The Romans were bewitched by south Somerset, unsure quite what to make of its enigmatic Celts, low mists and the mysterious hills that rise improbably from vales of spirit-level flatness. The river Parrett, which flits in and out of this walk, meanders through this bucolic land, nudging through a village here, a wood there, on its way to the Bristol Channel.
The route follows a loop from South Petherton, a village of honey-coloured cottages, and climbs Ham Hill, a spectacular escarpment and site of one of Europe's largest Iron Age hill forts.
From St James Street car park in South Petherton, pass the distinctive Parrettphernalia shop and turn down South Street. The road is lined with impressive cottages made from hamstone, a golden limestone hewed from Ham Hill. Follow the road as it crosses the A303. You come to a busy main road where you cross, turn right for a few yards and then turn left between a pair of white posts along a track across a field. Ham Hill stands on the distant skyline, but don't be deterred: one of the features of this walk is that the hill, seemingly so far away, is quickly reached because the going is so easy. Passing more pretty cottages, turn left by a road sign for Northfield Lane. Here you encounter another feature of this part of Somerset, a "green lane", where small roads are hemmed in by high banks of ferns, ivy and other flora, thriving in their own microclimate.
Turn right along the main road in Over Stratton, one of several well-to-do thatched villages on the route. At the end of the village turn left, following the signpost to Wigborough, keeping ahead at the "no through road" sign. Pass through the gate, with Wigborough Manor behind you and aim for the far left-hand corner of the field, where you'll find a double stile, marked with the Parrett Trail's distinctive wavy, blue, river motif.
The river Parrett is close by, though well camouflaged by trees lining its banks. Turn left and follow its looping course, eventually crossing a stile on to the road. Turn right across Creedy Bridge and right again through a gate and head across the field, looking for a metal gate in the far left-hand corner. Following the hedge, you come to a busy road. Nip across to the lay-by before crossing a stile a few yards up the road into a field. Turn right and follow the field edge, turning left when you reach a stream. The Parrett Trail is closed here for repairs, and the short detour involves turning left uphill at the first wooden footbridge and then, by a metal gate, turning sharp right to follow Barrows Lane, via a farm gate and fields, into Norton-sub-Hamdon, where the church and dovecote are worth a detour. Pass the Lord Nelson pub and at the end of the village head for Little Norton and Ham Hill. By a beautiful water mill, turn left to begin the short, but ultra-steep, ascent. Take the steps to the right for Ham Hill. The incline gets steeper as you climb but soon you reach a path junction where you turn left for tremendous views.
Another path joins from the right. Keep ahead and walk through Norton car park, then turn left to reach the best viewpoint on the hill. Norton sub Hamdon lies beneath you and if it's clear you can see the Brendon Hills, 30 miles away on the edge of Exmoor. Head for the Prince of Wales pub, a truly amazing location for a drink or lunch, and then follow the honey-stoned path to the war memorial, via a sandstone circle erected as a Millennium project, just one of many works of art local craftsmen have built along the trail.
Look for a bench below the war memorial and to its left a track will lead you down to the road. Turn right into Stoke sub Hamdon. Make your way to North Street, pass the priory, and then cross the A303 and follow the left-hand signpost for Bower Hinton. The track runs parallel to the A303, later crossing a stile. A few hundred yards ahead cross a second stile, so the hedge is on your left. Look for a double stile in the far right-hand corner of the field (marked by the Parrett Trail sign). Follow the field ahead and around its edge, before turning right across a stile into Bower Hinton.
The Parrett Trail heads north here. To save two miles, walk along Middle Street and turn left up Back Lane. Cross a stile and turn right at the crossroads. Keep ahead and then eventually drop downhill. At the bottom of the hill turn left along the field edge and turn right across a stile. Bear left to the field edge, skipping over a ditch to reach a track and turn right. Turn left across a small bridge and cross the Parrett by the metal Bulsom Bridge. From Bulsome Bridge do not follow the faint path that leads diagonally across to Joylers Mill. Instead, follow the course of the river for around 200 metres before turning left and head due south, keeping Joylers Mill on your left. Keep straight ahead and in half a mile you reach South Petherton.
GIVE ME THE FACTS
Distance: 10.5 miles
Time: four to five hours
OS Map: Explorer 129 Yeovil & Sherborne. An excellent guide to the Parrett Trail, covers this walk. It costs £5.95 and is available from tourist offices in Taunton and Yeovil. To order by post, call South Somerset District Council Tourism and Arts Unit on 01935 462684. For further information visit www.riverparrett-trail.org.uk.
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