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Section 2 – The Western Mendips, Crook Peak to Shipham


Around 5 miles - moderate grade with a strenuous climb up Crook Peak - What these grades mean


Crook Peak, derived from ‘cruc’, the ancient British name for a pointed hill, is the first major Mendip summit. Make the steep, strenuous climb up from the M5 corridor, through deep woodland that gives way to gorse clad slopes and finally a welcoming grassy col below the summit. Make sure you divert to the scarred rocky peak, where you can scramble up the limestone for superb views off the edge of the escarpment. A literal high point in the region, this spot has, over history, been a vital location for the old signal system of beacon fires used for keeping watch and giving warnings since pre-historic times.


Now you are on the high backbone ridge, and this is classic Mendip territory, walking on springy, sheep-grazed high grasslands, punctured by rocky outcrops that drop dramatically away into steep wooded combes which run down to the little villages laid out far below you.


Look out for skylarks, meadow pipits and stonechats as you take the broad trail over Barton Hill to climb to the Trig Point at the summit of Wavering Down (211m).  This will reward you with one of those famed 360 degree views - outstanding in every direction from this narrow ridge, across to Wales, south to brooding Exmoor and over Bristol to the Cotswold hills.


A quick descent follows, into the ancient oaks of Kings Wood, part of the original 11th century royal hunting forest, protected by a medieval ditch and bank and bordered by part of an older Saxon manorial boundary. A place of long held importance and great atmosphere, it’s an open and extensive woodland that holds a good variety of trees including yew, beech and chestnut and is alive with the singing of nuthatches and willow warblers and the tap-taps of green woodpeckers.


Back in relative civilisation, the Mendip Way now passes over the tunnel of the Strawberry Line Railway now a recreational cycle path and the route off the escarpment for those staying in Axbridge.


Click here for information on overnight stops in the historic town of Axbridge, home to the ancient King Johns Hunting Lodge.


Back on the Mendip Way, you reach the main road at Shute Shelve, a high gouged out rock face on a pass through the ridge. This spot was notorious after the Assizes (or trials) presided over by the infamous Judge Jeffreys in nearby Axbridge. His summary trials followed the failed uprising against King James 2nd in 1685 at nearby Sedgemoor - the last great battle on English soil. You will come across references throughout the West Country to the hated Jeffreys, and so many rebels were brought here it became known simply as The Hanging Field. Jeffreys demanded the gruesome remains were left swinging on display to discourage travellers over the pass from any similar disloyalty.


Leaving the Hanging Field behind you, the Mendip Way heads into happier territory along a sunken drove road, one of the many ancient sheep herding trackways, known as Winscombe Drove, which was part of the route back to what was then the port at Uphill. This really is rich, ancient and fertile Somerset at its best, with glimpses over the hedgerows to rolling fields, grasslands and dry valleys. There are no cars and no tourists here to disturb you. Experience a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquillity as you wind through the rolling hillsides to finish the day.


Shipham now appears, but the Mendip Way has one final trick up its sleeve.  Between you and its church, which seems tantalisingly close, there suddenly appears from nowhere a deep dense wooded valley and for the tired walker this is a final challenge as you descend on steep steps through tall conifers to cross a little wooden footbridge over the Shipham Brook, before a stiff climb back out the other side to reach the old toll road into the village.


Click here for information on overnights in Shipham on the West Mendip Way.

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