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Catching the Burrow Mump on the Levels

A gentle wander around the Somerset Levels near Burrowbridge leading up to a hump called a 'mump'.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 150ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Tracks, paths, unfrequented field edges, 6 stiles

Landscape Flat pasture with ditches and one surprising, small hill

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 140 Quantock Hills & Bridgwater

Start/finish ST 360395

Dog friendliness Good on drove tracks where dogs separated from livestock by deep ditches

Parking National Trust car park (free) at Burrow Mump

Public toilets None on route


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 A gate leads on to the base of the Mump. Keep round to the right to a small gate and steps down to the Burrow Bridge. Just before the bridge turn right into Riverside. After 350yds (320m) turn right into Burrow Drove, which becomes a tractor track. On either side and between the fields are deep ditches, coated in bright green pondweed. At a T-junction there's a culvert of 19th-century brick on the left. Here turn right on a new track: it passes behind Burrow Wall Farm, to meet the busy A361.

2 A 'public footpath' sign points to a track opposite. After just 30yds (27m) turn left over a stile. With the bushy Burrow Wall on your right, cross a field to the usually very muddy Grove Farm. Go through two gates to continue along fields beside woodland on the left. At the end of the second field an awkward rusty gate leads up between brambles to a green track: turn right here to reach a lane near Pathe Farm.

3 Turn right along the lane, ignoring a track on the right, to reach a side-lane on the right. Here cross a bridge to a hedge-gap on the right and a very narrow footbridge. Continue through several fields, with a wide rhyne (or ditch) on the right. Near by, on the left, is the low banking of Challis Wall, concealing the Sowy River. The ditch on the right gradually gets smaller. When it finally ends bear right to the River Parrett and follow it to a latticework road bridge. Cross this into the edge of Stathe.

4 Keep ahead through the village, past a phone box and Ludwells Farm, to a stile on the right waymarked 'Macmillan Way'. Follow the right edge of one field to a gate; cross to the hedge opposite and follow it round to the left, to a stile. Continue with a hedge on your right to a gate, where a hedged track leads to a road. Turn left, perhaps scrambling up the banking, to walk on the Southlake Wall between road and river.

5 As the road turns away from the river, rejoin it. Once across Stanmoor Bridge a waymarker points to the right for a riverbank path to Burrowbridge. Turn right and, this time, climb to the top of Burrow Mump for an overview of the entire walk and much of Somerset as well.

After the last Ice Age, around 10-18,000 years ago, this ground was under the sea; in one sense it still is, as the high tide in the Bristol Channel rises up to 20ft (6m) above the fields and ditches. If the sea ever does get back in, it will lap against Glastonbury Tor and make Bridgwater and Burnham reminiscent (albeit in just one sense) of Venice - they will have canals instead of streets.

The draining of this ground started in Roman times, but gathered pace in the early Middle Ages. The three centuries following the Norman conquest (until the Black Death) brought increasing prosperity and security, shown by, among other things, the windmills that sprung up along the Polden Hills. The growing population required more land to be drained for the plough and the cow.

The water-meadows around Barrow Mump were first drained by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in about 1255. They raised walls to keep out the pervasive waters of the River Parrett, to form fertile water-meadows. In winter these would be allowed to flood, their soils enriched by silt from the river. In summer the drained grasslands formed highly fertile grazing land for their cattle, with convenient and effective wet fencing and plenty of fresh drinking water. This agricultural process may give us the origin of 'Sumor Saete' or Somerset, the 'land of summer'.

Drainage was continued through the ages: the King's Sedgemoor Drain, with its complex arrangement of sluices and pumps, was constructed in the 19th century; and managed drainage came to the Huntspill River area during World War Two. Wind pumps were replaced by steam-powered engines and then by the diesel one that may be heard thumping in the distance at the start of the walk. Our route is around the drove tracks and the river barriers, with a final ascent of Burrow Mump for an overall view.

In the days when the surrounding ground was swamp, Burrow Mump was occupied by the local Celtic people against the Romans. In the Anglo-Saxon era, it was a strongpoint of King Alfred's; he fortified it against Danish raiders coming up the River Parrett. Later it held a Norman castle. Once the surroundings were drained its tactical value decreased, and the present Chapel of St Michael was built by the monks of Athelney Abbey. Even so it remained an obvious strongpoint, and the chapel was held by the Royalists in 1645 after their crushing defeat by Cromwell's New Model Army at the Battle of Langport. It was partially destroyed on that occasion, restored in the 18th century, and has fallen back down again since then.

The summit, though only raised 100ft (30m) above the sea-level surroundings, commands a wide and interesting view. Half a dozen parish churches can be seen in various directions. The closest of these, looking due north from the Mump, is St Mary's in Westonzoyland, with its square tower. Here captured rebels were imprisoned by government troops after their defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. Closer at hand, the distinctive pattern of droves (tracks) and walls (river barriers, originally 12ft (4m) high and 30ft (10m) wide) can be seen around the water-meadows.

While you're there

A short distance down the Parrett is the Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum. It has two centuries' worth of machinery, and on some Sundays you can see a steam-powered pump of 1861 actually at work - check with the Bridgwater tourist information centre for dates and times.

Where to eat and drink

The King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge offers food as well as beer. Like many traditional Somerset inns, it also has a skittle alley.

What to look for

Pollard willow: on the banks of the drove grow willow trees like an infant's drawing - a bare trunk, topped by a sudden round bush. Historically, these trees have been chopped back, or pollarded, every ten years. The poles were for firewood, or for a dozen uses around the farm. Today, willow timber is the best raw material for making corrugated cardboard.


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