In this Somerset walk, the long way round doesn’t mean the wrong way round. If you crave the idea of a walk where you’re unlikely to meet anyone else, you’ll find all the headspace in the world along this long but gentle walking route across West Moor.
This is a metaphorical circular route, because the ancient droves that you’ll follow are as straight as Roman roads, and so you’ll actually be walking all four sides of a square. You might get the feeling that you’re heading in the wrong direction, but actually you’ll be getting it just right.
The Levels here are divided up like a geometry lesson, straight droves run side by side with deep ditches, and the towers of historic village churches inhabit the horizon. Flocks of lapwing rise up and down like waves, and the piercing white pinpricks of swans and egrets stand out a mile.
There’s still quite a bit of flood water in this landscape, and reeds and long grasses are tightly woven through and over the bars of gates and knotted into the hedgerows, the witness marks to the flow of an inland tide.
It’s normal here, and the visiting birds enjoy rich pickings during their annual migration. This area is home to RSPB Greylake, Swell Woods, Ham Wall and West Sedgemoor to prove the point. Two huge Somerset cranes landed with heavy skill, sending up an alarm of lapwings, before walking sedately like two elderly gentlemen, around the edge of a marsh.
Every now and again, the droves are broken up by low clusters of trees. Their branches dip into the dark water and create a network of reflections, as silent and still as the patience of the herons that wait for something to move.
Burrow Hill plays a guiding role when it comes to navigating the droves. You might be walking away from it for a mile, waiting for the next intersection, but it’s always in sight. A highlight in this flat landscape. The clump of trees at the top, the flock of sheep grazing beneath them, and the apple orchards at the base, are as iconic of Somerset as the Levels.
There’s a bench at the very top. All you need is a bottle of pressed apple juice from the Burrow Hill Cider Farm as refreshment. If you’re not pressed for time, and have a picnic to go with it, a deceptively strong Somerset cider will celebrate the tradition of this beautiful area in true local style!
Three hours from start to finish takes in a landscape that seems as infinite as it is ancient. Tudor farmhouses dressed in a camouflage of hamstone and lichen seem timeless. Migratory birds have been coming here forever.
Visiting for just a few hours is just a tiny moment in time but for that moment, time stops still.
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