Michael Greaves reflects on the changes seen along the Strawberry Line following the annual Boxing Day walk
In 2013 I wrote a monthly series of articles about ‘Life on the Strawberry Line’.
On Boxing Day morning the annual Village Walk gave me the opportunity of looking at the changes that have happened in the last four years. Fortunately, the Strawberry Line is still there and being used by increasing numbers of walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The downside is that more traffic is using the old railway line with a solar farm and a new farm house having been built towards Churchill.
Despite development taking place, the Strawberry Line is still a wonderful stretch of countryside to enjoy and cherish. When the railway closed over 50 years ago, there was a real risk that the land would be swallowed up by the adjoining farms. Some land was lost and has been developed including the section at Sandford where it originally crossed the cider factory. But most remains and it is possible to walk or ride from Yatton to Cheddar. Perhaps eventually the path may reach Wells which was its original destination.
There are so many extra things to see in the winter that you don’t notice in the summer. My favourite are the trees and the lace shaped branches forming silhouettes in the sky. With the sky changing colour particularly on a frosty morning, the shape and form of the trees is exaggerated adding to the beauty of our countryside. Without their leaves the trees open up the distant views. On Boxing Day morning the sun seemed to be acting as a search light to illuminate the Mendips and adjoining villages. In the right place you can see the church towers of Yatton, Puxton, Banwell, Churchill, Wrington and of course Congresbury. St Andrews Church with its spire and golden cockerel sparking in the sunshine is a magnificent sight. If you don’t notice anything else, its worth the effort to just look at the church from the vantage point of the raised thoroughfare across the moors.
The solar farm at Churchill has changed the dynamics of the fields, but we are told to be sustainable and farm land should produce crops, be it electricity rather than grass. At least the Strawberry Line had a make over after the lorries pounded their way backwards and forwards with loads of stone and building materials during the construction. The gravel surface dressing was part of the compensation to allow access. Without regular maintenance and upkeep potholes appear and the rain and frost find weak spots. Regretfully this has already started and it is hoped that North Somerset Council will address the problem before it becomes dangerous.
Contrast the condition of the drove roads that lead from Silver Street and Stonewell onto the Strawberry Line with the line itself. The droves are ancient tracks with those who own the adjoining fields enjoying ‘Riparian Rights’ and always a source of discontent and disagreement about who should repair the surface. Some would say if the tracks are too well maintained it encourages cars and motorcycles, others complain about getting wet feet. The good news is that the Boxing Day walkers managed to avoid getting wet feet or too dirty.
During the winter the grass and plants stop growing and hibernate. Some die off but there are plenty of reminders of how lush and vibrant the verges were during the summer. On a frosty morning the dead stalks of cow parsley are festooned with spider webs and glistening frost. The heads of teasels don’t seem to attract spiders or frost. Perhaps spiders don’t like prickles and they are well insulated against the cold.
Although we haven’t had a lot of rain, there have been a few wet days and water was lying in the ‘gripes’ which act as drainage channels across the fields. Flocks of Canadian geese were feeding in the fields before starting to pair up for the new breeding season. A solitary white egret and a lone grey heron were stood motionless on the edge of a rhyne hoping for a meal. There were a lot of sheep grazing, all looked well fed and about to start lambing. A few cattle were in the fields, but most are now kept inside during the winter to avoid damaging the grass
During long periods of very severe weather the hedges along the line are invaded with redwings and fieldfares who devour the red berries off the hawthorn bushes. A small group of long tailed tits like puff balls were hopping from tree to tree and a lonesome robin came out to see what was happening near the fishing lake.
Silver Springs fishing lake looked serene with the water glistening in the sunshine. Several brave fishermen were huddled in warm coats hoping to attract a large carp by throwing in copious quantities of sweetcorn and other delicious offerings. The carp were obviously enjoying the food which they clearly prefer to bent pieces of wire. Sadly the café was closed so we will have to return again in the New Year for one of Liz Patches’ fantastic bacon sandwiches and a mug of hot steaming tea. Who needs Michelin starred restaurants when you can go to the Silver Springs café?
Our walk was too quickly over but a look at the reed beds near the former station is always worth a few minutes diversion. The beds attract reed warblers and buntings together with pied wagtails, but you need to be patient. The old station platforms are now overgrown with brambles and buddleia and some of the walls are starting to crumble. As the up platform walls are built from Rodney Stoke conglomerate stone, which is the only place in the village where it has been used, perhaps it should be listed.
I hope my very brief resume of a walk along part of the Strawberry Line on a nice Boxing Day morning has tempted you to visit this lovely linear park, if it does it will have all been worth while. Add it to your new year’s resolutions.
Happy New Year