Walking the Mendip Way – An overview

This photograph shows two people, facing away from the camera, looking out at the green hills and fields that stretch off into the distance beneath a blue sky with fluffy clouds.

In September 2018, I walked the Mendip Way with my parents. This walk in Somerset, England from Weston-super-Mare (near Bristol) to Frome promises green rolling hills, fresh air, a taste of the English countryside, and lots of cows!

Read an overview of the whole walk, or read notes from each day: Weston-super-Mare to Loxton (Day 1), Loxton to Cheddar (Day 2), Rest Day in Cheddar (Day 3), Cheddar to Priddy (Day 4), Priddy to Wells via Wookey Hole (Day 5), Afternoon & Morning in Wells (Day 5 & 6), Wells to Shepton Mallet (Day 6), and Shepton Mallet to Frome (Day 7).


Ever heard of the British TV show ‘Escape to the Country’?

My dad really likes that show, and this is what inspired my parents to do this particular walk and invite me along. I have to admit that when exposed to cable television (a rare thing) and some free time I also quite enjoy Escape to the Country, and that is just what this walk delivers!

Below is our itinerary, and some information on walk planning and navigation, and if you just want an overview and my humble opinion on the walk, scroll down past the map. For more detailed notes and photos of each section of the walk, check out the links in the itinerary:

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Weston-super-Mare to Loxton (6.25 miles)
  • Day 2: Loxton to Shipham to Cheddar (11.5 miles)
  • Day 3: Rest day in Cheddar
  • Day 4: Cheddar to Priddy (5.5 miles)
  • Day 5: Priddy to Wookey Hole to Wells (5.5 miles)
  • Days 5 Afternoon & Day 6 Morning in Wells
  • Day 6: Wells to Shepton Mallet (6 miles)
  • Day 7: Shepton Mallet to Frome (12.5 miles)

Walk planning

While I planned my West Highland Way walks myself (and there are tons of resources to help with this), there is less information and general internet chatter about the Mendip Way. Being unfamiliar with the walk, my parents opted for a self-guided walking package through Encounter Walking. The company arranges your itinerary, provides you with maps, and books your accommodation so all you have to do it walk. You can also opt for luggage transfer service (which we did) where they arrange to move your heavier bags from one hotel to the next each day, leaving you to carry only a day pack.

Initially, I thought the luggage transfer seemed very extravagant – it is an added expense and not something I would do if I were hiking on my own or with friends; however, this is the kind of service that can make walking more accessible for folks, so hurrah! I think it is a great option if (a) you can afford it*, and/or (b) carrying a heavy pack is difficult for you, or would hamper your enjoyment of the walk.

*Different services charge different amounts. Do a search for ‘luggage transfer services’ and you might see options on the order of £10 per bag per transfer with discounts for multiple pieces of luggage being moved at the same time. Definitely an added expense.

Some notes on navigation

This photograph shows the small circular Mendip Way tag attached to a fence post so walkers know which direction to go.
Look for the wee blue Mendip Way arrows to point you in the right direction!

The Mendip Way was is relatively well-signed but there is a bit of navigating required at some confusing sections and connections. In this regard, the Mendip Way is a little less walker-friendly than other walks: because it crosses a lot of agricultural land, there is not always a clear path.

We relied heavily on helpful, written directions accompanied by marked-up clips of the relevant Ordnance Survey maps that we downloaded as two PDF files (West Mendip Way and East Mendip Way) from the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty website. We also had paper Ordnance Survey maps and the Ordnance Survey app which allows you to download the maps and see your location on them via little blue dot – super useful!

The updated Mendip Way path

(As of September 2018) The OS maps show an outdated version of the Mendip Way path, which has been modified (most significantly around Cheddar Gorge) to make for a more enjoyable walk. These changes are reflected on the PDFs that you can download from the Mendip Hills AONB website.

The OS map section below is pulled from the West Mendip Way PDF to show you what I mean: the thick, neon green line winding from upper right to lower left north of the Cheddar Gorge shows the new route, whereas the dark green dashed line with green diamonds south of the gorge shows the old route.

