zScapes Ramble On
West Mendip Exploring
Our 2018 visit to London included a 5 day walk from Somerset Heights to Somerset Levels, starting at Axbridge and ending at Glastonbury. While we had full intentions to walk every mile (km), the weather and other circumstances dictated otherwise. But true to our form, we made the best of it and had a lot of fun along the way, taking in the English countryside on our terms.
Axbridge is a small town in Somerset, England, in the Sedgemoor district on the River Axe, near the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. The town's population according to the 2011 census was 2,057 and our start point. The Oakhouse Hotel was our base of operations and after we checked in, off on a walk around to see the quaint city. The Cheddar Reservoir is also close by and was our destination before dinner. The hotel is more of a B&B with a cozy bar, good restaurant and outdoor seating for tapas style dining. Our room faced the square, so we overheard some spirited conversations into the night but once the bar scene closed down (early), it was a peaceful night. The room was clean, comfortable with ensuite bathroom and shower. We both slept well.

The morning came and what was to be an early start became a typical slow start for us (this supposed to be a vacation!). Breakfast at the hotel and then off on our trek with maps and an 80 page 'Independent Walking Notes' from our trip organizer, High Point Holidays. Great outfit that I will talk about later on. The weather was overcast but no threat of rain, at least for the first day. The plan hike took us above Axbridge for views of the Levels, more views from Dolebury Warren and Black Down and the rolling countryside around Shipman. What intrigued me most was how our route plan took as along designated hiking and local trails, crossed farmlands while we mingled with the sheep. Without the 'Notes' provided by High Point, we would have been swallowed by the British countryside.

The views were spectacular as we walked along soaking in the history of the land and gaining an appreciation for life in the country, a far cry from the hustle of London. Our destination was the town of Rickford, however, since we meandered around on our own pace w had to cut the day short. Fortunately, our guide Mark was waiting at a roadside stop that came complete with an Ice Cream Truck! He then whisked us off to Cheddar (yes that cheddar) where we would spend the next 2 nights.
Cheddar Round Trip
Cheddar is a large village and civil parish in the Sedgemoor district of the English county of Somerset. It is situated on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, 9 miles north-west of Wells. The civil parish includes the hamlets of Nyland and Bradley Cross (Wikipedia). We pickup our tale in Cheddar where we stayed for 2 nights as our host shuttled us for a day hike that would return us to the same village.

After a rather nice meal the night before at the Bath Arms Hotel, we were up and ready for a shuttle to Rickford to start our hike of the day. The allotted time came and passed and no sign of our driver/ride. So we contacted our host (Mark) and he had to scramble to cover the trip, picking us up himself and apologizing for the miss, while we plotted to cut the the journey short, which he gladly accommodated. We were dropped off at a country trail next to Hazel Warren Farm from which we spent the day rambling through the countryside and only crossed 2 streets before returning to Gordon's, our B&B for the two nights.

Our hike took us through the post industrial nature reserves of Ubley Warren and Velvet Bottom, Black Rock Quarry, finishing off with a Cheddar Gorge ridge trek. This land has been scared by lead mining and condensing operations that began with the Romans and lasted until the late 19th century. Nature is recovering, however, where there had been lead tailings and condensing flue activity the recovery is much slower, mostly meadow grass and flowers impervious to the toxicity, such as sandwort and alpine pennycress. The countryside was green, peaceful and the hike was mostly downhill! However, rain clouds started to move in and we quickened our pace. Downhill ease gave way to an up climb to gain the Cheddar Gorge ridge trail. The gorge itself was formed by meltwater floods in the cold periglacial periods occurring over the past 1.2 million years. Composed of Limestone, the gorge is up to 137m deep with vertical cliffs and an abundance of wild sheep and goats. Views are expansive (especially if it is not raining) and we made our way back to Cheddar to dry off and find some dinner in the village that brought the world cheddar cheese. A by product of the glacial meltwaters during warmer periods when it penetrated the limestone was to sculpt caves, which became a refuge for early mankind and where Cheddar Man was unearthed. Britains oldest complete skeleton from the Gough Cave is dated at 7150 BC with DNA samples linked to a local man!

Our B&B hosts at Gordon's were friendly, helpful and run a top rated establishment. Centrally located, ti is a prime spot stay when you visit this corner of Somerset.
Next Stop Wells
Wells is a cathedral city and civil parish in the Mendip district of Somerset, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills and has had city status since medieval times because of the presence of Wells Cathedral. Wells is named from three wells dedicated to Saint Andrew, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop's Palace and cathedral.

We woke to rainy skies in Cheddar and a check of our comprehensive walking guide for the day told us there would be slogging to undertake. Over breakfast the decision was made to ride the local bus and catch clearing skies in Wells. Good choice as it rained the entire time on our way to Wells. Once we got there, the clouds rolled back and the rest of the day allowed us ample time to walk the open air market, tour Bishop's Palace and Gardens, wander in Wells Cathedral and take in Vicar's Close, a medieval street. Our B&B City Arms was a converted jail with the original building, dating from 1549 when it was the City Gaol, still intact including original barred windows, locks and chains and a solitary cell. This warning comes from the proprietor, "Stocks and shackles in the old City Jail are being repaired and will be used for any customers who over-indulge on our fine ales!." It was definitely the off-beat choice for a night in Wells and the accommodations were clean, with pleasant staff and a central location.
Glastonbury Final Stop
Glastonbury is a town and civil parish in Somerset, England, situated at a dry point on the low-lying Somerset Levels, 23 miles (37 km) south of Bristol. Glastonbury has been described as a New Age community which attracts people with New Age and Neopagan beliefs, and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor, concerning Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur.

After spending a great day in Wells, we decided to repeat the bus ride to our next town to take in the local sights. We were both interested in the new age and mystical focus and it did not disappoint. What a great hippie town! Spent the day in and out of local shops (Haight/Ashbury flashbacks), at Glastonbury Abbey home to the King Arthur legend and climbed to the Tor, a spectacular vantage point for the surrounding countryside containing St. Michael's Tower. We stayed at Number 27, an elegant bed and breakfast recently remodeled with a very accommodating host. Rooms were a delight and it was just a short walk to High Street (UK equivalent of Main Street). In the morning, we visited Chalice Wells and Gardens claimed by Christians as where the Holy Grail is buried and pagans for the origin spring of the essence of life. Healing properties are promised no matter what you believe. Beautiful grounds and your chance to take home a vial of the mystical water!

So ends our English countryside walk/hike/bus ride adventure and back off to London for a few more days before heading home.
Stay tuned for 2019!!!
May our paths & errands meet

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