I am anticipating a difficult day today. My first challenge is to find the bridleway from the Woodspring road to Wick St Lawrence. The start of this public right of way is cunningly disguised as a Private Road!
The walk from Woodspring Priory to Clevedon would only be 4 miles if I could follow the seashore. Yesterday, from the high ground above Woodspring Priory, I could see an easy-looking route along the sea wall. But later I would have to cross the river Yeo, and there will almost certainly be sluices, fences and locked gates.
So, I am taking the longer but ‘easy’ option, following footpaths inland, and I plan to make my way first to Wick St Lawrence and then to Kingston Seymour. Unfortunately, this route involves crossing the River Yeo, and over or under the M5 – twice. But I will worry about that later…
The first section of the hidden bridleway is somewhat overgrown, but very passable.
A little bit of mud around a gate, and then I am in open fields, where I need to use my map navigation skills as there are no marker posts to help me.
I arrive in Wick St Lawrence. It’s not really a village, more a collection of farms and isolated houses, strung out along a couple of rural roads. But it makes for very easy and pleasant walking, despite the gloomy day.
A strange sight. A cow suckling four calves at the same time. I wonder if they’re all hers.
I enjoy this walk. Agricultural scenes. Proper, working farms. Love it.
I pass a man who says, “You look as if you haven’t a care in the world!” I realise I must be looking as happy as I feel.
But my good mood is about to change.
David Cotton walked this way some years ago, and described the route he took on his website. He followed a track down to the river bank, then through a culvert under the M5, followed by a minor ‘trespass’ along the banks of the River Yeo until he came to the first footbridge across the river. I plan to follow in his footsteps.
But I come across a series of locked gates. There may be stiles hidden in the thick undergrowth on either side, but I can’t see them and am forced to climb over the gates, becoming increasingly uneasy with each barrier I come across.
A field of cows. Another gate. A paddock used for horses, with saddles and nose bags and other riding equipment strewn nonchalantly over gate posts and fences. It all gives the appearance of private land. But I know it is marked on my map as a public footpath. I stride onwards.
The last gate is very stiff and squeaks loudly. Now I am on the bank of the River Yeo, but this area is clearly set out as a small jumping arena for ponies. And, when I climb up onto the river bank, I see a couple of tents. If there was anybody within the tents, they must have heard the squealing gate.
I feel like an intruder and turn to my right, where I know the footpath is supposed to follow the river bank until it reaches a culvert under the motorway. I can see the M5 and the rushing traffic. Only a couple of fields away. But the bank ahead is blocked. First by a single-strand wire fence and then, more successfully, by a thick mass of tangled brambles.
Looking at the dense barrier of thorns, I know I can’t get through. Defeated I turn back and trudge, feeling angry now, back through the jumping arena, the paddock, the field of cows, down the track and Dolecroft Lane, to the road I’ve just left.
Luckily I have a backup plan. Plan B. Further on is another footpath, marked on my map and leading, apparently, to a different culvert under the M5. Once through, and on the other side of the motorway, the footpath continues down to the River Yeo.
Onwards. I find the footpath. It’s another track, possibly the remains of an old road abandoned when the motorway was built. Rather ominously, I see no footpath signs.
But it’s a pleasant track, and ends in a field covered in the most enormous clover plants. They come as high as my knees and are laden with dew, dampening my trousers. I look out for any ‘lucky’ 4 leafed clover variations, but don’t see any. There is no sign of a path now, but the route, according to my map, continues on and curves gently across the field to meet the M5.
The only thing that spoils my walk through the clover field is the roar of traffic from the motorway, on my right hand side.
Then – hooray! – I find the culvert under the M5. But my heart sinks when I see the metal steps leading downwards are covered in brambles and nettles. Luckily I have my walking poles, and I begin to beat the brambles into submission.
(I wonder what the truck drivers must think, as they race past and catch a momentary glimpse of the scene from their raised cabs; a mad woman thrashing away with a stick at something under a bridge by the side of the motorway!)
After some five minutes of beating down the brambles, I find a hidden sign on the steps. It warns of DANGER and is designed to turn me away. But surely this is a public footpath? I go down the steps and enter the tunnel. And I’m relieved to find a solid walkway with a guard rail, running alongside a large pipe, and can see daylight on the far side of the tunnel.
Obviously nobody has been this way in a long time. Clouds of rust-coloured dust rise up and coat my shoes and the bottoms of my damp trousers. I hold my breath and try not to think of rats…
My heart is thudding and I feel a surge of relieved excitement when I reach the far end of the tunnel – but I am in for a big disappointment.
