This month (May), Andrew Swift takes us on a short but beautiful jaunt across Clapton Moor
This month’s walk is short – just three miles – but offers superlative views over one of the most unspoilt parts of north Somerset. It also takes in a wetland nature reserve and ends at one of the finest and friendliest country pubs near Bristol. As for negotiating the route, for most of the time ‘Clapton Circuit’ waymarks should make the going straightforward.
Clapton in Gordano, just south of Portishead, used to be a coal mining centre, although the scars of industry have long healed, and horse riding seems to be the main pursuit around here these days. The walk starts opposite Clapton’s pub, the appropriately named Black Horse (known locally as the Kicker), where there should be plenty of parking at the bottom of Wood Lane (ST473738).
● Head up Wood Lane for 250m and, just past a cottage on the right with datestones from 1766 and 1770, turn right up a footpath. Cross a stile, carry on between fences, and, when you come to a gate with two waymarks, follow the one going straight on beside the motorway. Another stile leads you to the crest of the hill, with panoramic views over the Gordano valley, and the thirteenth-century church of St Michael below. Although it may not be apparent from here, the Gordano valley is triangular in shape, and its name is said to come from two Old English words: ‘gore’, a wedge-shaped strip of land, and ‘dene’, a valley.
● Head downhill to the right of the church and – just below a metal gate – go through a handgate in the hedge. The church is Grade I listed and among its treasures are several fine monuments and a wooden screen from nearby Clapton Court. As it is no longer in regular use, it is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust and is usually kept locked. However, it is open on Sundays from June to September and the key is also available from the Black Horse.
● Head down the drive, through a kissing gate (KG) and carry on along a lane as it doglegs its way past Clapton Court, which dates from the fifteenth century. After passing the last of its outbuildings, turn left to follow a footpath sign (ST465734). After 100m, turn right and go through a handgate, where the going may be muddy. Carry on through a succession of handgates and across a stile, following waymarks which lead slowly but inexorably up towards the motorway. Carry on, with the fence on your left, but, when you come to a phone mast, start to head back downhill, keeping the fence – and West Park Wood – on your left. There are good views from here towards Avonmouth and the Second Severn Crossing.
● Just after crossing a stile at the bottom, turn right through a KG onto a lane, on the other side of which you will see a KG leading into Clapton Moor Nature Reserve (ST458731). Go through it and turn right. This public footpath does not appear on older OS Maps as it was created recently in conjunction with the Avon Wildlife Trust, which purchased the 98-acre Clapton Moor site in 1997. This area of wetland is an important habitat for birds of prey and waders, and access is limited to this 10-metre wide strip around the perimeter.
● The path alongside the hedge continues for over 500m (with one short diversion to negotiate a ditch), before turning left at the end of the reserve alongside a barbed wire fence (ST463734). A series of gates then leads into a muddy area, where sedge and other water-loving plants are much in evidence, before a bridge leads onto drier land, where you turn right alongside a ditch.
● The wooded hill you can see over to your left, with a quarry gouged out of it, is another of the Trust’s reserves. Weston Big Wood Nature Reserve is a well-preserved area of ancient woodland, whose shady slopes are carpeted with violets, wood anemones and bluebells in spring.
● Continue alongside the ditch on your right, but, instead of carrying on to the gate straight ahead, head away from the ditch to a gate further along to the left. Go through a handgate beside the farm gate and carry on beside a rhyne – the local name for a drainage dyke, and pronounced ‘reen’. A gateway leads onto a farm track, where you may encounter occasional vehicles.
● From here, there is a choice of routes to get back to the Black Horse. The first option is to look for a KG on the right 300m along the farm track (ST466741). This leads through meadows to Tynings Wood, a community wood created in 1999, from where a left turn along a lane leads to the Black Horse. The second option is to carry on for another 400m and turn right through a KG (ST469743), cross a stiled bridge and continue through a succession of KGs. When you come to a KG with a choice of waymarks, bear right and carry on between farm buildings to the Black Horse.
● Resisting the urge to make a beeline for the front door, take a quick look at the pub sign, which portrays not only a black horse, but also a man in the stocks, attended by his faithful terrier. It harks back to two of the pub’s former roles – as a stopping off point for the packhorses, black with coal dust, which carried the gleanings from the local pits, and as the village lock-up.