Monday, 14 May 2012

Mark to Blagdon

I was joined by Ben Lankester soon after breakfast. Despite having spent the previous two days on a fund-raising cycle adventure, and covering 125 miles, he was still game enough to join me. A fit young man – and looking much slimmer and svelte since last I saw him six years or more ago.

Ben Lankester
And excellent company. The walking was hardly noticeable all morning as we crossed the low country towards Cheddar, with marvellous views across to the Mendips from the modest height we gained from Mark. I learned a lot about orthopaedic surgery, too. Ben is a consultant at Yeovil, now firmly established as their knee man. Occasional hip jobs – simple hip replacements, nothing more esoteric, but mainly knees. And even with knees there are areas of differential skill.

It makes one understand a lot more about medicine. How you have to have quite large surgical units to be able to offer a reasonable level of coverage; how competitive it is to get good jobs in good hospitals; how one has to make regular career decisions if one is not to be trapped in a backwater. Ben is beginning to face up to the issue of whether it’s time to move on, or whether the quality of life in somewhere like Yeovil is enough of a substitute for beginning to shut off options to move.

He knows this part of Somerset very well, and had often walked parts of today’s route around Chapel Allerton. He’d lived there until six or seven years ago, and we actually passed his former home. He took a photo of me in front of it; I failed once again to take the photos I should take. I fear that this is reflected all too often in my account of the trip. I only think of what I should have photographed after the event, and when it’s too late to go back, or too costly in climbing up and down. I don’t avoid climbs, but don’t like voluntarily repeating them.

The last bit of the morning’s journey was across more of the levels to Cheddar. It’s all rather dull walking, so having an interesting companion is a great boon. As we approached Cheddar itself Ben consulted Trip Advisor on his i-Phone, and selected the Gardener’s Arms (4½ stars) for our lunch break. Shut, not surprisingly for a Monday, so we had to settle for the Riverside Inn. It rated three stars, but on the basis of our experience didn’t deserve even one. The Ploughman’s Lunch was awful, and everything you might want to liven it up came in sachets – even the salt and pepper was in little paper packets. I asked why they had to do this, and they said that kids often threw salt and pepper pots around, and lots got broken, All rubbish, in my view, and probably just the sales line pitched by vendors of these awful little sauces and condiments.

Cheddar Gorge, with Cheddar below, and Axminster Reservoir beyond
We had expected to have to pay to go up Jacob’s Ladder to the top of the gorge, but in the event took a steep footpath up the South side rather than the curiously named steps from the North. The top of the steps isn’t anything like the top of the gorge: that involves another uphill mile or so. But after the additional climbing the views down into the gorge, and across the Mendips and the lower country to the South, make it all worthwhile. It’s relatively open country at the top, but as you descend the other side it’s largely through woodland. There was evidence of much recent felling of mainly ash trees, and we were left wondering whether they just leave the substantial amounts of detritus that littered the ground to rot over what would have to be a substantial length of time, or whether they just hadn’t got around to clearing it up.

At the end of the route past the Gorge you cross a road and go into a National Trust  area. It’s called Velvet Bottom, and the name seems well justified. The grass is lawn-like in quality in the wide bottom of the valley you climb. The only blemish is an area beneath a modest rockface that is fenced off. Health and Safety again, of course. Rocks do fall, and being beneath them when it happens wouldn’t be the smartest of moves. But surely people can work that out, and ugly metal crowd control shouldn’t be necessary. At least the sun had now come out after the passing of a very obvious weather front.

Velvet Bottom

After Velvet Bottom we climbed up to the highest point of the day to cross the Mendip summit. Just before we reached there was a stile completely surrounded by water. This is marked “Spring” on the map. But why put the stile right there rather than a few yards wither side where it’s marginally higher and the ground is dry?

The final drop down into Blagdon was like many other descents I have experienced over the last few days. It seems much more significant in altitude loss than the preceding climbs would appear to warrant. And Blagdon’s still a good 100m plus above sea level. The earlier part of this section saw us pass a number of strange structures on the edge of the path. We worked out that they must be firing positions for a clay pigeon shooting range. Yet there were no spent cartridges to be seen, and no signage to confirm our view. Combined with yesterday’s pheasant farm it seems to underline that this is serious shooting country.

The view down into Blagdon - the end of Week Three
In Blagdon we stopped at the first pub we reached, which was shut, but in a reasonably sunny spot. The taxi that was “on its way” took half an hour to reach us. Then it was back to Mark, with that rather smug feeling that it took a long time even to drive the distance we had walked. When back at Rose Cottage we changed out of muddy boots and outer gear, retrieved Ben’s car, and set off for Uffcolmbe.

There I took leave of Ben, let myself in to Chris and Ann Hill’s house, had a bath and prepared the dinner they had left me, and set about writing this.

And this is the last time I’ll have to suffer this broken keyboard without an “R” key, which means that I have to type 4 each time and then do a global replace. Tomorrow it’ll be replaced!

Drizzling rain to start the day, but drying by midday and sunshine from 2:30 onwards. 15 to 20C. 26.91km; 550m ascent, 400m descent (estimated – technology failure). Very flat, fairly muddy on farm tracks to start, more on roads than not; undulating after steep climb alongside Cheddar Gorge. Moderate.

Map (which has some missing detail) -


That’s the end of week three! So far it’s 480km (300 miles!), and 11,500 metres of climbing. One blister, not serious. Two pairs of boots retired. Legs less tired than I’d expected. I am getting fitter. But I haven’t actually lost any weight. Maybe more of it is muscle, though!

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