I stand and consider my options. I could start beating down the brambles. But it will be much harder clearing a way up the steps. And I have no idea how thick the obstruction is. It could be three or four feet. Or it could go on for a hundred yards. Or more. Standing at the bottom of the culvert, it is impossible to see where the brambles end.
After a few, dithering minutes, I decide to retrace my steps. I am not a happy woman at this point. But I trudge back through the red-dust of the culvert, up the bramble strewn steps and then back through the field of giant clover.
The road takes me up and over the M5. I’ve been under it (twice) and now I’m going over it. Sigh.
Now for my backup to my backup plan. Plan C. On the other side of the M5 is the start of another footpath. This one, clearly marked on my map, runs down the side of the M5 to the river bank at a junction where the little Oldbridge River meets the wider River Yeo. At this point, I should meet the original footpath – the one I have been trying to follow.
I know that from here David Cotton walked along the bank of the River Yeo (trespassing, technically, because the bank is not actually a footpath) to reach the first crossing point over the River Yeo at a sluice called Phipp’s Bridge (where there is a footpath). Again, I hope to follow in David’s steps.
But first I have to get down to the river. And the start of my new route isn’t promising. A farm gate with a sign that might have read ‘No Entry’ but has been covered over. No footpath post or symbol. Oh dear.
Onwards. There is a nice track running down beside the motorway, screened by a bank of trees. It turns into a fields. Another gate – but unlocked and with no keep out signs. This looks hopeful.
I reach the bank of a small river – the Oldbridge River. There are some newly constructed wooden platforms. For fishing? The grass on the bank is short. It all looks very domesticated and rather pretty.
Looking to me left, I can see the culvert under the motorway. That’s my culvert! It looks so near – and perhaps I could have got through those brambles if I’d really tried? Maybe.
I try not to think of ‘what if’. Onwards. Now, all I need to do is to get onto the bank of the River Yeo, but first I have to cross over this little Oldbridge River. And that should be easy because there is little old bridge, straight in front of me. (I wonder if that’s how the Oldbridge River got its name?)
But the bridge seems to be closed. Rusty gates bar the way and there is an obstruction at the other end with a sign. I can read the words ‘WARNING’ and ‘DO NOT ENTER’. Also, somebody is using the bridge as a storage area – blue drums and fencing poles are piled up.
Perhaps the bridge was damaged during the recent flooding and is impassable? Or perhaps I am not on the footpath after all? I pull my map out. Yes, this is definitely a footpath. Perhaps it has been diverted? But if so there should be official county council notices to tell me about the diversion.
I don’t know what to do and walk along the river bank for a little way, wondering if there is another way across.
At the end of the field I find my way blocked by a deep looking rhyne. In the next field, I know I should be able to pick up a footpath that leads me to a tiny place called Hewish, and then down another path to Phipp’s Bridge. It would be an alternative, although longer, route to get across the River Yeo. That route would be my last resort. Plan D.
Someone is using this area as some sort of adventure playground. There are various obstacles laid out and I find a rope bridge strung across the rhyne. Bridge is rather too grand a word. Three pieces of rope: one for the feet and one on each side to act as handrails.
It’s a measure of my desperation at this stage that I even consider crossing the rope bridge. I try to reassure myself that this is possible. Look – there is a handy ladder in the water, so I can climb up onto the bank if I fall in.
What am I thinking? Crazy idea. Of course I will fall in. And, even if I managed to cross safely, there is no guarantee I will find a footpath on the other side. (I’m beginning to learn that in Somerset the existence of a footpath line on a map does not mean it really exists on the ground.)
Feeling defiant, I return to the blocked bridge and determinedly pick my way across, through blue barrels, piles of wood and nettles. At the far end of the bridge I see the warning sign is attached to some sort of water bowser, and the bowser is obstructing the exit to the bridge.
The warning sign reads: THIS COMPOUND IS ALARMED AND UNDER 24 HOUR SURVEILLANCE.
It suddenly occurs to me: the sign may not be intended for my eyes at all. This isn’t a ‘compound’ and there is no evidence of any CCTV or alarms. Perhaps the bowser is just another piece of abandoned equipment being stored here? And it’s just a coincidence it appears to be a deterring sign on the bridge?
I climb the stile, carefully, because of the brambles, and rickety planks, There is not much space to jump down on the other side, with the bowser in the way. But I manage it – and suddenly I’m over and on the other side of the Oldbridge River.
The official footpath turns right at this point and follows the bank of the Oldbridge River, but I have other plans. A quick scramble up a green slope, and now I’m standing on the high bank of the River Yeo. At last!
I begin to walk along the Yeo. For the first time I am not on a proper footpath, but, ironically, the grass is short and the going is easy. I’m heading for Phipp’s Bridge. Finally I am making progress.
Route so far this morning: