Through hanging woodlands to an ancient encampment


The beautiful village of Montacute was the childhood home of the literary Powys brothers whose father was the vicar here. The village is centred on the Norman market-place called the Borough, which is surrounded by hamstone cottages. On the south side of the market-place there is an old plank door with iron strap hinges, and in the north-east corner there is a sixteenth-century house called the Chantry. This was the home of Robert Sherborne, the last Prior of Montacute, and his initials are incorporated into a carved panel below the upstairs window.

Adjoining the Chantry is the entrance to the vast Elizabethan mansion of Montacute House, which is open to the public from April to October. Its finest aspect is the eastern elevation, which is adorned with nine statues in shell-top niches and flanked by gazebos. This was originally the front of the house. Running along the top floor is a long gallery 180 feet long now used to display paintings from the National Gallery.

On leaving the village the route passes the Priory Gate House, an early-sixteenth-century building of great architectural interest. Above the entrance there is an oriel window with a different carving under each of the lights, and right at the top there is a tiny coat of arms carved in the central merlon of the battlements.

The route then ascends the steep wooded slope of St Michael’s Hill (A), the ‘Mons Acutus’ that gave the village its name  According to legend the Holy Cross was found on the hill in the reign of King Canute.   It was taken to Waltham Abbey in Essex, which then became known as Waltham Holy Cross. The hill is surmounted by a circular stone tower built in 1760 on the site of Montacute Castle. At the top of the tower is a little room with a fireplace and four windows looking out over the countryside.

The walk continues through Hedgecock Hill Wood, where there are badger setts, to the Iron Age hill fort on Ham Hill (B). This is the largest hill fort in area in Britain.   Within the ramparts is a fascinating area of little hillocks, the result of centuries of quarrying. The quarries yield a beautiful golden brown stone called hamstone, which was used in Exeter Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey and many famous houses. The area is now a country park, an ancient monument and a site of special scientific interest.

From the ramparts there are views to the east, north and west, and many features of the view are identified in a drawing displayed by the layby.

On the way back to Montacute the route passes through a deeply sunken lane where the Yeovil Sands is exposed. This rock may be identified by its outjutting calcareous bands.