"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Chew Valley hike - Pensford & Stanton Drew - Easter Sunday 2021
The weather was kind on Easter Sunday - and in lockdown, that is pretty priceless. The chance to hike across fields and through a river valley is really enticing on a mild day with brilliant sunshine and the going good and dry underfoot. We wanted somewhere peaceful to explore and that led to me dig out my maps and look for somewhere close by (we were still advised to "stay local") and at the same time not in range of the ubiquitous motorway noise that penetrates so much of the countryside around Bristol. On such a still day, some silence alongside the stillness would not go amiss.
We browsed various websites to get a recommended circular route but they all seemed hidden behind paywalls until I chanced on a PDF on a local authority website that gave detailed directions on a loop starting and finishing in Pensford and taking in the villages of Stanton Drew and Stanton Wick. I didn't look at the detail, or check how up to date it was - we just nipped over to Pensford and got out on the trail.
At first the route led us from the old "lockup" in Pensford down streets past the old pub (waiting patiently for lockdown to ease so it can reopen its doors) and on to a path that led beneath the arches of the towering Pensford Viaduct. When I see these structures I am always in awe of the Victorians - of course we hate the notions of empire and the things we have learned about "Dickensian" aspects of society that characterised their age, but at the same time they had the vision to push back boundaries of technology and engineering and build incredible structures that endure to this day. I'd like to see us combine their vision and confidence with some of our modern, egalitarian ideas and see what we could come up with...can you have that kind of ambition and self-belief without the selfish and exploitative traits that so often go with it? I like to think we can. In fact I know we can. Don't ask me where or when it will happen though....
Once under the arches we came alongside the River Chew and followed it across sunlit fields under a cloudless sky. There were other walkers around but nothing resembling a crowd - if we had stayed in the city and headed for Combe Dingle or The Downs it would have been very hard to stay distanced. We were soon away from the A37 that had brought us to Pensford and into a lush landscape of riverside meadows pervaded by rural tranquility. Field followed field, style followed style, soon we found ourselves passing an old mill and needing to read the directions to work out the route across an old, stone bridge and down the opposite bank of the Chew. In the distance we could see the church of Stanton Drew. The directions became a little suspect - that free PDF appeared to be dubious in places and more than a little out of date, but not much had changed over the intervening years in that quiet section of valley so we reached the village in the end. I was surprised to see that we could step over a knee-high electric fence and through a kissing gate into the field where the Great Circle was. It must be years since Kokila and I last visited this stone circle - probably it was around 1992. I remember having to pay on that occasion but access seemed open from the valley so we walked in and rested on a fallen tree surveying the scene. A few families were out for hikes as well and there were children playing with a ball in the middle of the standing stones.
From the Stone Circle - apparently the third largest in England but very little known - there was a choice of trail or road routes back to Pensford via the undulating ground to the south of the Chew Valley. We tried to find the trail but the directions were definitely wrong about the route through the farmyard of Church Farm - there was no discernible route there. We wandered through the church yard, past the Druid's Arms with its standing stones in the garden (known as The Cove) and then on to the lanes. It was a long trek on totally traffic-free back roads to Stanton Wick. On the way we passed llamas in the fields, headed off-road to re-join the trail route through woods and over streams and more hilly fields with spring lambs, then passed the old winding house and decomissioned railway to arrive back in Pensford.
This was a beautiful and fascinating route - several thousand years of history in the space of six miles. And, more importantly, abundant peace too.
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