In a recent poll the Chew Valley reservoir came near the top of places for Bristolians to visit. However the river Chew which runs through the Chew valley and feeds the reservoir is not very well known. The Chew Valley has been in the news this weekend as a group of metal detectorists have discovered a hoard of silver coins dating back to the battle of Hastings and valued at about five million pounds.
Our walking group followed the river Chew for part of its course from Chew Magna through Stanton Drew to Pensford. For me this was also a chance to catch up with a bit of family history as my grandmother was born in the village of Stanton Drew in 1882.
The river Chew rises near Chewton Mendip and flows for about seventeen miles to join the Avon at Keynsham. In earlier times it was a much larger river and may have been used by the Romans to transport lead ingots from the Mendip hills.
In 1956 however part of the Chew Valley was flooded to form the Chew valley reservoir . This supplies water to much of South Bristol and the surrounding area. The reservoir covers 1,200 acres and holds 4,500 million gallons of water. During dry spells you can often see the remains of buildings and tree stumps. The lake is now an important site for birdwatching and wildfowl conservation. Bristol water and Avon wildlife trust have created a series of free nature trails and bird hides. There is also a good fish and chip restaurant, the salt and malt, on the site and a small exhibition about how the reservoir was created including pictures of the farmland and buildings that were submerged. Other activities on the lake include fly fishing and sailing. There is a small charge for parking.
We picked up the river Chew close to where it emerges from the reservoir and followed the two rivers footpath for part of its route. Chew Magna has several grand houses including the former summer residence of the bishop of Bath and Wells. It owed a lot of its prosperity to the wool trade. From Chew Magna we followed a public footpath through a maize field and along by the side of the river to Stanton Drew.
The old toll house is a familiar site for visitors driving through the village. My grandmother could remember a family with several children living in the tiny round house.
My great grandparents are buried in the Churchyard at Stanton Drew. My great grandfather was a shoemaker and made a good living making boots for miners from the nearby coalmines. It was a very hot day and we paused for refreshment at the Druid Arms which is next to the church and has a lovely garden complete with ancient stones.
One from the archives. The pupils of Stanton Drew village school about 1895. My grandmother who was a pupil teacher is on the right in front of the headmaster.
Stanton Drew has two claims to fame. The first is as the site of an extensive area of neolithic stones. Unlike the stones at Stonehenge they were quarried locally and are much smaller. The site has not been extensively studied but geophysical evidence suggests that there were also wooden posts either as part of a building or a wooden circle. The site is managed by English heritage and there is a voluntary £1.00 admission charge. According to an old legend they are the remains of a bridal party and musicians who were turned into stone for dancing on the Sabbath. No one really knows why they were erected but they were certainly there before the druids.
Stanton Drew’s other claim to fame is that it is the subject of a song by Adge Cutler, the lead singer of the Wurzels. “When the common market comes to Stanton Drew.” Although it was written over forty years ago it is still relevant today with the current debate over Brexit. Click here to hear it on you tube. When the common market comes to Stanton Drew
We walked on through the beautiful rolling countryside to Pensford. The railway viaduct in the top picture used to be part of the Somerset and Dorset railway known as the S & D or slow and dirty. At Pensford we were able to see flood markers from 1968 when the peaceful river Chew burst its banks and flooded nearby villages. The water swept away several bridges and killed eight people. A night I remember well.
I hope you enjoyed my ramble. Unfortunately we did not find any treasure. I always look forward to reading your coments.Next week’s walk should be a visit to Salisbury famous for its cathedral which has the highest spire in England.