Reprinted from Newsletter 91, dated 1999 April

Pedal through the peat moors

Matt Crisp

If your bicycle is languishing in the garage you could do worse than to wheel it out and try the recreational ride on page 4 [see box below]. Experience the “joys and wonders of nature” — as a girl of 11 wrote in the book in the bird hide at Meare Heath Restoration Project.

The route takes National Cycle Route 3 out of Glastonbury via the new Willow Walk. Then it follows the old railway line to the English Nature hide overlooking Meare Heath, where worked-out peat diggings are now lakes again.

You can go on further to the iron-age huts at Willows Peat Centre and beyond — but we won’t hold it against you if you don’t go that far on your first two-wheeled outing.

It’s also a useful route between Glastonbury and Meare, avoiding trafficked roads. It is a must for anybody interested in birds.

Serious birders get there at dawn, but we cycled the route, slowly, on the afternoon of April 15 and found an array of Britain’s wildlife at sunset. We heard lapwing (sounding like R2D2 on wings) and Canada geese before we saw them. A pair of marsh harriers flew past right in front of us. Less common birds include egrets and hobbies.

A kingfisher sometimes perches on the bridge leading to the hide. Swifts and martens are beginning to arrive back home for summer. Look out for otter and roe deer. English Nature recently excavated around the hide to make a habitat that we hope will attract Britain’s rarest breeding bird, the bittern.

The journey is about 4½ miles one way, and the only hill is Glastonbury island as you near home.

The route

A map of Glastonbury and the surrounding area with a dotted line showing a route from between Ashcott and Meare along the old railway line to Glastonbury
Sheet 141 in the Ordnance Survey’s new large-scale Explorer series (1:25,000) is on sale from newsagents at £5.50. Buy it! For once, Glastonbury is not in the very corner of four sheets!

Take Benedict Street out of Glastonbury, cross the relief road at the lights and follow the blue signs for National Cycle Route 3. It takes you through the timber yard, then first right, then first left through the Willow Walk, over the Brue bridge with its Millennium Milepost and almost straight ahead towards Sharpham.

Where the road bears left at the phonebox, cycle straight ahead along the old rail route — worked-out peat diggings on both sides of the road are now flooded year-round as nature-conservation areas.

Passing the Railway Inn pub at Ashcott Corner, carry on straight ahead into the nature reserve. Turn left along a track to a viewing area behind screens, or cycle to the right over a little bridge and up a grassy track to the hide, where you can sit comfortably for hours.

Return by the same route and stop at the pub for a drink or food with landlord Maggie and Mike Bendle (86 0223). If it isn’t open, knock: “I’ll never see a weary traveller dying on his last legs” were his very words. Most of his trade these days arrives on two wheels; 110 years ago steam carried them on 100 wheels.