The suggested route for today goes from Cheddar itself to Easton-in-Gordano (near the Severn Crossing) via Cheddar Gorge and the Mendips. Whilst this would undoubtedly have been a pretty route, it is also a fairly roundabout route, going in a counter-clockwise ‘C’ shape up through and around Cheddar to come back towards the coast, and there was no way I could walk 27 miles in one day without a much earlier start than is possible with kids and caravan. After much scrutiny of maps, I decided to take a shortcut route which by my calculation would cut around 8 miles off the suggested route.
I started from the Cheddar reservoir, and for the first mile was accompanied by Arran and the kids (Isaac in a baby backpack), which was a real treat. I then waved goodbye to the family and headed for Axbridge, which turned out to be a very pretty medieval market town with half-timbered buildings, then turned onto the track which runs up a disused railway line from Axbridge to Yatton.
The Strawberry Line (so-called because the railway used to bring early season Cheddar strawberries to Bristol) was a great walk and I was glad I’d decided to take a more direct route. The track was fast and easy walking, bordered by green hedges and with views over fields and hills, with the odd information board offering interesting titbits about the railway and local wildlife. It starts fairly high up in the hills, with a pitch-black tunnel through a bluff where Judge Jeffreys ordered public hangings after the Bloody Assizes, and runs in more or less a straight line up to Yatton.
There is a great stop at Sandford, where you can have a cup of tea sitting in a railway carriage looking out over the hills. I spent far too long having a break and discussing my journey with a group of friendly and interested men who were there for the railway museum.
The track doesn’t follow the old railway line continuously and at one point goes through one of Thatchers’ apple orchards (the cider not the ex-PM); the apples looked lovely but the warning notices about spraying and ominous lack of any other plant life made them very un-tempting.
From Yatton there was a long hot walk up the road to Kenn, then along some rhynes (river ditches) to Cadbury Camp, an Iron Age fort on the brow of Tickenham Hill with amazing views back across the valley.
After that it was simply a question of crossing the motorway. However, I am really terrified of motorway footbridges and this was the second time I had had to cross the M5. I didn’t dare close my eyes but did walk across the six lanes of thundering traffic looking only ahead and reciting number series (counting backwards from 100 in 7s) out loud as a distraction tactic.
Safely over the motorway, I was rewarded by a deer standing on the path, about 10 feet from me and only a wooden fence away from the traffic; I didn’t manage to get a photo before it bounded away but felt it was a good omen. A short stroll through fields of horses before meeting the family and heading to Clevedon for fish and chips, which we ate by the seafront. Clevedon is lovely, with strings of lights hanging above a Victorian-looking promenade, and we were able to watch some teenagers sailing dinghies in the late afternoon sunshine. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow’s walk, through the outskirts of Bristol (and two long footbridges!) but am definitely looking forward to heading into Wales.
Highlights: butterflies and heritage on the Strawberry Line; chatting about LEJOG with another walker over a picnic lunch; wishing I had a sunhat; the view from Cadbury Camp; fish and chips by the sea.