Serenity enjoyed in a rich landscape nestling between the busy cities of Bristol and Bath.
Distance 6.3 miles (10.1km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 700ft (210m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Tracks, field paths, woodland paths, and byways, 15 stiles
Landscape Rolling farmland with plantations and small streams
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 155 Bristol & Bath
Start/finish ST 632644
Dog friendliness Some freedom in woods and on tracks fenced off from farmland
Parking Street parking near bridge in Woollard; also opposite pub in Compton Dando (Point f)
Public toilets None on route
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1 At the southern end of Woollard bear right at a 'Circular Walk' sign. The byway is underwater at first, but a path parallels it on the right. After the byway becomes Birchwood Lane, turn left into Lord's Wood, on a path waymarked 'Three Peaks Way'. Go downhill, crossing a track, to a pool. Pass around to the left of this, to a waymarker and a track junction. The track opposite leads up to the edge of the wood.
2 Turn right, and drop to a hidden footbridge under trees. Head uphill, passing the right-hand edge of a plantation, to Pete's Gate beside a corner of Hunstrete Plantation. Turn left to a field gate. Now the right of way bears right, but, with no sign of a path, it's simpler to keep ahead to a lane and turn right into Hunstrete.
3 Turn left beside Cottage No 5. Ignoring the waymarking arrow, go down the right-hand side of a field to a stile into Common Wood. The track ahead passes through a paintball sports area. Where it crosses a stream and bends left, take a waymarked green path that rises to the top of the wood. Pass through a small col with a lone ash tree, down to a hedge corner. Go straight downhill to a signpost, and turn right to join a lane at Marksbury Vale.
4 Turn left towards Court Farm; just before the buildings turn right over a stile, and take the right-hand track for 100yds (91m) to a stile. Pass to the right-hand side of the farm buildings to an enclosed track following Bathford Brook. Head downstream to reach a track at Tuckingmill.
5 Follow the track past a handsome, 18th-century manor house to a ford. Cross the footbridge and turn right, alongside the stream, which is again the line of an underwater byway - rejoin it as it emerges. It leads to a road, with Compton Dando 700yds (640m) away on the left.
6 Turn right into Church Lane, and then go through the lychgate. A stile leads down steps, one of which is a 17th-century gravestone. Turn left behind the mill house and pass to the left of the mill pond, to reach a footbridge over the River Chew.
7 Bear left into woodland known as Park Copse. At its top follow the right-hand edge of a field round to a stile. In the lane beyond turn left; it becomes a hedged track and runs alongside a tiny gorge as it descends to Woollard.
Somerset as an entity is older than England itself; it came into existence as a kingdom of the Saxons after their defeat of King Arthur. This book conforms to the ancient boundaries established, perhaps by Alfred himself, in the 9th century. Local Government reorganisation in 1974 split off a section and called it 'Avon' - the people of Somerset were not pleased. Destruction-of-Somerset Day happened to be 1st April, and to mark this particular All Fools' Day a muffled quarter-peal of Somerset Surprise Major was rung from Yatton church.
Local government re-reorganisation in 1996 largely restored the ancient county. However, this corner remains separate as a unitary authority called Bath and North East Somerset, resulting in the unfortunate acronym, 'BANES'. The other end of Avon has become another unitary authority, North Somerset. The very names of them are an admission that they may be convenient units of government but aren't actually proper places at all. Although it has no striking natural features, 'BANES' does have a character of its own. It can be seen as the final petering-out of the Cotswolds, even if it does lack the Cotswolds' sudden edges - for the most part it's a quiet land of gentle hills, with villages hidden in the occasional small valley. It's rich farming country, with small but bushy woods on the slopes and stream banks too steep for the plough.
A remnant of that farming wealth is at Hunstrete, where there's an attractive little angling lake that makes a good picnic spot. It was one of six dug into the grounds of Hunstrete House - a magnificent country mansion of 17 bays with statues to match. It was planned in the 1780s under the influence of Bath's new streets and squares, incomplete in 1797 and already falling down in 1822. Landscaping plans at nearby country houses were even more ambitious and expensive. At Marston Bigot and at Berkley, to improve the view from the windows, they removed and rebuilt a parish church. The authorities charged with making up reasons for footpaths have had to use some imagination. At the start of this walk you'll use the Two Rivers Way: the rivers are Yeo and Chew. From Lord's Wood to Hunstrete you're on the 'Three Peaks Way': these are not Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike; they aren't even Yorkshire's Whernside, Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough. They are, in fact, Maes Knoll, Knowle Hill and Blackberry Hill, but none of this will detract from the pleasure of this walk. Towards its end you'll come across a relic of the real Somerset: a few hummocks here are the Wansdyke, possibly a defensive wall of the Britons, laid out even at Arthur's command, against the Saxon invaders.
The weather-vane at Compton Dando looks rather like a dragon and is, locals say, the Dando itself. The inscription on the lychgate, referring to its function as a shelter for coffins, states 'Resurgam' - I shall rise again.
The three impressive stone circles at Stanton Drew are only behind Avebury and Stonehenge in size and significance. Archaeologists assign them to the Bronze Age but legend offers a better explanation. Dancing at a wedding continued until the hour struck midnight. The fiddler then laid down his bow. 'No more,' he said; 'it is now the Sabbath.' But at that moment a mysterious figure stepped forward: 'I will play for your dancing.' It was, of course, Satan himself, and the dancers in their stony forms are dancing still?
The Compton, at Compton Dando, falls conveniently near the end of the walk and offers picnic tables, Bass beer and food. Well-behaved dogs are welcome; large parties (of people) are asked to phone beforehand. At Woollard, Ye Olde Bell Farm really is as old as its name pretends, and sells soft drinks.