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A Rather Soggy Walk along the Mendip Ring

Saturday, 3 February 2018

It was pouring with rain but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from going for a walk. I am not water soluble, I proved that in a science lesson at school, let alone in the bath most nights, I mean I bath most nights, not that on some nights I dissolve. I had spent a small fortune on top quality waterproofs and I needed to justify the expense. Above all whilst some people would say I was mad to walk in these conditions, I knew that I needed to walk to preserve my sanity. I had a good route planned.

I sat in the car park at the top of Burrington Coombe and watched others set off, I changed my shoes for boots, put the expensive waterproofs on and braved the weather, it was wet but not cold.

Beacon Batch is a small hill by hill standards yet today its slopes led up into a blanket of cloud. I climbed the stony path, the rain having washed the soil away, the view behind me disappeared and I was alone in the mist. I easily found the trig point. I have climbed this hill in the rain twice before and on each of those occasions the sun came out as I reached the top and the clouds parted to show the distant views across Somerset and over the Bristol Channel to Wales. Not today though, the rain clouds stuck resolutely to the hillside emptying their contents onto already sodden ground.

At the trig point I turned left and walked down a stream, it used to be a path but I’ve seen less water in a Scottish burn. As I descended it occurred to me that I might be walking on the wrong route. Pausing I checked around me, I was walking down hill and the land either side of me was dropping away, I was confident I was walking on the ridge. The radio masts which would have been my navigation point were completely hidden in the mist. I was contemplating my solitude as a runner splashed past me with the cheery good morning that one who has braved the weather says to another. He was the only person I saw on the entire walk.

Leaving the moorland I dropped into farmland. To my right I could just about make out the grassy banks which showed the site of a Roman fort, crossing the road I entered the remains of the lead mines which the fort was built to protect. The lead mined here contained a reasonable amount of silver, it was smelted on site and the silver used to pay Roman soldiers throughout Britain. The lead was exported around the empire and ingots have been found as far away as the South of France. Nature had tried it’s best to cover up man’s activities but the paths are still surfaces with the shiny black slag left from the furnaces. As I left the valley I passed Victorian stone walls. The Romans were not the only ones to have mined and smelted here.

I walked along an avenue of beech trees, dark grey to black in the rain. The leafless branches gathering the mist into large dollops before dropping it on me with a splash. Crossing the main road I had driven in on I continued on the dead straight roman route before being directed at right angles through some newly planted woodland. The trees were kept in with high deer fences and padlocked gates. I had rejoined the Mendip Ring. I felt unwanted by the landowner in this area and in my head I thanked the ramblers for keeping the rights of way open so that I could walk this way.

Leaving the well maintained estate track I continued along a sunken way, to my left I had a gentle grass slope with pale winter green grass criss-crossed by grey stone walls leading to a farmstead hunkered down on the skyline. The trees were permanently bent by the wind. Today the wind was blowing hard I could see the rain sheeting across in front of me. It occurred to me that this walk would be beautiful in the summer but that this windswept, bleak landscape was pretty awesome under these conditions. To my right there were a couple of tumuli and I was reminded again that the land around me was inhabited by the ghosts of populations going back for many centuries, many of whom would have walked this path. With the wind whistling through the hedges and howling across the wire fences it sounded like they had all come out to see me on my way. Beyond the Tumuli the clouds broke occasionally to reveal glimpses of the view over Blagdon Lake and the hills beyond.

Soon I was back in civilisation, if you call houses surrounded by high walls and solid gates civilisation. I always wonder what they are trying to hide. Crossing some very wet farmland I heard the sound of wheels drumming as they crossed a cattle grid and knew it was nearly over. I slopped down a slippy muddy slope to the car, a flask of coffee and cinnamon popcorn. Although I was damp from perspiration the rain had failed to penetrate my waterproofs and careful waxing of my boots had not been in vain. My feet too were perfectly dry.

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