If you’ve a taste for adventure, follow Andrew Swift on this rewarding walk through Draycott Sleights Nature Reserve
Although short, this walk is far from tame. Draycott Sleights Nature Reserve, on the western edge of Mendip, is about as steep and rugged as Somerset gets and the views are spectacular. Add to that rocky escarpments, a cave, a limekiln, a cryptic message on the hillside, ruined cottages, a prehistoric hillfort and gliders swooping low over you, and you have the prospect of a walk to remember. There is plenty of wildlife to look out for as well – flocks of linnets and goldfinches sweeping through the scrub, while kestrels, buzzards and peregrine falcons soar above. There is only one caveat – don’t, unless you’re a masochist, attempt it in driving rain. Driving wind is one thing – and difficult to avoid on these west-facing slopes – but sunlight and good visibility are essential.
To get to the starting point (ST486513), there are two options. Either head south-west from Bristol along the A38 before bearing left along the A371. After 5.5 miles, turn left up New Road by the old Methodist chapel in Draycott. After 0.7 miles, look for a gate on the left with a nature reserve sign, with room for parking just beyond it. Or, head south from Bristol across the Mendips before bearing west along the B3135 towards Cheddar. After passing turnings for Priddy and Westbury sub Mendip, turn left along a lane with a Glider Club sign. Carry on past the entrance to the glider club for 0.4 miles and park on the right just before the nature reserve. Whichever option you take, remember to park considerately, as farm vehicles use this narrow lane.
● Go through the gate on the north side of the road into Draycott Sleights Nature Reserve, and turn right through a kissing gate. After following the path beside the wall for about 30 metres, bear left to follow a faint track heading directly uphill between rocky outcrops.
● Carry on in the same direction. When you reach the crest of the hill, carry on following another faint track. This leads past the entrance to a cave, just beyond which you will see what appear to be the foundations of an old building (ST485516). Although difficult to make out from the ground, however, the stones have been arranged so that from the air they read ‘FLY 621’. (You can check this out on internet sites with aerial imaging.) The stones were laid out by members of 621 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, who used the adjacent airfield until 1985.
● Just past them, there is evidence of small-scale quarrying and the remains of a fairly impressive limekiln, with a superb view across to Cheddar reservoir. Carry on and after about 200m you will cross a broken-down wall, with a ruined farm building down to your left.
● Carry on and follow a faint path along the edge of a mini-escarpment and down to a wooden kissing gate (ST482519). Go through it, bear left alongside the fence, and after 120m bear left to follow the fence towards a dewpond (ST482516). Continue on past a row of beeches and carry on, along an increasingly muddy path, to return to the starting point.
● From there, cross the lane, go through a small gate and bear right to follow a level path curving along the contour line. As it rounds the corner you will see a ruined building ahead (ST487511). Carry on along the path, which leads to the right of it, before turning left uphill at a crosspath. Go through a gate into Stoke Camp Reserve and follow the path ahead. After about 150m, as the path continues curving to the right, branch left along a fainter path which leads into Stoke Camp – also known as Westbury Camp – a late Bronze Age or early Iron Age hillfort (ST491511). Its ramparts, supplemented by an outer ditch and bank on two sides, have survived remarkably well, despite having been plundered for stone in places. The view from here, with Glastonbury Tor hazy in the distance, and the green fields of Somerset stretching to the horizon, would have been very different when the fort was occupied. The tor would have looked as magisterial and mysterious as it does now, but all around would have stretched the shining waters of a lake broken only by small islands.
● From here, retrace your steps, but, when you leave the reserve, follow the path straight ahead, bearing left downhill at the end to return to the starting point.
Distance: 2.5 miles.
Time: 1.5 hours.
Level of challenge:Steep, rough and occasionally muddy ground throughout, but, although care needs to be taken, it is ideal for adventurous children and dogs. Note however that adders are found on the site from spring onward. Sleight is an old word for sheep pasture, so not surprisingly sheep may be encountered en route.
Map: OS Explorer 141
Refreshment stops: Queen Victoria, Priddy, BA5 3BA; food served 12pm–2pm MonFri, all day Sat & Sun; Hunters Lodge (1.5 miles east of Priddy) BA5 3AR, food served 11.30am–2.30pm Mon-Sat, 12pm–2pm Sun.