Written by Stewart Hall.
The Mendip is synonymous with sticky mud and slippery limestone but any criticism you hear of trail conditions belie the variety of riding available. It’s fair to say that it’s best to visit during a dry spell so yes, think twice about visiting if it’s been especially wet recently. Otherwise, come and enjoy the extensive network of hills, bridleways, singletrack and country roads – ideal for XC enthusiasts who don’t mind getting stuck-in. The focus is the twee moorland bridleways of Black Down near Burrington Combe, extending into Rowberrow Wood with its steep and secret singletrack. Via linking lanes and shared-use paths, good trails extend south to Cheddar and west toward Bleadon.
Get the OS map and start linking together bridleways and lanes starting from Burrington Combe. Some of the climbs are stinkers and need persistence but only a few are really technical. Generally, the trails are only moderately technical in places with few serious obstacles other than that well-known “slippery when wet”.
Another great guide is the PDF maps produced by the Mendip AONB and available form their website: one for the Black Down area and another called the Mendip Fat Tyre Trails.
Here’s a fine XC loop I often do: Starting at the Burrington Inn, climb steeply up the “Link Lane” southward toward Black Down. The tarmac soon runs out and turns to rock studded dirt. Follow it past sink-holes into the bottom of Rowberrow Wood heading directly west. This gently descending woodland singletrack is a 1.5 mile dirt and rubble blast until you get to the A38. Cross over and climb the short techy bridleway to join the wide byway, turning left and following it south to meet with the A38 again near a pub.
Cross over and climb the rubbly singletrack “Cheddarcombe” bridleway, east toward Shipham. Turn left on the main Shipham road then right on “Philfare Lane” byway bringing you to The Swan Inn at Rowberrow for refreshments. Head back into Rowberrow Wood and via numerous options climb forest tracks heading up toward Black Down trig point to take in the views. Descent steeply south-east toward the road but before getting there turn west and follow the swoopy “Limestone Link” singletrack bridleway, over two streams, to re-join the “Link Lane”.
Carry on west into the bottom of Rowberrow Wood as if you were going to do another loop. But this time, look for a right turn onto a bridleway heading north toward Blagdon Water Gardens. It’s justly called “Stony Lane” and can be terrifying if descended at speed. Return to the Burrington Inn via the road. There are numerous extensions and alternative starting points taking in Fry’s Hill, Cheddar, Winscombe Down and even Bleadon, via the Strawberry Line railway path starting in Sandford.
Just don’t bother if it’s been raining lots!
In a word: Pubs! Those on the main roads tend to be pleasant if slightly lacklustre affairs aimed at the Sunday lunch market – but don’t despair. Tucked away in the small villages are many excellent, welcoming country pubs with good local ale and locally produced food at acceptable prices (for the south of England). Personal recommendations: The Swan at Rowberrow, The Queen Vic at Priddy, The Hunter’s Lodge near Priddy (time-warp cavers’ and farmers’ pub but welcomes all other types of eccentricity).
Depending on starting point –
Burrington Combe – large parking areas at The Burrington Inn, the disused garden centre and in bays further up the combe. [BS40 7AT]
Rowberrow – medium car park at the Swan Inn – if you are a customer! [BS25 1QL]
Charterhouse – medium car park but it gets busy.
Shipham – medium car park at Lillypool Café [BS25 1RQ]
Cheddar – Reasonably priced and large pay parking at Tweentown at the bottom of The Gorge road.
Numerous villages with B&Bs: Churchill, Blagdon, Cheddar, and Shipham. Priddy has a reasonable camp-site and good pubs.
Spares/Bike Shops/Bike hire
City Bikes in Wells – mountain bike enthusiasts with reasonable stock of components and good advice on local trails. There are many bike shops in Bristol, but the city seems far away.
The area is best accessed from the A38: From the north, east and west, aim for Bristol and join the A38 going south past Bristol Airport. 15 minutes past the airport, turn left at Churchill and follow signs to Burrington Combe (not Burrington village). Continue up the combe to get to Priddy. Or from Churchill, continue south on the A38 toward Rowberrow, Shipham and Cheddar. From the south, drive up the M5, joining the A38 at Highbridge and head north.