Fascination of Goblin Combe

MOST of us are familiar with the A370 Weston to Bristol road, but spread an Ordnance Survey map out on the table, study it, and it takes on a new look

MOST of us are familiar with the A370 Weston to Bristol road, but spread an Ordnance Survey map out on the table, study it, and it takes on a new look. For instance, when you near the foot of Congresbury rhoddy you must have appreciated that fine stretch of wooded hill that reaches across to Redhill, and Bristolwards in the direction of Brockley. Note the fascinating names that appear on the green shaded patches on the map - Ball Wood, King's Wood, Cleeve Toot - and Goblin Combe.What do you know of this country? Do you know that it includes a nature reserve, and affords some of the most charming walks in Somerset, rich in the variety of the immediate surroundings, and with splendid views across Wrington Vale to the Mendips? Have you ever gone seeking the goblins in Goblin Combe?It would certainly be worth your while. You might not see any goblins but you will certainly enjoy getting acquainted with this stretch of hillside. Like so many of the beauty spots in Somerset, you cannot enjoy them unless you get out of the car and walk. In his Delineations of North Somerset in 1829, Rutter momentarily relieved its rather prosaic character when he wrote of the Goblin Combe country.In his section on Yatton he commented: "The higher or eastern ends of the parish are of diversified character, rising into rocky eminences, partly clothed with woods and intersected by deep ravines and combes; one of which, the Goblin Combe, presents the same features of wild and romantic interest, with mimic battlement, buttresses, and pinnacles of native grey rock, intermingled with tufts and sprays of evergreen foliage and springing out of the interstices, which we have fully described in its neighbour and rival, of Brockley Combe."After pursuing its deep windings for upwards of a mile its cliffs terminate in a lofty and somewhat insulated eminence called Cleeve Toot."After mentioning that the word Toot anciently meant a high place, Rutter romantically goes on to suggest 'that we may easily suppose this to have been one of the 'high places' on which the bloody sacrifices of a cruel superstition have been offered."In a little hollow, just beneath the summit, is what bears traditionally the title of 'the king's chair, being somewhat in the shape of a stone stall or throne, seated on which the adventurous visitant overhangs a giddy precipice of near 300 feet."On an high level platform immediately below the Toot, is a rude, circular encampment which was, probably, the stronghold of some Danish chieftain, as we find in Domesday that his descendant, John the Dane, held this manor of Yatton in the time of Edward the Confessor."Rutter also mentions that Roman associations with the locality are suggested by the finding of a coin of Antonine in a glen near the Toot.You may make your approach to Goblin Combe from a turning off the Bristol road at Cleeve, or from Wrington or Redhill.A nature reserve has recently been established at Goblin Combe (ST 4765). According to an annual report of the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation, this 24 acres of limestone scree, woodland, and downland, surrounded by conifer plantations was leased in 1968 to protect it from the foresters. A threat from quarrying the scree to provide stone for a Lulsgate Airport extension was narrowly avoided."It is an area of extreme natural beauty, with the dark of the yew contrasting with the silvery leaves of the whitebeam," the trust reports."It contains a surprising number of habitats within a small area. Although the heather and beech trees of the limestone heath area are restricted, they represent a vegetation that was once abundant over much of the warren. The bird life of the combe is extremely varied, and this is one of the best areas for butterflies in North Somerset."The main management work has been in cutting down the bramble, which was carried out last winter by boys of Clifton College. The area is not fenced but four trust signs have been erected which indicate part of the boundary."I am sorry I have no engrossing legend to pass on about how Goblin Combe got its name. Wrington Village Records, that splendid study of the history of a Somerset village, compiled by members of a Bristol University Extra Mural class held at Wrington, has a map in which the route through the hills is named 'Eagles Combe or Gobble or Goblin Combe'.If you want to explore this popular area of combe, warren and woodland you can, of course, approach it from the Redhill end. There is the pleasant little car run that leaves the Bristol road at the foot of Congresbury rhoddy and takes you beside the foot of the hill to Wrington, and on to Barley Wood, the former home of Hannah More, linking up with the A38 at Redhill.Do look in at Redhill's Christ Church, a landmark above the steep descent of the A38 as you are passing. It has no centuries-old history, but was designed by James Wilson and built in 1844, and the interior was redecorated last year (1972). Redhill still has its 98-year-old village school, and last year its residents strongly protested against a county education authority proposal to close it. Redhill one especially associates with farms and noted farmers who have achieved major awards with their ploughing prowess. In the latter category one especially remembers the Ogbornes, a family still represented in the locality that has remarkable records of ploughing match victories.Redhill was for long the centre of the ploughing country, and the Wrington and Burrington Ploughing Society, founded in 1832, became unrivalled in the West Country. In 1832, for instance, it claimed that it could put 19 ploughs into the field from one parish.The Wrington and Burrington Ploughing Society had is headquarters at Redhill's Darlington Arms, where dinners were held after ploughing matches.The Darlington Arms has an interesting history. A few years ago I had a chat with Norman Branch, of Shipham, a former smallholder, who told me how farmers and growers in the district used to go to Bristol daily to market with peas, beans, potatoes, butter, cheese and other dairy produce."Father used to leave with the cart just after midnight, getting to Bristol about 5.30 in the morning," he told me.Other growers in the district from Cheddar, Draycott and elsewhere also used to start out very early. They nearly all made a stop for refreshment at the top of Redhill at the Darlington Arms, then kept by a Mr Morgan."It was nothing to see twenty or thirty carts outside the Darlington loaded with produce for the Bristol Market," Mr Branch told me.To meet this particular trade the Darlington Arms used to stay open until 3 o'clock in the morning!The Wrington Village Records has a note on the old coach road. It comments that the A38 is the modern representative of a very old through road from Broadfield Down, down Redhill and across the Wrington valley. It has been one of the main links between Bristol, North Somerset and the South West since medieval times.Ogilvy's semi-pictorial map of 1675 "shows the road plunging down an impressively steep Redhill". Mrs Neale's article also observes that the old coach road up the hill, being unsurfaced, was worn very deep into the ground by sheer usage. It has also become very wide, as coaches and wagons drove further and further over the verges in an effort to avoid the ruts in the centre of the road.It is this wide road, with its tremendous verges, that appears on the 1738-9 map of Wrington. This, too, is the road that can still be seen at the top of Redhill, above the Darlington Arms: the ground sloping up on each side, with 18th and 19th century farms and buildings with long narrow gardens, fitted on to the wide road verge.Eastwards of the A38 at Lye Hole a Roman villa site was uncovered in 1876.The floors had been smashed, but pillars remained, and pieces of mosaic, earthenware, and pottery were found. Oddly enough, the spot had been known for years as 'the old burying ground', which suggests skeletons had been found there for some time.On the Congresbury to Redhill road, just before the A38 is reached, there is a left fork, and a narrow road leads down into the combe from which it is possible to walk over the warren or through Goblin Combe.It is a delightful spot, but not so peaceful an area as of old because of the presence nearby of Bristol's Lulsgate Airport. You are unlikely to meet any goblins. The only goblins they fear Redhill way are those noisy creatures that fly in and out of the Airport and which, if the Bristol authority has its way, will get bigger and noisier.After a walk you can travel home along the road that runs around the western extremity of Lulsgate Airport to the hamlet of Downside above Brockley Combe. By turning left you can go through Brockley Combe to join the Bristol-Weston road and complete a circular trip.* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on January 5, 1973

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