WALKING / The trail of the Great Bear: Paul Gosling enjoyed the colours of autumn in and around the Quantock Hills

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The Independent Culture
A GROUP of 15 of us hired the Quantock Hills Youth Hostel for five days last month. The hostel is near Holford in West Somerset, handy for the Somerset and North Devon Coastal Path as well as the Quantocks.

My favourite walk of our stay began from the hostel - which is marked on the map next to Alfoxton Park Hotel - and followed a fairly steep track up first Pardleston Hill and then Longstone Hill, taking us up by Beacon Hill on to the ancient ridge which runs along the Quantocks.

We headed south on the ridge, past Bicknoller Post, which marks the position of an old post house. One of our group wanted to see Thorncombe Barrow, so we detoured around Thorncombe Hill, before rejoining the ridge, now heading south-east. Even on a slightly overcast day the view was impressive - below us we could see the town of Williton and a range of hills to the west.

To our north was the expanse of Bridgwater Bay, which we had looked at more closely the previous day, with its amazing rock formations on the beach.

Approaching Hurley Beacon our group split, with the majority turning back towards Holford. Two of us continued further to the south- east towards the Great Wood.

We were glad we did, as fairly soon the character of the ridge changed dramatically. We still had our view, including several miles in the distance Conygar Tower, a folly which hangs above Dunster. We also had buzzards and a kestrel flying just overhead.

By now the ridge was more sheltered, following an avenue of overgrown birches, which had once been tidy hedgerows. From here we could also hear the steam engines running on the West Somerset Railway.

We could happily have continued along the ridge, but we had already walked several miles, and our circuitous walk home would add several more.

We chose a path through the coniferous forest at its southernmost end, starting from Triscombe Stone. A large group from the Air Training Corps passed us, some of the members struggling not only with the weight of their packs but also with their obvious lack of fitness and overweight.

We headed for the settlement at Round Hill marked on the map, but somehow missed it. We emerged from the forest to find ourselves high over the valley of Cockercombe, which we found a path heading down towards.

We left the forest to follow a fairly direct route back, using a path starting by Pepperhill Farm. This turned out to run through attractive landscaped parkland attached to the independent Quantock School. As well as the grounds, some of the buildings - such as the gatehouse and clocktower - were also of interest, and the right of way curled its way past newer buildings before depositing us just to the south of Aley village.

We had to follow the road for half a mile or so, before heading over the rough terrain of gorse and bracken alongside the Great Bear - the deciduous forest to the north of the Great Wood. Out of the woodland we now had an excellent view to the east and north, the best of which was of several miles of coastline, and the worst of which was the imposing presence of Hinkley Point nuclear power station, by now illuminated.

It was getting dusk, and we had to accelerate our pace. This was a shame as it meant we could only glance at the Iron Age fort at Dowsborough. From there we followed another broad and seemingly ancient path towards the village of Holford. We just managed to get onto the A39 before dark, and took the road to the hostel.

By the end of the walk we had covered 14 miles. Despite the slightly gloomy weather the views were magnificent, aided by the route going through a variety of different types of scenery. Surrounded by the glowing colours of autumn, it made an especially good walk for the time of year.

What made it even better was that the early returners had made hot dinner, and all we had to do was sit down and eat it.

This walk can be found on Ordnance Survey Landranger map 181. Details of Rent-A-Hostel can be obtained from the YHA on 0727 855215. Staying four nights at Quantock Hills Youth Hostel cost pounds 286.

(Photograph and map omitted)