A fine walk through woodland, heathland and an Iron-Age hill fort on the northern rim of the Mendips.
Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 600ft (180m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Wide and mostly mud-free, 4 stiles
Landscape A grassy hilltop rises out of mixed woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 141 Cheddar Gorge
Start/finish ST 444575
Dog friendliness Dogs can run free in woods and on Dolebury Warren
Parking Pull-off near church; street parking around main Shipham crossroads
Public toilets Burrington Combe on Walk 44
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1 From the main crossroads in the centre of Shipham village head uphill on Hollow Road (signposted for 'Rowberrow'). At the top of the street bear right into Barn Pool, then turn right again into Lipiatt Lane. Continue walking up the hill, then at its end keep going straight ahead on a path with a waymarker for Cheddar, to descend a sunken path to a stream.
2 Just before the stream turn left on a path marked 'Rowberrow'. Stay to the left of the stream (ignoring a fork to the right) - the path becomes a tarred track. After passing three houses and a limekiln bear right into the forest at a noticeboard, 'Rowberrow Warren'.
3 The track bends to the right, climbing. At the corner of an open field turn left into a smaller track that descends gently with this field above on its right. At a junction keep ahead, uphill, for 35yds (32m) then turn left on a forest track with a bridleway sign.
4 After 350yds (320m) this track ends; bear left down a wide path with clear-felled forest above on the right. Where it joins a stony track and path below, bear right on the stony track, with a wall to your left. At a T-junction turn left for 90yds (82m) to a gate on the left with a National Trust sign.
5 Follow the grassy ridgeline ahead, passing along the left side of a fenced enclosure of scrubland. At its end, bear right ('Limestone Link' waymarker) to pass to the right of a tall pine clump. Emerge on to more open grassland with wide views. The highest point of the ridge is the rim of the huge Dolebury hill fort.
6 A green track runs down through the fort and into the woods below. It bends left, then back right, to emerge at a gate on to tarred lanes. Take the lane on the right, down to the A38. Cross to a signposted bridleway: this leafy path with a bedrock bottom rises to a lane. Turn left - the hummocky ground on the left consists of broken stones from the disused Churchill Quarry below. Ignore turnings to left and right and follow the enclosed track down to Star.
7 Cross the A38 on to a grass track to a stile, and go up the grassy spur above. Keep to the left of some trees to a stile, and pass to the right of a football pitch, to find a short path out to the edge of Shipham. Turn right, to the village centre.
Somerset has a lot of Iron-Age forts. It may just be that Somerset has rather a lot of the right sort of hill. These hill forts were not just defensive structures, but small townships. Inside the summit wall were roundhouses of wattle and daub. Wattle is a woven framework of willow twigs, and its daub is a mixture of clay and straw - the most waterproof daub also has plenty of cow-dung in it. Reed thatch made a cosy roof. The houses were up to 50ft (16m) across with a central fireplace.
The inhabitants of these hill forts are the first people about whom we have written records. However, the writers were their enemies, the Romans. The Durotinges, who inhabited Somerset and Dorset, are portrayed, along with the other British tribes, as warlike and savage barbarians. Warlike would seem to be correct. Their settlements, whether hill forts or the lake village at Glastonbury, were placed so as to be defended. In the case of the hill forts, they clearly valued the protective wall above having a convenient water supply. And Boudica, often called Boadicea, chieftain of the Iceni of East Anglia, certainly earned the respect of the Romans even though they eventually defeated her, as they did the Durotinges on Cadbury Castle. 'Savage barbarians', however, is just enemy propaganda.
These were people with a developed civilisation based on farming, fishing and hunting, as well as warfare. At Glastonbury their village on stilts in the marshland is itself a considerable feat of co-operative working from a very early time. They built log trackways across the peatlands, or paddled home in a canoe hollowed out of a single tree trunk with flint axes and fire.
They traded with their neighbours; rounded pebbles from Chesil Beach, used as ammunition by slingers, have been found at Ham Hill. They wove baskets and made jewellery of bronze. They appreciated fine, or at least garish, clothing, coloured using plant dyes (madder for red and woad for blue) and pinned with a bronze brooch at the shoulder. They kept bees, and they made pottery which is still an inspiration to potters of today. At night the roundhouse was lit with rushlights made from the pith of reeds and soaked in mutton fat. And from what we know of Iron Age-type societies in more recent history, they had a rich tradition of story-telling and a detailed knowledge of their own family trees.
For a complete change from the tranquil Mendips, there's the Helicopter Museum at Weston-super-Mare. The world's oldest, fastest and ugliest helicopters; and, once a month, open cockpit days and even flying lessons.
The Miners' Arms at Shipham serves real ales and bar meals. Dogs are welcome at the outdoor seating area; children are allowed indoors as well. There is also the Star (at Star!), just before the end of the walk.
Gruffy ground: on the final ascent from Star to Shipham you pass among many small hollows. These are the remains of mines. Most of the Mendip mines were for lead, but the ones here were for calamine, an ore containing zinc. A miner would dig a small hole, stand in it, and throw his hack (or pick-axe) as far as possible in all directions. Where it landed was the edge of his claim.