 2011 to make the interior even more authentic, and now includes a tea-room.

3. From the cottage, carry on uphill and turn left into Mill Lane before the A39 traffic lights. Go past Coleridge Road on your left. Bear left along Mill Lane at the end of the village, avoiding Jackson’s Lane, Hack Lane and two left turns back into the village.

4. Before the line of tall ash and poplars appearing on the right, before Bincombe Farm, turn right along the Coleridge Way, which follows a bridleway.

Initially, this is lined by tall hollies but soon tunnels over beneath ash and maple, in a sunken lane section. The way then divides for a while: you can splash along the shallow gravel-lined stream, or take the dry higher route; either return you to a drier path. A delightful lane full of spring flowers which would all have been familiar to the poets, and spring butterflies such as orange tip and green-veined white. Wrens and robins nest along the

sunken way. The poets would have known all these by local names, learnt in childhood.

5. At the crossroads by a whitewashed house, turn right to take the track uphill. At the top of the hill, by the fingerpost, follow the Coleridge Way/Quantock Greenway up along the edge of a field, close to an ancient hedge. The path leaves the field in the top corner, above the old stone quarry. Coleridge’s poem, The Nightingale, was inspired by a nocturnal ramble with the Wordsworths through a marshy copse to the north of here, close to Dodington Hall, just across the A39.

6. At the lane corner at Walfords Gibbet, go straight on up the lane that runs along the crest of a steep wooded slope on your left.

The woodland on your right is a modern plantation, consisting of non-native trees that would have been unfamiliar to the poets.

7. As the road starts to climb uphill after a bend, turn right along the Coleridge Way/Quantock Greenway, following a sunken track that is often both stony and muddy. In wet weather it’s easier to walk on drier land to the left of and above this track, through woodland.

8. At the highest point of this sunken muddy track, turn left up a minor, un-signed path that runs straight uphill below twisted oaks. This leads to a minor cross rides at a minor summit. Here, turn right, uphill again. The path leads you up to and along the ramparts of Dowsborough Castle, an ancient hill fort.

9. Bear right downslope after a grassy glade at the end of the Dowsborough ramparts. The trees clear to offer superb views over the heathland of the northern Quantocks. Alfoxton (Wordsworth’s house) lies the other side of the wooded crest, running east to west in the middle distance, just east of Holford. Follow the stony track down through the heathland and turn right at the minor cross ways, marked by a finger post. (Alternatively, carry on at the finger post, following the Coleridge Way for

another mile and a half to Alfoxton, via Holford, and then return).

10. As the wood begins, follow the track which rejoins the sunken path you left to climb up to Dowsborough. Carry straight on along (or just off) this path until you return to the road. At the road - and this is the tricky bit - turn left and go downhill for about 130yd (120m).

At the broken forestry gate on your left, cross directly over the road to pick up a minor path that begins by a lone holly bush.

This path then runs straight and narrow downhill into the bottom of Bin Combe valley

11. At the bottom of the steep slope back into Bin Combe, turn left and follow the often muddy sunken valley bottom track all the way back out of Bin Combe, through a bridle gate, past the cross rides by the whitewashed cottage, past the stream path section, to the road on the outskirts of Stowey.

12. Back on the road, turn left and then first right by a thatched white cottage with a little orchard.

Follow this uphill, diverting if you wish to see the old motte and bailey mound on your left by the 30mph sign. Then follow the road back down into Stowey car park, and perhaps back up to Coleridge Cottage for afternoon tea.

Walk contributed by National Trust nationaltrust.org.uk/walks

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