Sunday 25th February 2018
This was it; my first experience of leading a group walk in 2018.
I knew the route well, had arranged a place for parking and kept it to a challenging but not over-the-top ten-miles… There was a reasonably good forecast to go with it.
I think there was twenty-five of us, by the time we’d all met up in Axbridge. With some preferring to drive to the start of the walk, I think we also had ten cars between us. More than I’d expected, on both counts! Although the parking area to the north of Cheddar Reservoir was already quite busy, there was room for us all and then some.
We immediately began climbing, with our single longest ascent of the day. This led us up, gradually, between Fry’s Hill and Cheddar Wood. At the end of the climb, we’d be able to look down in to Callow Rocks quarry.
Somehow, I made the mistake of leaving the path and treading too far on to Fry’s Hill… No-one seemed to mind and we saved a few metres of tarmac traipsing. We were within the bounds of Open Access Land, although I didn’t realise this at the time because I was confident in leading without a map.
We paused for a break nearby, then followed Callow Drove west, to join the West Mendip Way and cross over the A38. It wasn’t until after we’d climbed up through King’s Wood (not Kingswood) that I felt comfortable in getting my camera out.
Out of King’s Wood, we continued along Cross Plain, with views on either side (north and south) beginning to open up. One more push and we’d reach the summit of Wavering Down; the highest point on this side of the A38.
We were rewarded with a rather infamous trig pillar and views back to the reservoir from which we’d started. Standing just over two-hundred metres above sea level, we were very exposed to the wintry breeze. I believe it was dry and easterly… This was several days before the UK’s first encounter with the ‘Beast from the East’.
Beyond Barton Hill, we would leave the West Mendip Way to climb Crook Peak; our final summit of the day. With barely a cloud in the sky, many others were out. To give you an indication: those people coming down from the peak were not part of our party of twenty-five!
From scrambling to the top, I found this peak to be as wind-blasted as it often is, year-round. For many in this crowd though, it was their first visit to Crook Peak (and this portion of the Mendip Hills) and I felt privileged to have been able to hand it to them.
Also worth noting: approximately one-third of the participants were new to the group.
For a walk of this level, it’s the third occasion (all within less than twelve-months) where I’ve had to handle a group sized within the mid-twenties range. I felt more comfortable doing so on this one. Partly because of my own confidence in the well-trodden route and with that, I felt I was able to let people follow the obvious paths, without the need for constant direction, so I could drop back in to the middle area. Sometimes to the tail end.
Looking back at the way we’d walked; from King’s Wood, along Cross Plain, up and over Wavering Down… To the rocky summit of Crook Peak.
Overlooking Compton Bishop and the ridge that has guided us thus far and over the halfway point in our circular walk.
Descending to lowland territory, we stopped on the hillside before Webbington Road and found a near-perfect space for lunch. Sheltered from the biting easterly breeze but in full view of the early-spring sunshine.
We’d return to Axbridge through Cross and over the A38 once more, with the Cheddar Yeo river as our guide. I was slightly too confident in allowing people to walk on ahead of me… A gate that had been locked on my pre-walk was left open on this occasion. But the herd soon retreated at the sight of a impassable point beyond (a local dog walker, passing at the same moment, made the “herd of sheep” reference).
Our walk ended with several hours of the afternoon remaining. Always a bonus, on a Sunday in the British winter.