Burrington Combe - cliffs, swallets and caverns

Somerset, England

SummaryGetting there

Gorge, cliffs, caves and sink holes add excitement to a pleasant heath and woodland walk.

Distance:6.7 Miles
Est. Time:3 hrs 20 mins
Difficulty: Moderate 
OS map: Explorer sheet 141
Total Ascent:1001 ft 
Total Descent: 1014 ft 

DescriptionMap View

The RouteSafetyNotes


  • classic limestone scenery
  • inland gorge and cliffs
  • caves
  • streams that disappear into swallets (sink-holes)
  • woodland walks

The Mendip hills present a classic example of limestone scenery, where the porous rock is crafted over millenia into caves, gorges, sink-holes and vast subterranean systems. This walk combines a peep into that mysterious world with magnificent hilltop views and delightful woodland walks.

The Route go to top

The cliff path starts behind the public conveniences and is a very steep climb up the east side of the gorge. At the top, you will find a number of paths; seek the widest of them, which goes away from the gorge and to the right out onto the heath. Where there is a choice of paths and both are wide, take the right fork. Eventually, the path comes to a T-junction with another path that leads back to the road at the top of the gorge near Ellick House.

Cross the road and walk left up to Ellick House. Turn off on the bridle path beside Ellick House leading up between trees onto Black Down. When the path splits, follow the bridleway hard right. A broad and a narrow path run parallel along the edge of the common and it does not matter which one you take. After a while the path sweeps left then right in a loop to cross a ford over the East Twin Brook.

inside Goatchurch CavernAs you approach the deeply cut valley of the West Twin Brook, take the narrower path leading to the right and down through woodland to Goatchurch Cavern.

Continue past the cavern, down some steps and across the East Twin Brook to inspect Sidcot Swallet up on the opposite bank. For a brief diversion, you can follow the stream down about 50 yards to see it disappear into the ground in the side of a cliff via an unnamed swallet (then retrace your steps back to Sidcot Swallet).

Walk upstream 20 yards from Sidcot Swallet to a path leading steeply up the bank to the northern edge of Black Down. At the T-junction turn right and follow another path, which then sweeps left and meets another wide path. Take the wider of the two paths opposite. Cross a stream then notice the deep depression, which is Rod's Pot, on your right. A little further ahead on the left is the more open entrance to Bos Swallet.

Where the path divides 3 ways take the middle route. Go through a gate into the woods at Rowberrow Warren then cross the stream and follow the path right. A few yards further on, the stream turns away from the path and heads straight for a cliff. It is worth diverting for a few yards to see the stream plunge beneath the cliff into the twin mouths of Reads Cavern.

Return to the path and continue past the Forestry Commission sign at the entrance to Rowberrow Warren then, at the next intersection, take the right hand fork. The track runs between private land and the National Trust managed area of Dolebury Warren.

Where the track comes to the edge of the escarpment turn right over a stile and follow the path along the scarp edge through woodland. Pass the remains of some old buildings. Where the path leads out onto a lane, turn left and follow the road lane down to the main road at Burrington Combe.

Turn right onto the main road and head back up towards the gorge, past the garden centre and the pub/restaurant, and back to the car park.

Safety go to top

looking down into the car park from the first climbThe first climb up the gorge side is a difficult scramble but the rest of this 6 mile walk is easy to moderate. However, special care is needed around the caves and swallets - especially when rain makes the rocks slippery.

Notes go to top

Bos Swallet  - is an open hole lying in a depression on Black Down and leading down into a subterranean cave system. There is no sign of the stream that originally created it.

Burrington Combe - is the name of a small village and of the gorge that runs through the village and up towards the Mendip ridge near Beacon Batch.

Dolebury Warren - is a nature reserve and country park managed by the National Trust. It has a network of paths and a mixture of woodland and open spaces covering a ridge separated from the main Mendip escarpment by deeply cut stream valleys.

East Twin Swallet - the first sink-hole marked on the map of this route is, unfortunately not visible from the path and not easily accessible.

Goatchurch Cavern - has a wide entrance opening right onto the path. The cave can be easily entered and provides effective shelter.

Reads Cavern - lies at the foot of a cliff and swallows up a fair-sized stream in one of the cavern's twin entrances. Properly equipped pot-holers can penetrate into the cave system behind the cliff, but this is not a safe option in normal walking gear.

Rock of Ages - in 1762 and Anglican Vicar named Augustus Toplady was caught in a storm while he was walking in this area. After taking shelter in the cleft of a large rock at the side of the gorge, he mused on the event and composed the famous hymn, "Rock of Ages". The rock remains as a prominent and frequently visited feature on the opposite side of the road to the car park at Burrington Combe.

Rod's Pot - is a swallet hole on the heathland of Black Down, partly covered in by small trees and undergrowth.

Rowberrow Warren - this woodland is managed by the Forestry Commission and incorporates a network of paths and a number of hidden caves and swallets (sink-holes)

Sidcot Swallet - set into the bank beside the West Twin Brook, this narrow cavern once swallowed up the Brook, before it dropped to a lower level in its current gully. The swallet can be entered, but this is a job for properly equipped, experienced pot-holers. An ominous notice at the cave entrance gives emergency phone numbers to be called in the event of accident.

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