Walk this way

SI­MONE STAN­BROOK-BYRNE takes a look at The Macmil­lan Way, a long-dis­tance path that was specif­i­cally set up to raise money for char­ity

Somerset Life - - WALK -

Walk­ing, most will agree, is good for the soul. Fresh air and ex­er­cise in the great green gym of our beau­ti­ful coun­try­side is hard to beat for ‘feel good’ re­sults. And when it’s un­der­taken with the ad­di­tional aim of rais­ing money for char­ity, then that lit­tle fuzzy glow that is lit by a good walk burns even brighter.

Some peo­ple in­spire by ex­am­ple, set­ting oth­ers off on worth­while chal­lenges upon which they would oth­er­wise not have em­barked. Peter and Janet Titch­marsh were two such in­spir­ing in­di­vid­u­als.

Their de­ci­sion to cre­ate one of the coun­try’s long-dis­tance paths and, in do­ing so, sup­port the char­ity Macmil­lan Can­cer Sup­port, has re­sulted in more than £350,000 be­ing raised as a di­rect re­sult of the Macmil­lan Way net­work of foot­paths.

Set­ting up a long-dis­tance path is a marathon task: walk­ing and de­scrib­ing the route, li­ais­ing with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties over sig­nage, ob­tain­ing nec­es­sary per­mis­sions from Ord­nance Sur­vey with re­gard to map­ping. It is a mon­u­men­tal amount of work. But Peter and Janet were un­de­terred. The Macmil­lan Way As­so­ci­a­tion (MWA) was founded in 1997 and once they had es­tab­lished the main 290 mile Macmil­lan Way, from Bos­ton in Lin­colnshire to Ab­bots­bury in Dorset, they went on to set up fur­ther routes to aug­ment the orig­i­nal. These in­clude the Macmil­lan Way West which passes through Som­er­set and into Devon, link­ing with the main route at Cas­tle Cary. Later, the Cross Bri­tain Way was also added to the group, cre­ated by Tim Brun­ton and run­ning be­tween Bos­ton and Bar­mouth on the Welsh coast.

In 2003, Jenny David­son walked the main route, rais­ing £6,000 in the process. This was the start of a new mis­sion for Jenny who be­gan as­sist­ing the Titch­marshes with the run­ning of the as­so­ci­a­tion. Then, in 2009, when Peter was 82 and de­cided to hang up his long-dis­tance boots, Jenny and her hus­band, Rod, took over run­ning the

MWA – and they’re still do­ing it, along­side their day jobs. An im­pres­sive un­der­tak­ing and one that con­tin­ues to in­spire oth­ers. All power to their an­kles!

The Macmil­lan Way group of paths has two sec­tions in Som­er­set plus a ‘link’ be­tween Lang­port, in Som­er­set, and Ever­shot, in Dorset, which joins the Macmil­lan Way

West (MWW) with the main Macmil­lan Way. All are en­tic­ing, travers­ing var­ied coun­try­side as well as vis­it­ing pic­turesque and his­toric vil­lages and towns.

The main Macmil­lan Way en­ters the north of the county from Wilt­shire, just south-east of Bath. It heads gen­er­ally south, run­ning for a while along the line of the River Frome, al­though not nec­es­sar­ily be­side it. Fur­ther south it joins the Le­land Trail.

The Way heads west through Bru­ton be­fore reach­ing Cas­tle Cary from which it con­tin­ues south, join­ing for a while the Monarch’s Way, the route taken by Charles ll when he fled the coun­try. It passes the hill fort of Cad­bury Cas­tle - it’s worth a wan­der round the ram­parts. Ex­ca­va­tions from 1890 on­wards in­di­cate that a Bronze Age set­tle­ment here was su­per­seded by a more ro­bust Iron Age fort, fol­lowed by later pe­ri­ods of set­tle­ment through­out a colour­ful his­tory.

From here the main Macmil­lan Way tra­verses the fab­u­lously airy Cor­ton Ridge en route for Dorset.

Back at Cas­tle Cary the MWW branches off on its 102 mile jour­ney across Som­er­set and into Devon, a com­plete long-dis­tance path in its own right.

