A deep limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and underground streams, Burrington Combe is a welcome, low-key alternative to its more famous neighbour, Cheddar Gorge.
Like Cheddar, the combe was cut in the ice age by the action of streams that could not sink through the permeable rock while it was frozen. And, also like Cheddar, you’ll find feral goats and sheep scampering among the precipitous ledges here.
This richly diverse route begins along a wooded valley and crosses into open moorland before encountering the dramatic limestone gorge of Burrington Combe. More woods follow before Dolebury Warren comes into view, complete with the substantial earthen ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort and one of the best viewpoints in the Mendips.
OS Explorer Map 141; start: car park at the end of Doleberrow (a narrow lane just off the A38), at the foot of Dolebury Warren ST446590; 5 miles; easy to moderate: this is a mostly level walk through mixed woodland, fields & heathland with some occasional light scrambling.
1. At the car park, go through the gate and follow the level track along the bottom of the wooded combe. After half a mile, 100yds after passing a sign for Dolebury Warren on your left, fork left. To your right is Rowberrow Warren, a mixed woodland site though predominantly spruce, pine and larch. When you come to a crossing of tracks (with fields in front of you), about a quarter of a mile later, keep more or less straight on. Go through another gate, with woodland to your left and open moorland on your right, and continue along the track for a short distance.
2. At a gate with a private footpath sign (behind which is a large wooden cabin hidden among the trees), turn right towards the open moorland. The scenery here is wonderful, and hints at what lies beyond the ridge, up on Black Down. After some 200yds, at a crossing of tracks, turn left and walk towards Burrington Combe, the deep rocky valley clearly visible straight ahead. After about 500yds the track narrows and descends – keep going (ignoring some subsidiary paths) and then, after a sharp bend in the dip, take the left fork as the path rises; at this point the path runs along the face of the hill and then descends quite steeply.
3. Heading down (steady as you go), you pass the entrance to Goatchurch Cavern on your right, with another entrance to the same cave a little further down (you can do no more than stick your head in). Cross the stream (though this was actually dry when I was last there), on the other side of which is Sidcot Swallet, another small cave, though you cannot enter this one either; at this point you’ll likely hear traffic from the road, which is some 200yds straight ahead.
4. At the road, you’ve reached Burrington Combe. Handily there’s a path running parallel to the road; walk along here, passing Aveline’s Hole on the other side of the road and, on your left as you round the corner, the Rock of Ages – pause a moment to read the fading plaque. A little further, on the opposite side of the road, you’ll see the Burrington Inn; 150yds after this, take a left turn up Link Lane.
5. The lane ascends, bearing left; continue for 400yds before following the signposted track between hedges on the right (just before the house). Continue through the woods, ignoring any turnings to the left and carry on for a quarter of a mile. Pass the scant ruins of the late 18th-century Mendip Lodge – erstwhile home of poet and playwright Reverend Thomas Sedgewick Whalley – on your left and continue straight on; after 75yds, when the main track swings right, carry straight on, to the right of a ruined building.
6. Beyond the wooden barrier, turn left up the sunken track, with old walls on either side. After a quarter of a mile (ignoring the first three gates on your right), go through a gate on your right and into a field by the National Trust sign for Dolebury Warren.
7. Proceed alongside the fence to its corner, then keep going along the line of hedgerow trees to reach another fence. Here, take the gate on your right to enter scrubby woodland; bear half left, gaining height as you reach Dolebury Warren, an exposed grassy ridge partially covered with commercial forest.
8. Carry on past a small wooded area on your left towards the well-preserved earthen ramparts of the Dolebury Warren Iron Age hillfort. The outstanding feature of the walk, Dolebury Warren is thought to have acquired its name during the medieval period when it was used for breeding rabbits, a rich source of both meat and fur at that time. The views from the summit are fantastic, extending south over the Mendips, southwest to the Quantock Hills, east across Chew Valley Lake, and northwest over the Severn Estuary, beyond Steep Holm and Flat Holm, towards south Wales. It can get mighty blustery up here, mind.
9. Head straight through the fort and continue along the shallow cut grass track until you reach a gate and a stony downhill path. Walk down here to another gate, then bear sharp left by the pink house and continue down to the lane; walk 200yds along the lane back to the car park.