When I started writing this blog one of the things I promised myself I would do is walk the Nailsea Round. This is a 9 mile route circling the town on footpaths and other rights of way. Last Saturday dawned clear and sunny, and as there was nothing in my diary, which is getting increasingly unusual these days, I made a spur of the moment decision to put off my self imposed task of submitting my otter records and give it a go. Free sunny Saturdays are a rare event, I told myself, and the otter records would still be there when I got back.
Rather than starting the walk at Backwell Lake, as suggested, I decided to pick it up at Towerhouse Wood. Thinking the route would run clockwise, I walked through the wood to the waymark at Towerhouse Lane without consulting the printed booklet. Of course it turned out to go anticlockwise and in order to follow it as written I had to retrace my steps by about 500 metres. Not a great start! I did consider going against the flow but, as someone notorious for her almost non-existent navigational ability, I decided against it and set off again in the opposite direction. The correct decision as it turned out.
At first everything was very familiar and I soon found myself on Nailsea Moor, wet grassland criss crossed with drainage ditches known locally as rhynes, home to nationally important populations of rare water plants and invertebrates, and ‘my’ otters. I sat down to eat lunch, gazing at the limestone ridge to the north, which made the landscape seem like a miniature version of the Somerset Levels with the Mendip Hills in the background.
I turned south away from the moor, and after crossing a minor road took a path that led across the flank of a hill. As I stood to take in the view I noticed the unmistakable silhouette of a sparrowhawk soaring above me, it was being mobbed by a house martin, but scarcely seemed to notice. I wondered if it would turn on it’s tiny aggressor, and why the plucky little bird was taking such a risk.
By the time I crossed the brow of the hill I was in unknown territory, and my walk had become an exploration rather than a routine stroll. As I walked towards some farm buildings I watched several flocks of starlings, and a noisy cloud of jackdaws rose into the air. Although it was still pleasantly warm, summer was making way for autumn. I dropped down a long farm track onto a road and picked up a lovely tree lined lane, almost a hollow way, leading to Morgans Hill, a popular and fiercely defended open space which, to my shame, I had never visited.
I had seen Morgans Hill described as ‘adder infested’, so I guessed that it would be quite different from the rhynes and and wet meadows I am familiar with. I was right, the ground was rough and covered with bracken in places. It had a wild feel about it, although muffled shouts from nearby playing fields indicated that it was only a stones throw from civilization . As I followed the route in my guidebook I saw distant wooded hills, and gang mown areas with mature hedges where families were picking blackberries. It was hard to believe that this lovely spot was so close to the town and the flat watery landscape of the moors.
I made my way to Backwell Lake, another local beauty spot, through a field of lively and very curious young cows, and walked back to Towerhouse Wood across the valley on a series of semi-familiar paths. I passed an old coal mine and hedges which erupted with sparrows as I approached, I have never seen so many, there must have been hundreds! The final climb back up to my starting point was a revelation. I came across a flower covered roadside verge which on closer inspection turned out to be a tiny patch of unimproved limestone grassland, then followed a network of minor paths through dark woods, and spacious back gardens, which I could never have navigated without the well written guide. By the time I reached Towerhouse Lane, I was very glad that I hadn’t decided to follow the route backwards.
I dropped down from the woods and wandered home along the riverside path I have walked almost every day with my Labrador, Teazle, and her predecessor. As I watched the swallows hunting low over the pasture I reflected that, although Nailsea is often considered to be an unremarkable town, a dormitory for Bristol, the countryside that surrounds it is diverse, beautiful, and rich in wildlife, something to be treasured, and fought for if necessary.