Walking the Limstone Link from Shipham
PUBLISHED: 14:14 19 July 2019
From caves to canal, via villages and nature reserves, Simone Stanbrook-Byrne explores a trail that's rich in history and scenery
Relatively short by long-distance path standards, the Limestone Link is a 36-mile route with one end in Somerset and the other in Gloucestershire; most of the route lies in Somerset. It links the limestone region of the Mendips to that of the Cotswolds, and uses as its logo an ammonite, whose attractive spiral fossils may be found in limestone.
Limestone is a commodity that has been quarried for many purposes: for use in the building industry, to make concrete, in water softening, sewage treatment and also in agriculture where the spreading of lime on soil reduces soil acidity and aids crop production.
Quicklime (a product of heating limestone) was once part of the process used to create bright stage lighting in theatres - hence the expression 'in the limelight'.
We often encounter historic lime kilns, dotted throughout our countryside and along the coast. In these, chunks of limestone were loaded with wood or coal and the whole lot burned. Once cooled the usable lime was raked out and because the process took several days kilns were often built in groups so that they could be used in rotation.
Quarrying has occurred in Somerset since at least Roman times, and still takes places in some areas. Despite its industrial heritage the landscape through which the walk passes is attractive and well worth visiting.
Running predominantly west to east, the Limestone Link is a relatively level route although some ascent must be expected.
It starts its Somerset journey at Shipham, settled beneath the western end of the Mendips and, in Domesday times knows as 'Sipeham', meaning 'home of sheep'. The route briefly follows roads, heading generally north to climb up to the Iron Age hillfort on Dolebury Warren. This is one of the Avon Wildlife Trust nature reserves; from the top there are superb views and the area is excellent for butterflies, wildflowers and fungi - what presents itself will be dependent on the time of year.
From here the path continues eastwards, wending its way above Burrington Combe and passing above the dark and mysterious underworld of The Mendips, an underworld beloved by some explorers who are enticed into caves of intriguing name: Sidcot Swallett, Goat Church Cavern, East Twin Swallett. I confess I have never been inclined to leave the fresh air and venture into these - and in any case this should only be attempted if you know what you're doing or are with an expert. (Having potholed once in the surprisingly-named Elephant's Arse in Wales, that was quite enough.)
Burrington Combe is conservation-grazed by Exmoor ponies and semi-feral goats, so you may encounter them; we met ponies grazing beneath Beacon Batch.
The path drops to the eastern end of the combe then heads towards Blagdon along Luvers Lane, although it doesn't actually go into the village. The route continues along old rights of way before reaching Compton Martin, where a short detour can be made to the Ring O' Bells, if so desired.
From here the Limestone Link continues on to West Harptree, an appealing village with church, pub and village shop all providing sustenance of one kind or another. Once refreshed, walk out of the village along Whistley Lane and continue east.
Just before Hinton Blewitt the walk climbs to the glorious viewpoint at Prospect Stile with its well-placed bench and panoramic outlook across distant man-made lakes. You can see as far as Wales on a clear day. Hinton Blewitt is another village with a Ring O' Bells and a church dating back to the 14th century. It was originally called All Hallows but, unusually, was renamed St Margaret's in the mid 19th century by the then incumbent who hailed from Scotland, in honour of the 11th century Margaret, Queen of Scotland.
Beyond here the route takes a northish inclination before continuing east approaching Clutton, where there is another interesting historic church, dedicated to St Augustine. Here John Wesley preached four times.
From Clutton the route dips south east, passing through Stephen's Vale Nature Reserve, another Avon Wildlife Trust site which, as well as being good for birds and many species of plant, also boasts a lovely waterfall. This now-peaceful place was historically hunting country for the Earls of Warwick.
Just south of here is Hallatrow, from whence the Link carries on eastwards, passing several villages including Combe Hay, which lies within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here we found some lovingly-tended and welcoming gardens, as well as a good inn.
Beyond here the route starts to go north, through Monkton Combe, before running alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal, which opened in 1809 and carried freight before the coming of the railways. It reputedly cost £16,666 to build each mile of the canal.
The city of Bath is not far away, so this is generally a more populous stretch. The Link crosses the River Avon then continues north to hop over the county boundary into Gloucestershire, where it continues just a few miles further, coming to a halt at Cold Ashton.
Circular Walks: Simone Stanbrook-Byrne is the author, with James Clancy, of a range of walking guides for the West Country. The Burrington Combe walk in A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset incorporates a section of The Limestone Link as part of a short circular route.
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne & James Clancy are authors of A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset.