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Goblin Combe and Corporation Woods

A forest full of rockfaces gives a walk of crag tops and hollows.

Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 20min

Ascent/gradient 400ft (210m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Tracks and paths, one steep-stepped ascent, 3 stiles

Landscape Wooded hollows and open pasture above

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 154 Bristol West & Portishead

Start/finish ST 459653

Dog friendliness Freedom in Cleeve Woods but leads essential in Corporation Wood (vermin traps)

Parking Goblin Combe car park (free) at Cleeve Hill Road (turn off A370 at Lord Nelson pub)

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the parking area turn right into Plunder Street and bear left past the Goblin Combe Environmental Centre to pass through a gateway marked 'Footpath to Wrington only'. An earth track leads up the combe bottom, with grey crags above on the left.

2 After ¾ mile (1.2km) the track passes through a wall gap. Here, beside a map of permissive paths, turn up the one on the left. Steep steps lead up to the top of the slope, where the small path turns right alongside a broken wall. On the right, yew trees conceal the drop beyond, but after 100yds (91m) the path bears right to reach the open crag top. Turn left for 270yds (247m) into a clearing. After another 100yds (91m) is a barrier with a stile. A green track leads down to a noticeboard near outbuildings of Warren Farm. (The noticeboard indicates 'You are here' but actually you're slightly further to the south?)

3 Turn right on a green track; it goes gently uphill at first, then descends and bears left to the floor of a wooded combe. Turn right for 110yds (100m) to a junction of combes and tracks.

4 Turn sharp left, past tree trunk obstructions, on a green track in the bottom of a new combe. With the wood edge visible ahead, bear left to a barrier and turn right in the track beyond. This runs along the wood edge. Sudden loud noises here may be jays in the wood (or aeroplanes taking off!). After the corner of Spying Copse the track runs into open pasture. It turns right and then left, and after another 100yds (91m) watch out for a kissing gate on the right-hand side: a grassy way leads across a field to a lane (Wrington Hill).

5 Turn right for ¾ mile (1.2km), and, as the road leaves the beeches of Corporation Woods, turn back left on a track following the signpost marked 'Congresbury Woodlands'. The house on the left has a commendable attempt at topiary (tree-clipping) in bay leaves. After a bungalow on the right-hand side the track descends to Woolmers House.

6 After passing the kennels, turn right on a waymarked track, to go through two gates into King's Wood. The broad path ahead leads to a waymarked footbridge. After another 50yds (46m) bear left with the waymarkers. The path runs down to a stile at the foot of the wood. Bear slightly left towards a gap in the trees and a gate, but turn right along the foot of the field. A stile on the left leads to a tarred lane and the car park.

Walkers in the Lake District or Wales become familiar with the effects of glaciers on the landscape: U-shaped valleys, corrie hollows, spurs with their bottom ends chopped away, and so on. Glaciers never reached Somerset, but the county has certain so-called 'peri-glacial' landforms, caused by the permafrosted tundra climate just next door to the ice cap. Where, for example, is the fair-sized river that carved out the rocky Goblin Combe?

This is limestone country, and the water flows under the ground. But in the Ice Age times the underground was frozen, and the summer meltwaters could flow across the surface and make gorges. Ice Age freeze-and-thaw action in the rocks has broken off large boulders, which lie on either side of the track, and smaller pieces which form scree at the crag foot.

Goblin Combe's rocks provide short but entertaining climbs. Notices forbidding climbing are to some extent a legal fiction. The law as it stands doesn't understand the self-reliant ethos of rock-climbing; and the landowner could, in theory, be sued by a fallen climber. Nevertheless, venturing on to the rocks without the proper skill and equipment is both stupid and dangerous. Unlike many limestone cliffs in Somerset you will not - or at least should not - see bolt anchors drilled into Goblin's rocks. Rock climbers and the British Mountaineering Council have designated this an 'adventure climbing' area, where such aids to easier and safer climbing are not seen as sporting.

Above the crags and treetops is limestone meadow with many wild flowers. Here is also limestone heath - a paradox to gardeners, who know that heathers hate lime. Once again, the answer lies in the Ice Age, when acidic, sandy soil from elsewhere blew in on the sub-zero winds. Sadly, the airy openness of the crag-top meadow is spoilt by the procession of aircraft taking off from Bristol International Airport.

Most of the woodland in Goblin Combe is of ash trees - typical in the Mendips, but relatively rare in Britain as a whole, where the natural succession arrives at oak, birch or (in the mountains) Scots pine. The ash, however, wins out over its rivals on this thin limestone soil. Later in the walk, Corporation Wood is of beeches. Climax woodland (that is a wood that has no further tendency to evolve into some other sort of wood) is composed of a tree species that throws sufficient shade to suppress others. Beeches are particularly good at this, and so Corporation Wood is open and spacious between the smooth tree trunks. Below, there's an occasional 'etiolated' (made pale for want of light) evergreen such as holly, yew or ivy. Also, of course, the young seedlings of the beech wood itself, specially adapted to the heavy shade of their parents.

What to look for

The rare moonwort fern grows under the yew trees of Goblin Combe. Its ragged-looking fronds are 2-8 inches (5-20cm) long with brown spore structures rather like dry seed heads. Alchemists believed this fern would help them turn mercury into silver.

Where to eat and drink

The Lord Nelson, on the A370, could be described as a 'cheap steak' inn; but it does have a pleasant beer garden and an indoor play area for children.

While you're there

Nearby Clevedon is an elegant seaside resort. Its Victorian pier is one of the finest surviving and is 1,100ft (335m) long. If you time it correctly you can step from the pier on to the paddle steamers, Waverley or Balmoral, for a trip to the new Severn Bridge.

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