Exploring the Strawberry Line
The cycleway from Yatton to Cheddar, part of Route 26 of the National Cycle Network, is currently the longest near-continuous stretch of traffic-free path on the Strawberry Line. The only significant gap is at Axbridge, where the trail passes through the centre of this quiet medieval town.
The 10-mile route takes you through varied Somerset landscapes of wildlife-rich wetlands, old settlements, fragrant cider orchards and towering hills. The entire path is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. It is is well-surfaced and flat (except for a small section at Axbridge Hill, where the cycleway joins a steep byway). There are numerous ramps, and conveniently situated car parks are located at Yatton railway station and by the Axbridge bypass on the A371. Click on the maps for further information.
Starting at Yatton station, where you may partake of a refreshment at the community-run Strawberry Line Café, the Strawberry Line passes through the Roman port of Congresbury across the ancient Northmarsh (also known as the North Somerset Levels). Tall hedgerows, rough grassland and ditches, known as rhynes, make up the Biddle Street Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The area is frequented by otters, grass snakes, toads, newts and many varieties of butterflies, birds and bats. Look out for the idyllic Silver Springs Fishery and Café!
Around Sandford, the Strawberry Line runs through orchards supporting a long tradition of cider-making by Thatchers Cider Company. Sandford station has been lovingly restored to its original Victorian state and now houses a fascinating heritage centre, which is open at weekends from April to the end of October (light refreshments are available). Local cider can be sampled at Thatchers Farm Shop.
Winscombe Millennium Green
After Sandford, the line enters the Mendip Hills. The change to limestone is reflected in drier conditions and a different range of plants and animals. The emerging hillsides are clothed in oak and ash. Along the line there are early and common spotted orchids, ferns, bats, and, on warm summer evenings, look out for glow worms! The old station has been turned into a village green with intact platform and original Great Western Railway seats and railings. Right next to the green, you will find Winscombe's pleasant shopping centre, which includes stylish café The Pantry.
Shute Shelve Tunnel
On leaving Winscombe towards the Mendips, cutting and embankment alternate. Hills to both sides turn into a deep wooded cutting before the line passes under Shute Shelve Hill through an original 165-metre railway tunnel. Inside, you can clearly see the change in geology from soft brick-faced soft marl to hard limestone. The tunnel is home to several species of bat and rare cave spiders. After crossing the busy A38 via a purpose-built traffic island, you can enjoy spectacular views across the Cheddar Valley to Brent Knoll, the coast and even the Quantock Hills.
Axbridge is home to a picturesque medieval square that tells of its former wealth. Most notable are the half-timbered King John's Hunting Lodge on the corner of the square that houses the town museum, and the Church of St John the Baptist that dates from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The Strawberry Line once passed to the north of the town. When it closed in 1963, the line became a by-pass. The cycle route runs straight through the centre of Axbridge (where you may stop for a refreshment at the popular Almshouse Tea Shop) and rejoins the trackbed by the A371.
The route follows the north edge of Cheddar Reservoir before entering a cutting on the outskirts of Cheddar, world-famous for its renowned gorge and cheese. The industrial park at the current end of the cycleway occupies the space of the former station yard with visible remains of the station buildings. Just around the corner, the centuries-old traveller's destination of Cheddar Gorge and Show Caves await. Watch Cheddar cheese being made at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, visit the shops and enjoy a strawberry cream tea.