A walk in Prior's Park Wood

Prior's Park Wood is at its best with autumn's colours or spring's bluebells beautifully concealing some intricate geology.

NEAREST LOCATION

Blackdown Hills

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

5 miles (8kms)

ASCENT
700ft (213m)
TIME
2hrs 40min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Medium
STARTING POINT
ST211182

About the walk

Somerset is a landscape of hills that are small but steep-sided. There's a reason for this particular formation. The rocks that are now Somerset did not form until after Britain's main mountain-building episode, the collision of Scotland with England. Since then the county has been gently lifted (by the 'Africa Crunch'), but never seriously crumpled and mashed. Its rocks still lie fairly flat.

The shape of this landscape is inextricably linked to the development of the underlying rocks. If a layer of tough rock lies fairly flat on top of much softer rocks, then where the tough rock is worn away, so the softer rocks, too, will quickly disappear. And so we end up with a flat-topped hill with a distinctive sudden edge. Such hills – at Ham Hill, at Cadbury or at Dolebury in the Mendips – proved particularly convenient for building Iron Age forts on. The harder rock on top may be limestone – as at Glastonbury – or the greensand of the Blackdown Hills, which features on this walk.

Goyals

Small streams, such as the Curdleigh Brook seen on this walk, cut into the hard plateau rock of the Blackdown Hills, forming the little tree-lined valleys that are so typically Somerset that there's even a special Somerset word for them. 'When little boys laughed at me at Tiverton, for talking about a 'Goyal', a big boy clouted them on the head, and said that it was in Homer, and meant the hollow of the hand'; explained Jan Ridd of Exmoor, the hero of Lorna Doone. 'Still I know what it means well enough – to wit, a long trough among wild hills, falling towards the plain country, rounded at the bottom, perhaps, and stiff, more than steep, at the sides of it'. R D Blackmore's fictional Somerset man certainly understood the character of his county's topography.

Blackdown Hills

Standing on the plateau of the Blackdown Hills, you gaze across the wide vale of Taunton at the Quantocks and Brendons. It is not too hard to see the plateau of Blackdown and the plateau of the Brendons as being part of the same ground. Indeed, this is a former ground level of 40 million years ago. But what force or process has carried away the 10 miles (16.1km) of scenery that lay in between? If all the high ground above Taunton Deane had been carried away in goyles, Blackdown should have a ragged edge rather than the straight one we see. All credit to the 19th-century geologist Sir Henry de la Beche, not for solving the problem, but for seeing that there was one to be solved. The answer lies in a process called solufluction. It still goes on today in the tundra's of Alaska. In the brief, Ice Age summer a soggy mixture of half melted soil and slush can slip downhill over the frozen ground below. Such landslips can still be detected on the northern slopes of the Blackdown Hills, as well as in the Quantocks. They may represent the most important process which shaped today's Somerset.

Walk directions

The walk starts at the phone box opposite the Blagdon Inn. Cross a stile and follow the left edge of a triangular field to a kissing gate into Curdleigh Lane. Cross into the ascending Quarry Lane. Pass between the buildings of Quarry House, through either the gate or over the stile to to a track running ahead up into and through Prior's Park Wood.

From mid-April this wood is a delight with wild garlic and foxtail grass (actually a sedge). The track is also fine (but possibly muddy) in autumn. Keep uphill, ignoring a side-path left. The main path narrows and becomes muddier, slanting up and leftwards to a small gate at the top of the wood.

Pass along the wood's top edge to a gate. Cross the next field between fences to Prior's Park Farm, passing between its buildings to its access track and a road. Turn left and follow the road with care, as it's a fairly fast section, towards the Holman Clavel Inn.

Just before the inn turn left on to a forest track. Where the track ends by a bench, a small path runs ahead, zigzagging down before crossing a stream. At the wood's edge turn right to walk up a wider path to reach the B3170.

At once turn left on the lane signed 'Feltham'. After 0.5 miles (800m) a wide gateway on the left leads to an earth track. This runs along the top of Adcombe Wood for 0.5 miles (800m), then down inside it. Once below the wood follow the track downhill for 180yds (165m). Look for a gate with a signpost on the left-hand side and go through it.

Follow the hedge on the right to a stile and footbridge, then bend left, below the foot of the wood, to another stile. Ignore a stile into the wood on the left, but continue along the wood's foot to the next field corner. Here a further stile enters the wood but turn right, beside the hedge, to a tarmac track. Turn left, then bear right along Curdleigh Lane, back into Blagdon Hill.

Additional information

Rugged in Prior's Park Wood, otherwise comfortable, several stiles

Steep, wooded slopes

Mostly open woodland

AA Leisure Map 12 Taunton & Lyme Regis

Roadside pull-off between post office and Blagdon Indian restaurant

None on route

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WALKING IN SAFETY

Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.

Find out more

About the area

Discover Somerset

Somerset means ‘summer pastures’ – appropriate given that so much of this county remains rural and unspoiled. Ever popular areas to visit are the limestone and red sandstone Mendip Hills rising to over 1,000 feet, and by complete contrast, to the south and southwest, the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels. Descend to the Somerset Levels, an evocative lowland landscape that was the setting for the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. In the depths of winter this is a desolate place and famously prone to extensive flooding. There is also a palpable sense of the distant past among these fields and scattered communities. It is claimed that Alfred the Great retreated here after his defeat by the Danes.

Away from the flat country are the Quantocks, once the haunt of poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. The Quantocks are noted for their gentle slopes, heather-covered moorland expanses and red deer. From the summit, the Bristol Channel is visible where it meets the Severn Estuary. So much of this hilly landscape has a timeless quality about it and large areas have hardly changed since Coleridge and Wordsworth’s day.

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