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Chips by the sea - places north of the Somerset Levels

This weekend's outing wasn't intended to be anything to do with prehistory – sometimes it seems like your interests follow you rather than the other way round. It was a lovely sunny day yesterday and we thought it'd be a laugh to go and sit on the beach at Weston Super Mare and eat chips, that was the idea. Half way there we passed a sign to Cheddar, and thought we'd drive that way through the gorge. It was pretty impressive I thought (at least for this neck of the woods) and of course was busy with hiking tourists, mad bikers, people hanging off the cliffs on ropes, and the occasional rock-climbing goat. Thinking it was still out of season we were surprised to see the throngs around the unsympathetically designed entrance to Gough's Cave and the endless cheese 'n' fudge shops, so we drove on.

Now we were heading for Weston's slightly less tacky neighbour, Burnham on Sea, so decided to aim there for our chips instead. As we neared it this huge lone hill loomed out of the Somerset Levels – Brent Knoll. It reminded me very much of Cley Hill near Warminster, a big bump in a flat landscape, within view of a line of hills. We were on a mission for chips so again didn't stop, but I am sure I'll be back to climb it some (warmer) time.

Armed with our picnic we jumped in the car and drove towards Brean Down – I knew it was a nature reserve and could remember the name from IronMan's postings. I am naïve and was not expecting the endless rows of fixed caravans between Burnham and Brean. I think they're vile. If I had enough money for a fixed caravan I'd rather take a room in a series of comfy hotels.

But Brean Down is fantastic – we walked out along the beach at its foot. I was pleased to see more goats nonchalantly bounding about on the terrifyingly steep cliffs. I would have liked to climb up it but there was a bit of a gale blowing and neither of us had decent coats on – I didn't want the day to turn into a archaeological assault course, so we did the British thing and retreated to the car with an icecream.

Where next? Without an ordnance survey map (tch can you imagine) we were reduced to picking places off the grubby and torn roadmap. Next stop, Wookey Hole Caves, not that it was going to be open on a Sunday night, but we thought we'd check out where it was. Continuing blindly uphill onto the Mendips we suddenly discovered an amazing view – it seemed we were near Ebbor Gorge (which we will definitely be returning to, but this time they were about to lock the car park) – but we stopped anyway and shared the view out over the Levels towards the misty Glastonbury Tor with a herd of cows munching on a huge bale of straw. We were losing the light so carried on – suddenly I spotted two stones in a field next to the road. Apparently these are known as the Deerleap Stones. Another little National Trust carpark lay round the corner (it's all single-track road and otherwise quite hard to stop) and the view from here was amazing, out towards Brent Knoll and the estuary again.

We were now on the Mendips properly, with its weird barren landscape full of barrows, strange dips and earthworks, and its sheep. We seemed to be heading for Priddy so I wondered if we would see Priddy Nine Barrows or the Priddy Circles. As dusk fell we drove back northwards, passing the dark shape of Stantonbury hillfort which seemed to point towards the hills surrounding Bath.

Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th March 2003ce
Edited 8th July 2004ce

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