There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Along the Chew Valley: Day 16 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Eleven months after Day 15 (this year’s Odyssey is slightly earlier) we reassembled in the same Swineford picnic site. Brian and Hilary had joined Lynne and I in Saltford the previous evening. We had been less than a kilometre away from start as the crow flies but roads are not built with crows in mind. A 7 km drive via Keynsham was required to get round the hill and over the river. On the plus side, we had to pass Keynsham station so we picked up Francis and Alison on the way. We also picked up one of the waifs and strays that Alison sometimes seems to collect; a young man requiring a lift to Bitton station. It was only a couple of kilometres and we drove right past it, so it would have been churlish to refuse. Bitton is on the Avon Valley Railway, three miles of track (all that survives of the former Mangotsfield and Bath branch line) owned and run by steam enthusiasts. Mike was already at Swineford when we arrived.

It was a cool morning with a hint of rain in the air but the forecast promised improvement. After the freezing conditions of late March had carried on into April, recent signs that spring was at last arriving were something of a relief.
Getting ready at Swineford
(L to R) Mike, Francis, Brian, Alison, Hilary and Lynne (with their backs to the camera)
Saying goodbye to Lynne and Hilary, we set off down the lane. Emerging from the picnic site onto the main road we disagreed about which way to turn. Francis said left, everybody else said right. Looking at the map as I write this, Francis is clearly wrong, but on the ground he turned out - as (almost) always - to be right.

Joining the Avon Valley Trail, we strolled along the north bank of the river. The (Bristol) Avon is one of England’s four Avons and the second of this Odyssey - we crossed the (Stratford) Avon back on Day 7.

Along the Gloucestershire bank of the Avon
We soon passed under the Mangotsfield and Bath Railway, though this section is a cycle path rather than a big boys’ train set.

The river here is traditionally the boundary between Gloucestershire and Somerset. Although we had entered the land of BANES (Bath and North East Somerset – a unitary authority carved out of the short lived County of Avon) last year, we found ourselves briefly back in Gloucestershire as we walked westwards along the northern bank for a couple of kilometres of sunshine and showers.

The River Chew joins the Avon just north of Keynsham and our plan was to turn left and walk up the Two Rivers Way beside the tributary. That is exactly what we did but I have no idea how. Reaching the confluence, Francis walked confidently up a spit of land between a weir and lock. Even Francis can’t walk on water (well not in those boots) so having proved he was fallible we turned round, headed for the main road across the Avon, then turned south through side streets, a small housing development and a riverside park. By good luck, or inspired navigating, we ended up walking south beside the Chew.
A sidestream enters the Chew through a mill race

Keynsham is not a big town, but beside the river we hardly knew we were in urban surroundings. Beyond the town we paused for coffee. As we sat down, a thin shower swept across us. When it had passed the sun came out, and stayed out for the rest of this year’s walk.

Francis and Alison take coffee beside the Chew

Compton Dando is a kilometre further south, but we turned west to follow the river just before reaching the village. Somewhere here we crossed the Wansdyke (Woden’s Dyke), a 33 km earthwork fortification dating from the dark days after the Romans withdrew. The eastern Wansdyke is, I am told, quite impressive, but we crossed the western Wansdyke without noticing it.

West of Compton Dando the river takes a swing to the south, but we took the direct route up through Park Copse and over the hill the river goes round. The climb up a woodland path lined with bluebells and wild garlic was short but steep enough to raise the heart rate.

Upwards through Park Copse

We crossed the summit, if a 70 metre high protuberance can have a ‘summit', and made a more gentle descent through the broom to the village of Woollard.

Down to Woollard through the broom

Woollard is little more than a hamlet but it has more than its fair share of listed buildings, including Paradise Row, a line of four estate cottages built in 1782.

Paradise Row, Woollard
This year’s Odyssey was too early for wisteria, but the magnolia was in full blossom and we left Woollard down a magnolia bedecked lane.

Leaving Woollard beneath the Magnolia
Following farm land above the river, we passed the hamlet of Publow, then crossed the river and took a direct path to Pensford.

Long Horn cattle near Publow

The existence of the North Somerset Coalfield is a largely forgotten piece of English industrial history. Pensford may not look like anybody’s idea of a pit village, but it was. I was surprised to learn that one colliery had remained in production until 1959.

Acker Bilk (Somerset royalty to rank alongside Adge Cutler and the Wurzels) lives in retirement here [Acker Bilk died in hospital in Bath on 2nd of November 2014 aged 85] in a village blessed by having two functioning pubs. At first we could find only the one that had not been recommended, but a friendly local directed us to the Rising Sun in the old heart of the village across the A37.

Being in cider country we - well Brian mainly, but I offered cautious support - were tempted by the range of ciders on hand-pull and in cask on the bar. Eschewing the more cloudy beverages the locals seemed to enjoy, we had settled for the hand pumped Thatcher’s when we noticed it was a sturdy 6%. A couple of pints of that at lunch time seemed foolhardy, so the experiment was postponed.

Rehydrated with moderate strength beer, we left the village and passed under the Pensford Viaduct. Built in 1874 the viaduct was closed after the 1968 flood, though it had carried no trains for some time and no passenger trains since 1959. The railway has been dismantled but the viaduct is a listed building. If anyone suggested building a huge viaduct across a rural valley there would be serious protests, but after it has been there a hundred years or so people campaign to save it. Strange things, humans.
Under the Pensford Viaduct

Under the viaduct we found ourselves back in the water meadows beside the River Chew. Twenty minutes later we turned south away from the river and through the village of Upper Stanton Drew. Had we passed through Stanton Drew itself (actually a smaller village) we might have caught a glance of the Stanton Drew stone circle, the second largest in England, but we missed it.

The River Chew
A further kilometre south and we climbed through Curl’s Wood.....

Approaching Curl's Farm

.....dropped down to one of the Chew’s feeder streams and then climbed up to Moorledge where we had our first view of Chew Valley Lake. The 5 square kilometre lake was formed by damming the River Chew in the early 1950s to provide drinking water for the Bristol area.

First sight of Chew Valley Lake

The gentle descent across farmland from Moreledge to Chew Lake took us past some of the regions newer residents. I have photographed the occasional llama on our walks, not to mention the Penkridge emu, but these were the first alpaca we have seen.

A rare sighting of the North Somerset Alpaca, long thought to be
extinct in the wild

Our path did not quite take us to the lake, but turned south along a lane leading into Bishop Sutton. Like Pensford, Bishop Sutton was also once a mining village, the first shafts being sunk in the early 18th century and the last colliery closing in 1929.

Sheltered from the wind, whose biting edge had stayed with us even after the rain disappeared, we sat in pleasant sunshine on a bench opposite the church. Minutes later Lynne and Hilary arrived to whisk us off to Blagdon where bed and breakfast were booked at the Seymour Arms.

The Seymour Arms, Blagdon


  1. When I had finished planning this year's Odyssey walk I was rather pleased. We had finished the Cotswolds and these three days seemed like an entity with a nice dramatic finish on the Tor. Furthermore, by staying with Heather in Bristol on Friday night, I could do the trip without using my car although I did have to beg for one of my companions to give me a lift home. I think it went went and this first day was delightful.

  2. The second 'went' is supposed to be a 'well'!