Walk 136: Curry Rivel Circular…a monument to Cider

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Time to walk: At pace, this walk would probably only take just over an hour but, on a summer’s day, it’s an ideal walk for a picnic as the views are spectacular

Difficulty: A mixture of hard paths & meadow walking. Easy & flat, with no stiles

Parking: On road near the green in Curry Rivel

Public toilets: ‘The Firehouse’ pub at the start & end of the walk

Map of the route:

Curry Rivel is a village in Somerset, situated 10 miles east of Taunton, laying on a ridge overlooking the Somerset Levels. There’s some speculation on where the unusual name comes from, but most people say it’s the Celtic word “crwy”, meaning boundary & “Rivel” from its 12th century landlord Sir Richard Revel

Over the years this tranquil part of Somerset has been the scene of fierce fighting, rural struggle & successful trade. People that have fought around here include the ancient Celts of Wessex, the Saxons, the Romans, the Danes, & the Normans.  The area also has well-known links with King Arthur, who in 530 is said to have fought the Saxons

The land around Curry Rivel has always been susceptible to flooding & many fields would spend the whole of winter under water. The higher ground was used for apple orchards & cider production, cattle or sheep farming, or crops

Today’s walk takes us from the village to the magnificent Burton Pynsent Monument with it’s amazing views across the Somerset Levels

Let’s Walk!

1. The village green in Curry Rivel where this walk starts is quintessentially English with its thatched cottages & lovely church…

The Church of St Andrew dates from the 13th century & is designated as a Grade I listed building. It was included in Simon Jenkins “England’s Thousand Best Churches

The oldest part of the church is the north chapel which dates back to Norman times, however there may have been an earlier Saxon church on the same site. Most of the church is from the 15th century. An earlier tower was demolished and rebuilt in 1861 when the interior was also refashioned. Within the tower are eight bells, the oldest of which dates from 1510

2. To leave the green & the village, face the church & turn left along Water Street…

In school time this street will be extremely busy at the beginning & end of the day so exercise care. As the road bends right & passes the speed limit signs look for the rather attractive house on the left. During this walk we’ll pass many ‘desirable’ properties

3. Just pass the above property, turn left at the footpath sign, heading towards Waterstreet Farm…

The lane narrows & bends right past a lovely old cottage…

…& finally passes through a gate into a meadow. If you do have dogs with you, keep an eye out for cattle, or sheep, when walking through all of the fields

4. Pass through the first field & continue along the edge of the next small one, which automatically passes into another. There are houses on the left & it looks ass though someone enjoys their own company…

Ahead in the distance is the first glance of where we’re walking to…the Burton Pynsent Monument

5. For now though, walk through the kissing gate on the left & go down the narrow alley…

Be careful at the end as the path joins a road that cars travel quite quickly along. Plus there’s no footpath, so be prepared to jump onto the grass verge

6. Turn right &, on the left pass the entrance to the impressive Dornford House. If you’re a bit sneaky, you can have a peep over the wall at the large gardens…

Just pass the gates, look for a footpath down a narrow alley that leads back into the fields once more

7. The Monument is now beginning to loom larger so walk around the right edge of the field towards it. As you can see, when we did this walk in September 2019, it was a glorious late summer morning

Pass through the gate in the hedgerow ahead & there it is in all its glory

8. The 140 foot Burton Pynsent Monument sits here on Troy Hill, close to Burton Pynsent House, & was built in 1767. It’s also commonly known as the “Curry Rivel Column”, “Pynsent Column”, “Pynsent Steeple” or the “Cider Monument”

Clad in Portland Stone, it was designed by Capability Brown & built by Philip Pear at a cost of £2,000, for William Pitt as a monument to Sir William Pynsent of the Pynsent Baronets

Pynsent was a highly successful businessman in the thriving Somerset cider trade. When the government of the day was considering taxing cider more heavily (10 shilling on a hogshead of cider in the 1763 Cider Bill), William Pitt the Elder came out strongly against the proposals. Sir William Pynsent was so grateful for Pitt’s support that he changed his will, & left the Burton Pynsent estate to Pitt. Today cider is still taxed lower than beer

When Pynsent died in 1765, his relatives were shocked to find they had been left with only a thousand guineas each. They contested the will, but the challenge was unsuccessful, & Pitt became the new owner of the Burton Pynsent estate

The tower was restored in the 1990s by the John Paul Getty Trust & English Heritage . Have a look at the engravings on the plinth, many of which go back years. Wonder if that’s Jools?

On top of the plinth’s a viewing platform surmounted by an urn. The viewing platform is no longer accessible, due, legend tells us, to an unfortunate incident with a cow!!

The story goes that a cow managed to ascend the stairs to the top, but, being unable to back down the stairs once it had reached the top, the poor creature fell to its death from the pinnacle. To prevent further bovine accidents, or, indeed, any human attempts to imitate the poor cow, the stairs were closed & remain so today

Despite this, the hill offers amazing views out over West Sedge Moor & the Somerset Levels towards Taunton. It’s a great place for your picnic…

9. Walk back behind the Monument & bear diagonally south towards the corridor between the trees…

Don’t forget to look back to get a framed view of the Monument – oh & of course, we forgot the Beaufort came too!

10. Turn right & walk for roughly 50 yards to get another superb view. The Somerset Levels are a coastal plain & wetland running south from the Mendips to the Blackdown Hills. They cover an area of about 160,000 acres

A Palaeolithic flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence in the area. The Neolithic people exploited the reed swamps for their natural resources & started to construct wooden trackways, including the world’s oldest known, the Post Track, dating from about 3800 BC. In the Roman period, sea salt was extracted & a string of settlements were set up along the Polden Hills. The discovery at Shapwick of 9,238 silver Roman coins, known as the Shapwick Hoard, was the second largest ever found from the time of the Roman Empire

Today the area supports a vast variety of plant &  bird species & includes 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest

People have been draining the area since before the Domesday Book & in the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Glastonbury, Athelney & Muchelney were responsible for much of the drainage. Discussions have taken place concerning the possibility of obtaining World Heritage Site status for the Somerset Levels as a “cultural landscape”. It was suggested that if this bid were successful it could improve flood control, but only if wetland fens were created again…the plans were abandoned in 2010

11. Walk back past the end of the “corridor” & through the gate in the corner of the field…

…which leads into the other side of the field that we approached the Monument from. Return to the lane via the alley & turn left to continue in the same direction

12. Walk along the road, passing a newly built house that sits in a dip on the left side – look out for deer in the fields. Shortly after passing the house, walk through the gate on the right into the fields once more…

Continue along the right edge of the field & enter the next one through a kissing gate in the corner. Look across to the left to see another beautiful property. Pass in front of this, heading for the top left corner of the field

13. Walk round to the left & look for a kissing gate that leads to a leafy alley which emerges onto a road…

Although it doesn’t look familiar at the moment, this is Water Lane which we left Curry Rivel on at the start of this walk. Turn right & follow it as it bends right & then left passing a set of large polytunnels

14. Eventually the lane re-enters the village…

On reaching the crossroads with the village green, turn right & walk down the hill, passing the chapel & the Firehouse pub (don’t forget Happy Hour 4pm – 6pm daily!)

15. On reaching the main road, turn left & pass the village shop…

…& then first left at the Barbers Shop up the hill to arrive back at the green where this walk began

So that’s the end of our second short walk in a beautiful area of Somerset. We can honestly say that this is an extremely peaceful walk & the views from the Monument are spectacular, especially on a hot summer’s day

If you’re in the area it’s well worth a visit. Now…about that pint of cheap Cider!

Go Walk!