Section 5 - The Eastern Mendips, Wells to Shepton Mallet
6 miles - Easy Grade walking - What this grade means
Having dropped off the central plateau to reach Wells, the eastern leg of the Mendip Way provides a sharp contrast to the high uplands, with gentler grade walking through remoter woodlands, deep river valleys and rich arable lands. You are unlikely to encounter many walkers at all on this section and outside of Shepton Mallet very little traffic or facilities on the route, leaving a walk that is particularly peaceful, unusual and tranquil. If you want to be quietly wandering your way through the “real” daily life scenery of the laid back and rolling hills of Somerset then you will find it on The East Mendip Way.
The walk out of Wells is an iconic start however from the majestic cathedral via the archway at Penniless Porch so-named for the beggars who plied their trade here. Then past the pretty cobbled Market Square to arrive at the Bishops Palace. The Mendip Way follows the edge of the moat at this impressive castle like structure which makes for a historic and appealing exit from the town on a route that passes no dull housing suburbs whatsoever.
Instead you are quickly climbing up the wooded slopes of nearby Tor Hill on a honeycomb of paths managed by the National Trust, that climb through oak, ash and sweet chestnut. Partially hidden in the ivy and moss you can spot remains of the medieval limestone quarries that provided the stone for the Bishops Palace. At the top you reach a fine and lengthy stretch of wild grassy meadow dotted with patches of wildflowers including birds foot trefoil, wild thyme and lady’s bedstraw. Beyond this the Mendip Way uses a former 18th Century coaching road frequented by those who preferred to risk the dark woods than pay the higher tolls on the main route to London. At Kings Castle Woods enter another thick forested nature reserve where the trees rise up below an old hilltop Iron Age settlement that long pre-dates the town of Wells. When the forest opens up, you can often see roe deer and from here there are good views all along the first part of the walk today - initially back over the Cathedral behind you and then later over the Levels to the iconic tower at Glastonbury Tor.
The thick forest now surrounds you on all sides as you cross a huge and untouched medieval clearing in the woods to make a long and peaceful section over open meadows, where it feels like Robin Hood and the Merry Men could emerge from the undergrowth on either side at any minute.
Sadly, instead at the end it’s a huge glistening solar panel farm that suddenly appears and the Mendip Way takes immediate offence at the arrival of the modern world and heads south through a stretch of rustling maize fields and cereal crops towards Shepton Mallet. This is now a section of huge fields, deep hedgerows, ancient stone styles and a rich peace and quiet for the wanderer.
Ham Woods comes as somewhat of a surprise after a good many miles of fairly level walking and you descend sharply into a deep wood, this time on a criss-cross trail of narrow paths that climb and descend over little hillocks and glades on what feels like little more than a goat track leading to the foot of a huge disused quarry that appears from nowhere. The woods around the rugged limestone cliff faces are now completely returned to nature making it look like a mini gorge and a haven for wildlife. The mini clearings here are often full of deer and you are quite likely to surprise some at the base of the impressive cliffs as you emerge from the trees. What you won’t see is Nancy Camel and her Donkey both (so the locals say) big gin drinkers who inhabited the cave in the woods here until 1703, when the Devil himself arrived to take them away to hell as punishment during a thunderstorm so intense that it is claimed it melted the bells in the nearby church!
Shepton Mallet appears laid out below you after leaving the woods and it’s a pleasant descent to the town through pastures that pass the huge equestrian centre where the Mendip Way gives a front seat view of the jumps and inventive fences used by the cross country riders practising here.
Click Here for information on overnight stops in the market town of Shepton Mallet.