Map clipping of an Ordnance Survey map which shows the section of the Mendip Way walk from Black Rock (just outside of the town of Cheddar) to the centre of Cheddar.
The Mendip Way path has been updated and is different in some places that the path shown on older Ordnance Survey maps (Credit: Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, linked above.)

Walk overview

The good

In general, this is a lovely walk. It is the only walk I’ve done in England so far and (without anything to compare it to) it feels like a proper English countryside ramble. I enjoyed the beautiful rolling hills and views of Glastonbury Tor as a sort of landmark beacon for much of the western portion of the walk. The walk doesn’t have too much steep climbing and most the elevation gain and loss is done through long gentle ascents and descents. It was also very nice to stop off in towns for pub food and real ale. Seeing the dramatic drop of the Cheddar Gorge, seeing the (literally and figuratively) cheesy and delightful Wookey Hole caves and old paper mill, and visiting the pretty, historic city of Wells* were highlights for me. Wells Cathedral is stunning and I was very excited to find some yarn at Mandy Wools made from local Mendip Hills sheep! (But more on that later.)

*Nerdy aside: Wells is one of 11 cities (not towns or villages) in the UK with double letters in its name. You’re welcome for this fun fact/pub trivia tidbit.

The not-so-good

Compared to walks I have done in Scotland, there were portions of the Mendip Way that did not feel very walker friendly. I was surprised by the challenge of trekking through unmarked farmers’ fields and there was one particular section of path (just northeast of Chelynch on Day 7) that was nonexistent: it passed through a field on which the farmer had (quite reasonably, don’t get me wrong) planted rows and rows corn, leaving no trace of a footpath. We wandered around through rows of corn (which might have been rather romantic in its own way if not for the thistles) before we found what seemed like a path again. There are also pretty uncomfortable portions of the path that are on small narrow country roads with speeding cars

Suggested Alternative Itineraries

The walk could be broken up differently depending on your preferences and abilities as a walker. If you’re someone who wants to bag the whole Mendip Way, then go for it. We had 6 days of walking and I think for a strong walker who didn’t want to rest or loiter it could be done in 5 days. For example:

Itinerary with more walking each day, less resting

  • Day 1: Weston-super-Mare to Loxton (6.25 miles)
  • Day 2: Loxton to Cheddar (11.5 miles)
  • Day 3: Cheddar to Wells (11 miles)
  • Day 4: Wells to Shepton Mallet (6 miles)
  • Day 5: Shepton Mallet to Frome (12.5 miles)

If you want a taste of the Mendip Way but don’t want to commit to doing the whole thing, I’d recommend the following:

Itinerary of highlights, less walking, fewer days

  • Day 1: Walk Weston-super-Mare to Loxton.
  • Day 2: Walk Loxton to Cheddar
  • Day 3: Take a cab from Cheddar to Wookey Hole (20 minute drive), explore Wookey Hole, and then walk to Wells.
  • Day 4: Explore Wells in the morning and walk Wells to Shepton Mallet.
  • Day 5: Leave Shepton Mallet late morning to see the big viaduct and walk to Chelynch in time for lunch at the local pub, The Poacher’s Pocket (it looked great but wasn’t open when we arrived because it was too early!) Take a cab from Chelynch to Frome (20 minute drive), or walk back into Shepton Mallet to take a bus to Frome.

Optional Day 6: Explore Frome, and walk out of Frome west along the East Mendip way towards Bedlam (this portion of the Way is a lovely shaded river path with lots of people out for a daytime strolle, dog walkers, etc.)

The above itinerary skips Cheddar to Wookey Hole, an uninteresting section of the walk (my opinion of which may be affected by the positively awful, wet weather we had.) That said, the Queen Victoria Inn in Priddy (a 15-20 minute drive north of Wookey Hole) was a lovely, cozy old pub with low ceilings, real fires, stone walls, and delicious food. It also skips Chelynch (near Shepton Mallet) to Frome, a long section that is not as well maintained and not as welcoming as the rest of the Mendip Way, and has you walking for stretches on roads with speeding cars.


Read more about walking the Mendip Way

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