This walk explores a hidden off-shoot of the main Somerset Levels, between Curry Rivel and North Curry, on the very western edges of this water and willow landscape. It’s a long walk, and the footpath from the edge of Curry Wood and down to the Levels is not so much off the beaten track as off-piste.
With a sense of direction and in awe of the rich grazing meadows where huge oak trees stand proud, you’ll be back on track on the road to Oath, next to the farmhouse home of RSPB West Sedgemoor. From Oath, you can look back at the ridge that you’ve just scrambled down, and as you turn into North Drove, ahead as far as the eye can see.
All good walks start and end with the good fortune of local hospitality. The Firehouse at Curry Rivel is open for morning coffee and the free village car park next to it is the ideal place to leave the car behind, with the promise of an early evening drink on the way back.
The October day is still long and still warm. The clouds are high and the water is a mirror image. The horizon is far away and the road is straight and narrow.
There’s a train strike – the main line slices across this landscape from Langport to Taunton - and so it’s silent, setting a scene that plays out along any of the ancient drover’s tracks across the Somerset Levels.
If you had a list of all the features that belong to the Somerset Levels, you’d be able to tick them all off along the way here. Roads as straight as any Roman contribution, waterways and drainage ditches that reflect the sky and catch images of the clouds, bullrushes, reeds and fields of willow. The wild flag irises were gone but will be back in the Spring.
It’s when you get halfway along the drove, the furthest point from road and rail, houses and humans, that the sense of wildlife opens your eyes. Families of swans, the heavy slow-motion dipped flight of herons, bright white egrets, a lone buzzard in the silver branches of a dead tree, tiny fish and the ripples of tiny insects above or below the surface of the water – darting so fast that it was impossible to tell.
Then, the first incredible glimpse of a West Somerset crane heading to its very specific West Sedgemoor nesting ground, and then, in an amazing broad daylight second that seemed much longer, an otter crossing the track from one deep ditch to another and slipping out of sight as it if had never been there.
A distant walker, starting like a pinprick in the distance, slowly grew and grew to life-size. His three-legged dog hopped by energetically, and his comment on learning that our destination was North Curry for lunch at the pub (‘have a nice evening there’) wasn’t in truth the first inkling that this was no stroll in the park! It isn’t a difficult walk but it’s easy to estimate the horizon as two miles, or four or six. It was six of course and the pub was closed.
A bit of research beforehand had produced the North Curry Community Café and that was as good as finding treasure. The friendliest of volunteers, the most delicious and restorative of fruit cakes and the comfort of a good old pot of tea worked their collective wonders. For future reference, and for a shorter walk, you can peel off North Drove to Stoke St Gregory, where there’s an equally lovely community shop and café.
Suitably fortified and rested, seasoned walkers won’t think twice about going into reverse and retracing their steps to the Firehouse. Not so on this occasion, though. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak to use a classic excuse or blame it on the dog who was definitely looking reluctant. Part and parcel of a community café is the conversation, and with the last crumbs of the cake, the offer of a lift back to Curry Rivel was on the table – it would have been rude to say no!