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Two Combes Walk

O.S. EXPLORER 4 MENDIP HILLS WEST (ORANGE SERIES)

by Vince Simmonds

Start from West Harptree village and follow Ridge Lane, found next to the village stores, uphill and just beyond the last house take a footpath on the right (west) waymarked for the 'Limestone Link'.  Head west across fields to Cowleaze Lane, which can be rather over grown, take care at the end of the lane where you will meet the road that goes up Harptree Hill. Go up the hill for a short distance and another path is met on the right proceed west towards Compton Martin. From the fields good views can be seen of both Chew Valley and Blagdon lakes.  The path soon drops into Highfield Lane and you turn to head uphill for about 250 metres to reach a path on the right leading through a field gate.  Through this gate and then drop down hill to some cottages following the lane down (north) for a short distance before taking a path to your left which after crossing a couple of fields takes you to the bottom of Compton Martin combe.

On passing the cottages almost immediately on the left is the path leading up to Compton Martin Ochre Mine NGR ST55/5419.  5670 which if you have picked up the key from the Belfry and brought with you a helmet, lamp and some caving grots is well worth the visit.  Even if you don't feel the desire to venture underground there are some interesting surface features and relics of a bygone age to keep you amused for a while.  Take care on the slope if it's wet it can be extremely slippery.

For a full description and survey of the mine refer to Mendip Underground, D.J. Irwin & A.R. Jarratt.

Follow the path up through the combe past the disused quarries, the combe has some interesting karst features but they are rather small.  In the spring it can be an amazingly green place.  At the top of the combe the path leads along the drive of Whitegate Lodge to reach another lane.  Turning left (south east) here takes you to a crossroads, go straight over into Western Lane, all along the ridge excellent views of Chew Valley and surrounding hills are seen.  Follow Western Lane for 1½ km down to the bottom of a steep descent from here is a choice depending on the time of year.  If its late spring turn right (south-west) up Garrow Bottom after about 500m you will be rewarded with the most fantastic display of bluebells. From Western Lane turning left (north east) follow the path across a field into Harptree combe where you have the company of a small stream all the way to the bottom.  About halfway down you come across some small mines which are worth a little poke around.

For a full description and survey of these mines refer to Belfry Bulletin March 2000 Vol. 51 No.1 "An excursion to Harptree combe and mines" by Vince Simmonds.

You may also wish to have a good look around Richmont Castle which is also found here.  A Norman lord known as Azelin was the possible builder of the castle sometime post-1066 he died 1120 leaving the manor of Harptree to his son John, the manor then became known as Harptree.  After John's death the manor then passed on to his son William de Harptree.  The political situation around this time was very unsettled and after the death of Henry I the throne was left to Matilda, who was also known as Maud.  The throne was contested by her cousin Stephen with the backing of some of the more powerful lords while William de Harptree and others in the West of England formed an alliance supporting Matilda and they garrisoned Richmont Castle in 1138.  Stephen laid siege to Bristol and then in 1139 led an army to Harptree and took possession of Richmont Castle.

The castle stayed in the hands of the de Harptree family, but around the time of Henry III, Sir Robert de Harptree assumed his mothers name of Gournay. Sometime between the 12 and 15 century the two Harptrees split the Gournay family took control of West Harptree while the Newtons took East Harptree.

By 1540 Richmont Castle was a ruin and it's stone had gone to several possible local sites, Eastwood Manor being just one of them.

There was also the belief that the castle walls covered valuable mineral deposits, it was around this time that a strong brass industry flourished in Bristol.  Several pits in the castle site may be the result of some later working of the area.

The presence of shot-holes in some of the mines would suggest working of a later date possibly late 1600's or the 1700's.  An interesting fact is that in 1728 Sir John Newton, who owned the biggest part of East Harptree, also owned several coal mines in Kingswood ( Bristol) where the coal was used to supply his brass smelting works at Warmley ( Bristol).

When reaching the bottom of the combe turn right (west) to cross the stream and stile and crossing fields will lead back to Ridge Lane and West Harptree.

Allow 3 hours for the walk more if you plan to explore the mines and the castle.

Acknowledgements:

East Harptree: Times Remembered Times Forgotten, Jon Budd.

Worle, Woodspring and Wallop: The Calamine Connection, Nick Corcos; Somerset Archaeology and Natural History, 1988 pp 193-208.