Pledge Strawberry Line work will go on

THE delivery of a traffic-free route across rural Somerset will continue despite the county’s huge financial pressures, a local councillor has confirmed, writes Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter.

Mendip District Council has been working since 2020 to complete numerous “missing links” across the district, including sections of the Strawberry Line which will eventually run uninterrupted from Yatton to Shepton Mallet.

The newest section of the Strawberry Line has recently opened in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip, running around one kilometre between Station Road and Erlon Lane.

Council leader Ros Wyke – whose ward includes the village – has now promised that work on the remaining sections of the path will continue once the new unitary Somerset Council takes control in April, in spite of the challenging financial situation facing the county.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service walked the newest section of the Strawberry Line on January 11 with Ms Wyke and Mick Fletcher, chairman of the Strawberry Line Society.

The route takes its name from a section of the Great Western Railway which was famous for transporting strawberries and dairy produce to London markets.

Strawberries were so lucrative to the communities within the Cheddar valley that they were known as “red gold” – but the line was closed in 1965 as part of the infamous Beeching cuts.

Much of the Strawberry Line route follows the original track bed, with the Westbury-sub-Mendip stretch running near one of the disused railway bridges (over which the A371 to Cheddar now runs).

Ms Wyke – who also sits on the parish council – said: “We’re looking at small sections which can actually deliver local benefits, as well as contributing to the overall Somerset Circle.

“I’m absolutely over the moon – the community has been campaigning for over 20 years to have this.

“The A371 is a very narrow, dangerous road – it’s between two stone walls, so if you’re walking, cycling or horse-riding, there’s no hedge to dive into.”

The Strawberry Line forms part of the Somerset Circle which, when completed, will form a 76-mile traffic-free circuit which would link the north Somerset coast (including Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon), Bristol, Bath, the Mendip Hills and Cheddar.

Mr Fletcher – who lives in the village – said: “We’re in the shadow of the Mendip Hills. If you wanted to cycle out of Westbury, you’d have to face either going up steep hills with heroically thick thighs or going along the main road.

“When we can run the Strawberry Line through to the adjacent villages, there will be a huge public benefit.”

The Westbury section of the path is made out of limestone dust and chippings, complementing the same materials as the surrounding hills.

Volunteers have also planted 2,500 hedging whips along the new section, which will eventually grow into thick hedgerow to act as a further buffer between the path and local farmland.

Following the delivery of a short section between Wells and the Charlie Bigham site in Dulcote, the council is also currently working on delivering two additional sections of the Strawberry Line in Shepton Mallet – including one through its own car park off Cannard’s Grave Road.

Mendip District Council will cease to exist on April 1, being replaced by the new unitary Somerset Council – which faces the challenge of having to find more than £38 million in additional savings in its first year.

Ms Wyke – who serves as the county councillor for Mendip West – gave her assurance that work on the Strawberry Line and other active travel routes would continue in spite of this challenging financial picture.

She said: “Active travel is one of our main priorities, and we have been quite adept at getting funding from external sources, not just from the taxpayer – and we are determined to continue to do this.

“I’m extremely optimistic – we have momentum now. The new administration at County Hall will continue the work.”