A gentle, secluded ramble around the fields and fragrant apple orchards of central Somerset.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 350ft (110m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Little-used field paths (some possibly overgrown by late summer), 24 stiles
Landscape Fields, orchards, and a little hill
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne
Start/finish ST 431190
Dog friendliness Even the fiercest dog can't harm an apple tree!
Parking Street parking in East Lambrook village
Public toilets None on route; nearest at Martock Roundabout on A303
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1 Head into the village, turning left after 170yds (155m) on to a track. After one field a track leads left to a lane (Hawthorn Hill). Turn right to The Cottage, where a gate with a stile leads into an orchard on the left. Follow its left edge and the following field. Cross the next field, keeping 70yds (64m) from its left edge, to a gate. Go right to a stile-with-footbridge and two long narrow orchards. At the end a gate leads on to Stockditch Road.
2 Turn left for 40yds (37m), into an overgrown track. The edge of another orchard leads to two stiles and a footbridge. Follow the left edges of two fields to a road, and turn right for 220yds (201m) to the Rusty Axe pub.
3 Keep ahead, on to a track that's tarred at first, past houses. On crossing the crest turn left on a green track. At the next field follow the hedge on the left (ignoring a waymarker for a different path). Halfway along the hedge, cross two stiles (can be very muddy) into a long field with the stumps of a former orchard. Keep to the left of a house to join a quiet country lane. Turn left briefly to a T-junction then turn right to pass houses.
4 Cross into the tarred driveway of Lower Burrow Farm, and follow waymarkers between the farm buildings. (If the farmyard is closed skirt around the farm buildings to the right.) Bear left, slanting uphill, to a gateway. Contour across the next field to a double stile. In the next field bear right to a gate and a stile. Burrow Hill Farm is now just one field ahead. Turn left, up the side of this field and across its top to a gate. Go up this field to reach a row of poplars and the summit of Burrow Hill.
5 Drop to the lane at Pass Vale Farm and turn left for ¼ mile (400m) to a waymarked field gate on the right. Follow the left edges of two fields to a footbridge with a brambly stile. Turn left beside a stream to another brambly stile and turn right to a lane.
6 Turn left to a gate on the right, signed 'East Lambrook'. Follow the left edges of three fields, then bear left over a stile and footbridge to a second bridge just beyond. In the next large field, head for the ridge slightly to your right and some farm buildings, to arrive in a small orchard. Do not cross the obvious stile out of the orchard but turn right, to its far end, where a lane leads back into East Lambrook.
Apples were brought to Somerset by the Romans and caught on immediately. As early as the Arthur legends, Isle Avalon (Glastonbury) is the place of apples. Ten centuries later, the Normans brought the cider idea from northern France. However, even the most traditional of Somerset ciders isn't at all like the light, sparkling drink of Normandy. The real Somerset cider, known as 'scrumpy', is dark and even yeasty, lacks bubbles, and takes a bit of time to get to know. (In this it may perhaps resemble the Somerset cider drinker?)
Grape juice is already a balanced food for the yeasts of fermentation, and so is the boiled malt extract that makes beer. Squashed apples, however, are not. Sugar is needed for fermentation; tannin gives the sharpness that distinguishes real drinks from alco-pops. Sugar and tannin aren't found in the same apple, so a mixture of sweet, bitter-sweet and bitter-sour varieties is required. As many as 40 different apple varieties can go into one cider. Wonderful names have been given to these ancient cider apples: Tom Putt and Sheep's Nose have been recovered by the National Trust; Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill and Brown Snout have never gone out of favour.
And then, the yeast needs nitrogen, and apples don't have it. An early trick was to drop a dead rat into the cider barrel - when the rat had completely dissolved, the cider was fit to drink. (Well, obviously not fit to drink before the rat had gone?) Producers of 'real cider' won't stoop to the chemical equivalent of a rat - ammonium sulphate - so fermentation is always chancy. Even so, in spring the orchards are white with blossom from Porlock to Glastonbury. And autumn sees trailer-loads of Stokes Red and Taunton Black holding up the A303 on their way to the cider works at Shepton Mallet (smelled on Walk 35).
Like many in this part of the county, the view from Burrow Hill belies its low altitude - a mere 250ft (77m). To the south you look across a patchwork of orchards and pasture. Northwards the land drops away suddenly to the Somerset Levels. Sunset gleams in ripe-apple colours in a hundred rhynes and bits of river - even more spectacular in winter, when much of the country is flooded. Beyond the Levels, the Currys ridge rises - and here too we're looking at cider. The monument at Curry Rivel commemorates some parliamentary lobbying by the apple-squashers. The distillers had less reason to be grateful. Their industry was taxed to death in the 18th century for the benefit of the London gin trade. It has only recently been reborn - with results that you can sample at the foot of Burrow Hill.
Burrow Hill Cider and the Somerset Cider Brandy Company are at Pass Vale Farm on the walk itself - although too much tasting of the brandy in particular may interfere with route finding over the remainder of the way. Pass Vale has the first legal licence to distil cider brandy in recorded history. The handsome copper stills, 'Josephine' and 'Fifi', are housed in Somerset's most recent 'medieval' building, erected in 2001.
Old-style orchards have more air and daylight. The trees are 'standards' (tall enough to walk under) and have grass below them, which is grazed by sheep. Such orchards belong to 'real cider' makers: the result is cleaner, riper apples - but fewer of them.
The 17th-century Rose and Crown is at the walk start and welcomes dogs; the Rusty Axe at Stembridge offers real ale and skittles. Good cider is near by at the Wyndham Arms, Kingsbury Episcopi, which is haunted by a weeping woman.