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Wiveliscombe and the Tone

A pretty village and a wooded riverside on the edge of the Brendons.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 1,000ft (300m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tracks, a quiet lane, a few field edges, 1 stile

Landscape Wooded river valley and agricultural slopes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 128 Taunton & Blackdown Hills

Start/finish ST 080279

Dog friendliness Under close control in two short field sections and Marshes Lane

Parking North Street, Wiveliscombe

Public toilets At car park

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1 Turn left out of the car park into the Square, head down High Street and turn left at the traffic lights into Church Street. Turn right, down some steps under an arch, to reach Rotton Row. Continure down to South Street and turn left along the pavement.

2 At the end of the 30mph limit turn right, into a lane, and go ahead through a gate with a footpath sign. Cross the stile ahead, and the bottom edges of two large fields. Now the stile in the hedge ahead has grown over, so head up to the left for 30yds (27m) to a gateway before returning to the field foot to reach a group of farm buildings. Go up the left-hand edge of the field above to a gate on to the B3227.

3 Turn left, then right into a lane heading downhill. After about ¾ mile (1.2km) it crosses the River Tone and bends left at Marshes Farm. Keep ahead, on a track marked by a broken bridleway sign. Do not turn right here into the track towards Wadham's Farm but keep uphill to a deeply sunken lane. Turn right in this, descending towards the farm, but at its first buildings turn left. This track runs up the River Tone. With houses visible ahead, turn right at a T-junction to cross a footbridge and turn left to Challick Lane.

4 The continuing track upstream is currently beside the River Tone: a polite enquiry at the farm will let you through between its buildings. The smooth track continues upstream through very pleasant woodland to Washbattle Bridge.

5 Turn right, up the road, for 200yds (183m). A signed forest road leads uphill on the right. At the highest point of this, with a pheasant fence alongside, bear left into a wide path that continues uphill. At the wood edge cross the bottom corner of a field to more woodland opposite, and turn uphill alongside this to a gate.

6 Go through this gate and turn left, with a hedge beside it on the left. The next gate opens on to a hedged track. This turns right, and passes a reservoir at the summit of Maundown Hill. At the top of a tarred public road turn sharply right into a track that becomes a descending, hedged path. At a signposted fork turn left on to a contouring path. Soon a tarred lane leads down into the town, with the car park near by on the right.

Wiveliscombe formed around a crossroads that was probably more important in the Iron Age than it is today. Its earliest building is the earth fort on Castle Hill. It became quietly prosperous after Edward the Confessor gave the Manor Farm to the Bishop of Bath and Wells in the 11th century. The bishop brought in the latest monastic improvements and set up a small holiday palace for himself. It has remained prosperous ever since.

For most of its history Wiveliscombe has lived on wool. In the 18th century it manufactured a rough blue cloth, called Penistones, that clothed the slave population of the West Indies. Today the village has become the real ale capital of Somerset, with two separate breweries established in the late 1970s, making the Exmoor and the Cotleigh Ales. William Hancock began the first Wiveliscombe brewery in 1807. By the 1920s it was the largest brewing operation in the South West, but mergers led to its closure in 1959.

Wiveliscombe is away from the main roads, and also from the tourist trail, and remains largely self-sufficient: a former market town, now a local shopping centre. The town is known affectionately as Wivey, pronounced 'Wivvy'. It has moved peacefully through the centuries, almost untouched by national politics. In the 1670s the town's churchwardens were in trouble for not being nasty enough to Quakers and other nonconformists. Ten years later a survey recorded accommodation available for 76 horses and 53 human beings; the White Hart, the Bear and and the Courtyard Inn are still open for business. In 1804 the National Health Service arrived over 140 years early in the form of a free dispensary for working people and the poor.

The buildings of Wiveliscombe are a pick-and-mix of the last 1,000 years. The town hall is, sadly, boarded up; it's Victorian but looks Georgian. Opposite is an absurd building called the Court House. Technically late-Victorian, it belongs to no known architectural style, its overhanging storeys are hung with tiles and decorated with carved animal heads. In the High Street you pass between modest 18th-century terraces; the archway on the right was for stagecoaches, the one on the left may have been part of the bishop's summer palace. South Street was formerly known as 'Gullet', being the way the rainwater ran out of the town. Down in Church Street Nos 10 and 12 are timber-framed medieval cottages: No 10 has some medieval brickwork and No 12 has an upstairs windowsill that's served many centuries. The houses in Rotton Row show the local, plum-coloured sandstone. This has also been used in the 19th-century church near by and throughout the town, giving it a slightly autumnal, bruised look.

While you're there

The gardens at Cothay Manor date from 1921 - for garden design buffs, this is the Sissinghurst 'Vita Sackville West' style with garden 'rooms' in different colour schemes. They're laid around a medieval manor house (open by appointment). The gardens are open three days a week from spring to autumn. They're rather hard to find, at grid ref ST 085213 between Wiveliscombe and Wellington.

Where to eat and drink

The Bear Inn, close to the car park, is ancient but unassuming. It serves good bar food, there is a play area for children and well-behaved dogs are welcome. Also, it offers both of the Wivey-brewed real ales.

What to look for

Look under Washbattle Bridge and you may catch a glimpse of one of our less-known endangered species, the white-clawed crayfish. It's at risk of global extinction because of disease spread by the introduction of signal crayfish.

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