River Axe – Bleadney to Axbridge

Blog post, May 17 2014


The River Axe from the bridge at Bleadney

It was on Friday last week, two months after my cycle ride to Bleadney, that I had the opportunity to walk the river Axe as far as Cross, with a lift arranged to bring me back. From Glastonbury it was about 15 miles altogether, and took me seven and a half hours.

I had been reading up about the Glastonbury Lake Village, which I passed on the way to Bleadney. The Brue valley used to mark the boundary between two Celtic tribes, and this was probably neutral territory; the villages at Meare were actually seasonal camp sites, probably the place for summer gatherings, and the Glastonbury Village appears to have been a permanent settlement built by the people who hosted these gatherings. As I passed the Lake Village site I looked back towards Glastonbury to check out the view; the Tor peeking above St Edmund’s Hill. It strikes me that Glastonbury as the sacred ‘Tenemos’ may have been part of the neutral territory too; after all, as Frederick Bligh Bond said about a hundred years ago:

“The green isle of Glaston, severed as it was from the outer world by its girdle of marsh and mere, was from old time a haunt of peace.”

The Axe is quite an unprepossessing river; though if it carried twice as much water (as it once did), then it would be more impressive. The two channels that run down from Wookey Hole meet up near Valley Farm, not far from the ruins of Marchey Farm, and from there on it’s a bit more substantial. I was walking along a fairly wide flat valley between the Mendips and Wedmore island, which gave me a very clear feeling of the shape of the land. First Nyland then Cheddar Gorge were clearly visible in the landscape. Canoeing would have been pleasant, though the water level is well below the top of the steep banks so there would have been not much view of the countryside.

Some stretches are unnaturally straight, though as the result of people taking out the meanders rather than redirecting the whole river. Around Clewer there have been substantial modern engineering works, with a pumping station and Hixham Rhyne – which is bigger than the Axe and more natural shaped, so it may well have been the original river course for some of the way. If that’s the case then it would have flowed more north-east than north-west after Bartlett’s Bridge (near Cocklake), then following what is now Hixham Rhyne as far as Clewer (or maybe as far as the pumping station beyond it).

At Clewer it is necessary to walk up into the village and then turn right down a back road where someone has preserved an old sign post (Weston 15, and back the other way Wells 10). The road turns into a farm track that follows the river bank; perhaps it was once a main road. Following the river gets you to the A38 near Cross – an ‘ancient coaching village.’ Apparently there were once 16 coaching inns here.