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The Mendips


Axbridge Somerset by travellinglight iStockAxbridge is a sedate little market town lying at the foot of the Mendips © travellinglight, iStock

This wonderfully diverse topography guarantees limitless opportunities for leisure pursuits: caving, climbing, mountain biking, horseriding, fishing, birdwatching and, of course, walking, the possibilities for which are limitless.

Wedged between tracts of gently rolling farmland south of Bristol and the northern fringes of the iron-flat Levels, the Mendips – an area covering just 22 miles (east to west) and peaking at 325m – don’t get the acclaim that they should. Richly textured by history and nature, this sparsely populated limestone escarpment is permeated with fissures, tunnels and chambers that have given rise to all manner of dramatic formations: deep canyons, dry valleys and rocky outcrops. Another distinctive feature of the Mendips are its dry-stone walls – many of which have existed since medieval times – that criss-cross the largely treeless plateau. The odd, isolated farmstead aside, there’s very little human activity here – indeed, there are but a couple of villages located on the ridge itself.

The toponymy of Mendip is unclear, though the most likely explanation is that the name derives from the medieval word ‘Mynes-Deepes’ (as in ‘Deep Mines’), which would seem reasonable given that the area has been worked commercially for lead and zinc since Roman times. Indeed, history has firmly left its mark on the Mendips: Iron Age hillforts, abandoned mine workings, burial mounds and World War II remains are just some of the features that litter the landscape. This wonderfully diverse topography guarantees limitless opportunities for leisure pursuits: caving, climbing, mountain biking, horseriding, fishing, birdwatching and, of course, walking, the possibilities for which are limitless; it’s one of my favourite walking destinations anywhere, and not just in Somerset.

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