A fit­ting start point is the red brick house in Cas­tle Cary where Dou­glas Macmil­lan, founder of the Macmil­lan Can­cer Sup­port char­ity, lived dur­ing his early years. He was born in Cas­tle

Cary in 1884. When his fa­ther died from can­cer in 1911 it left a last­ing mark on Dou­glas. These were the days long be­fore the NHS; care for sick peo­ple bore lit­tle re­sem­blance to what we have to­day. In 1912 Dou­glas founded the So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion and Re­lief of Can­cer, start­ing with a do­na­tion of £10.

From Cas­tle Cary the MWW makes its way gen­er­ally west­wards across South Som­er­set, pass­ing many ap­peal­ing places for walk­ers to take a break. Cross­ing the Som­er­set Lev­els the views are ex­pan­sive – and po­ten­tially windy. Wildlife on the Lev­els is good: grey herons can be spot­ted and we once had a fab­u­lous day­time view of a barn owl.

From Lang­port the MWW con­tin­ues across the Lev­els, pass­ing Bur­row Mump, an­other de­tour-wor­thy spot. A breathy climb to the sum­mit re­wards with a glo­ri­ous panorama. For a while the path runs along­side the River Par­rett be­fore con­tin­u­ing west to­wards the Quan­tocks where it starts to head slightly nor­thish for a while. There are op­tions on a high and low-level route here: the high one climbs Cothel­stone Hill from which the views are tremen­dous but were prob­a­bly

not ap­pre­ci­ated by the 17th cen­tury rebels of the Mon­mouth Re­bel­lion, some of whom were hanged on Cothel­stone.

Con­tin­u­ing through the Quan­tocks the high path passes the diminu­tive yet sig­nif­i­cant Triscombe Stone, a Bronze Age marker where old drovers’ roads meet. Just be­yond here the high and low routes con­verge, the lat­ter hav­ing passed through the vil­lage of Cothel­stone.

The MWW con­tin­ues, cross­ing the West Som­er­set Rail­way north of Stogum­ber, where it also runs con­cur­rently for a while with the Co­leridge Way, a path com­mem­o­rat­ing the poet Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge who once lived in the area. These paths sep­a­rate at Samp­ford Brett where the MWW heads for Wil­li­ton, the al­most-half­way point. The jour­ney con­tin­ues through his­toric land­scape ap­proach­ing Dun­ster with its cas­tle. From here the MWW of­fers an op­tional di­ver­sion to Mine­head be­fore head­ing into Exmoor, climb­ing the heights of Dunkery Bea­con with its mighty cairn, the high­est point of the moor. There is a very good chance of see­ing Exmoor ponies here­abouts, our old­est na­tive breed. Al­though they roam freely they are all owned and rounded up an­nu­ally so that their well­be­ing can be checked.

The MWW con­tin­ues across the vast open spa­ces of Exmoor, cross­ing the bound­ary into

Devon and for a while join­ing the Tarka Trail, a path that ex­plores the coun­try cel­e­brated in Henry Wil­liamson’s en­dur­ing book, ‘Tarka the Ot­ter’. The walk con­tin­ues through Devon, where it comes to a halt and re­moves its boots in Barn­sta­ple.

Next month we head for Ched­dar Reser­voir

Si­mone Stan­brook-Byrne is the au­thor, with James Clancy, of ‘A Dozen Dra­matic Walks in Som­er­set’, some of which fol­low sec­tions of the Macmil­lan Way.

The Macmil­lan Way West crosses the Som­er­set Lev­els near Long Sut­ton. The wa­ter­ways that drain the Lev­els can be a haven for wildlife

Views across the Quan­tocks. The Macmil­lan Way West passes through this coun­try­side on its 102 mile jour­ney

The Macmil­lan Way West passes through the vil­lage of North Cad­bury on its 102 mile jour­ney. At­trac­tive cot­tages are tucked away just off the path

ABOVE:The Macmil­lan Way West passes through the vil­lage of Long Sut­ton, in the Som­er­set Lev­els. The beau­ti­ful Holy Trin­ity Church is worth a visit

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