Gripes, gutters, ditches, rhynes, drains and rivers.
These are the six stages of water management in the
withy wetlands of Somerset. Formerly inundated by
the sea – inland as far as Glastonbury – the Levels
are a man-made landscape. Their creation goes back
to the Neolithic period with the Sweet Track at
Shapwick being dated by its tree-rings to 3806 BC –
making it the oldest-known road in Europe.
Marshland continued to be drained for thousands of
years. Monastic sea walls and causeways were
followed by Parliamentary enclosure acts. Now the
process is partially in reverse with much of the
worked-out peatlands being encouraged to revert to
nature in an extensive series of wildlife sanctuaries.
Herons abound, the otter and the water vole are
back, and great flocks of wintering duck and geese
return each winter to Bridgwater Bay.
This is the easiest walking country although going though it
can be squelchy underfoot. Circuits of four to nine
miles suit the needs of families, groups of friends or
individuals looking for a gentle stroll or a longer
walk and mainly follow low-lying tracks and droveways,
though we sometimes venture away from the
watercourses into its 'islands' and up to viewpoints.
History ranges from monastic fish-ponds to the site
of the Duke of Monmouth's Sedgemoor battlefield
and the airfield from which the bombers took off
for Australia to test Britain's nuclear weapons.
Many of the walks feature a pub along the route.
Halsgrove’s small format guidebook, containing maps,
photographs and useful information will ensure a
great walking experience. Packed with colour, the
book is an ideal reminder of a visit to the Somerset
Rodney Legg is a prolific author and
historian who has published hundreds
of country walks. Nationally he is
active in the environmental movement
having been chairman of the Open
Spaces Society since 1989 and a
member of the ruling council of the
National Trust from 1990 until 2009.
Imprint: PiXZ Books. ISBN 978 1 906887 86 5, hardback, 110x155mm, 64 pages. Published May 2010.