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The beautiful Quantocks

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 July 2014

A mare and colt near Dowsborough Hill fort

A mare and colt near Dowsborough Hill fort

Robert Hesketh

Explore an Iron Age hill fort and an Anglo-Saxon military road on this scenic Quantock walk

Holford, with its attractive red sandstone church and 16th century Plough Inn, makes an ideal starting point for exploring the Quantock ridge. Splendid views over the hills to the Bristol Channel and Bridgwater Bay open out as we climb Quantock’s eastern flank to the Iron Age hill fort of Dowsborough. Our route follows a section of the Herepath, King Alfred’s military road to the outer defensive work, darkly known as Dead Woman’s Ditch, before making an equally attractive descent via Hare Knap.

This beautiful scenery was familiar to Wordsworth and Coleridge. The Romantic poets were young and tireless walkers in 1797 as was Dorothy, Wordsworth’s talented sister, their companion as they rambled over Quantock’s dense network of paths and along the coast to Exmoor.

“There is everything here,” wrote Dorothy, “sea and woods, wild as fancy ever painted…” The Wordsworths spent a marvellously creative year at nearby Alfoxden in 1797, whilst Samuel Taylor Coleridge then lived at Nether Stowey. Here, he wrote some of his finest verse, including The Ancient Mariner, Frost at Midnight and Kubla Khan, all showing the inspiration of the Somerset scenery – though often with more than a tincture of added opium.

The Plough Inn, HolfordThe Plough Inn, Holford

Boots on? Let’s go!

1. Turn right out of Holford’s Bowling Green car park, facing towards the village. Turn right only 100m ahead and then turn left 80m ahead at the Triangle. Follow the lane up and over the brow of the hill to a waymark inscribed “Quantock Ridgeway”. Turn right and follow the bridleway uphill through a gate. When the path divides, keep left and continue past a cairn and thence uphill. Keep ahead at a path junction and continue uphill on the public bridleway to the rampart of Dowsborough hill fort.

2. Turn left and follow the path with rampart on your left. Before the present cover of dwarf oak trees, with an understorey of whortleberry, heather and bracken, took over here, the hill fort’s 340m elevation gave defenders extensive views and ample warning of any visitors, friendly or otherwise. The rampart encloses a substantial 2.7ha (6 ½ acres) and would, with its ditch, have been considerably higher when first built before erosion by more than 2,000 years of rain and wind. Exit the rampart and continue to a cross track. Turn right and follow the track down to a lane, ignoring side turnings. Turn right up the lane, part of the Herepath, an Anglo Saxon military road which ran from Cannington over Quantock and on across the Brendons and Exmoor. Follow it as it curves right and continue to the signpost marked ‘Dead Woman’s Ditch’ – the ditch being an outer defence for the hill fort.

3. Bear right signed ‘Crowcombe’ and right onto a signed bridleway 80m ahead. Follow the bridleway for 800m to a cross track. Continue for another 400m along the broad ridge track.

4. Turn right along a clear track heading north towards the brow of a hill. When the track divides turn left to the cairn on Higher Hare Knap – a fine viewpoint.

5. Head north and downhill on a broad grassy path and then up the low rise ahead, which is crowned with a ruined tumulus (prehistoric burial mound). Follow the track downhill. Merge with another downhill track and continue downhill through a gate. The path divides only 20m ahead. Keep left. Continue downhill past a cottage and ahead as signed to the car park. The Plough Inn with its beer garden and open fire beckons. Points of interest include exposed ceiling beams and an interesting collection of period photographs.

For more walks in this area: Shortish Walks Quantocks and Mendips, Robert Hesketh, Bossiney Books 2010.

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