Andrew Swift finds a coastal plain south of Weston-super-Mare, an ancient location where the Romans established a port, later used by the Vikings. Take on this walk and find spectacular views from the hill and the coastal marshes…
Working out how towns and villages got their names isn’t always straightforward. Take Uphill for example. Situated on the coastal plain south of Weston-super-Mare, with a steep hill towering above it, the reason for its name may seem self evident. It was originally called Hubba’s Pill, however, which over time was abbreviated to Uphill.
Hubba, it seems, was a Viking chieftain who landed here in the ninth century, and Pill is a local name for a tidal inlet. From which you will have guessed that it is a pretty ancient place – much more so than the upstart resort of Weston whose suburbs have spread to engulf it.
Uphill was already old when the Vikings arrived. The Romans established a port here to ship lead mined on Mendip out across their empire, and the ruined 12th-century church of St Nicholas on the hill overlooking the village stands on the site of a Roman temple.
Today, though, Uphill has the air of somewhere that history has passed by. Its once busy harbour is now a marina for pleasure craft, its pill has dwindled to a muddy creek, and much of the land bordering the coast has been turned into a golf course. It remains a fascinating – and atmospheric – place, however, and not just because of past glories. Quarrying over the centuries has eaten into the hill above the village, so that the ruined church now stands on the edge of a high cliff. Below lie two large nature reserves, rich in wildlife, and the views – both from the hill and the coastal marshes – are spectacular. For an autumnal walk that packs a lot into a small space it is hard to beat.
The quickest way to Uphill is via the motorway, but a pleasanter option is to head west from Bath along the A39, join the A368 at Marksbury, continue on along the A371 at Banwell, but just after crossing a bridge over the M5, take a left turn, signposted to Elborough and Hutton. Continue along this road for 3 miles, and, when you come to a roundabout, carry straight on, following a sign for Uphill. After passing the hospital, turn right at a mini-roundabout, carry on for a third of a mile and, just past a church on the left, park on the left-hand side of the road (BS23 4SD; ST319589).
Walk back to the church, which dates from 1844 and was designed by the Bath architect James Wilson. It was built to replace the old church, which you’ll be seeing later. Turn right along the north side of the churchyard and left at the end. Carry on in the same direction for 175m and at the end of the footpath bear left for a few metres before turning right along a road.
After 300m, turn right into Uphill Way and cross over to Folly Lane to follow a sign for Uphill Hill Nature Reserve. Follow a track to the right of the park homes estate, carry on through a gate and continue straight on alongside a fence.
After 150m, follow the track as it bears right and continues to climb. Poking over the crest of the hill ahead, you will see battlements belonging to a ruined windmill converted to a lookout tower and beacon. Head towards it, and, when you get there, climb a spiral staircase for one of the finest views in Somerset, with landmarks identified on information boards.
From here, head for the old church, abandoned when the new one was consecrated. Now largely roofless, it has some intriguing carvings and a curious three-headed gargoyle. From the edge of the cliff there is a superb view over the harbour to Brean Down, while northwards the derelict Birnbeck Pier can be seen jutting out into the bay.
Go through the gate on the north side of the churchyard, head down a steep path and turn left along the road at the bottom. After passing the old coastguard cottages beside the stream on the right, turn left by the marina to follow a sign for Uphill Hill and Walborough Nature Reserves.
After passing an old lime kiln, follow a path past the base of the cliff. After skirting the lower slopes of Uphill Hill Nature Reserve, you come to Walborough Nature Reserve. 350m further on, just before a gate leading out of the reserve, bear right past an information board along a grassy track (ST318576). Go through a pair of wooden kissing gates connected by a boardwalk and carry on, following a waymark for the West Mendip Way. After a few metres, when the grassy track forks, bear left to follow a narrow rutted track down to a boardwalk and stile.
Carry on as the track runs alongside a muddy inlet off the River Axe, and continue along a levee through marshes inundated by spring tides. Despite their name, spring tides occur throughout the year, just after a new or full moon. If your walk happens to coincide with one, you may find it necessary to retrace your steps at this point and take the higher path.
As well as superb views across to the clifftop church, there is likely to be plenty of birdlife to see along this stretch of the walk. After passing the marina, turn left along a road leading to the beach.
Turn right along the beach, and after 350m look for a footpath sign in the dunes on your right. Climb a flight of sandy steps, follow a track across a golf course and continue along a muddy lane for a few metres before turning into a Woodland Trust wood on the right. Carry on in the same direction, follow a track as it curves right round the edge of the wood, and when you come to a five-bar gate, bear left to go through a kissing gate onto the road. A right turn here leads back to the starting point.
Many more walks can be found in Andrew Swift’s Country Walks from Bath published by Akeman Press; akemanpress.com