IT feels befitting that my most recent eco-hike takes place alongside a river which is undergoing several nature restoration projects.

The BrueCREW established itself in 2017 as a result of the Bruton Town Plan Survey which highlighted that the community had several wishes to improve their local river, the Brue.

Enhancing wildlife, cleaning the waters and creating riverside walks were the top three requirements, and together with other committed conservation associations, the BrueCREW has set out on an ecologically-minded mission to make it happen.

To see how they are getting on, I’m setting out on a 25-mile hike which will take me from ‘Hoare to Tor’.

The River Brue rises from several springs within the bowl-shaped parish of Brewham at Kings Wood Warren which is also home to Henry Hoare II’s King Alfred’s Tower.

It’s a fabulous place to begin your trek because you start at the highest point, dropping down to follow the course of the river until you complete your walk at the lofty heights of Glastonbury Tor.Somerset County Gazette: The Tor marks your finish lineThe Tor marks your finish line (Image: Rachel Mead)

A Somerset showcase awaits you as the footpath leads you through such varied terrain – your camera will without doubt, be busy!

The route takes you through Bruton and into several villages, so there are options to complete the walk in smaller sections whilst making the most of Somerset’s local hospitality along the way.

You’ll be following the river as it grows (remember your gaiters!) and you’ll be able to see how the Brue has had an effect on not only the landscape but also the county’s historic architecture, as the path leads you past 18th century mills and powerful weirs.

Wildlife Watch

Within the first hour of your walk you will approach the regenerative land of Cook’s Farm which is owned by Patricia Stainton.

As someone who has devoted much of her life to nature conservation, Patricia has been involved with many of the ecological projects which are taking place along the riverbank and within the wider catchment of the Forest of Selwood.

“Together with the Sustainable Eel Group and other local landowners, we release over 300 glass eels into the headwaters of the Brue each year,” she says. She draws my attention to the ancient oaks sitting in the hedgerows.

“These are remnants of the forest. The hedges and the rolling hills now form a mosaic habitat in conjunction with the tributaries to the Brue. I’m pleased to say that even though the farmsteads in Brewham are spaced out through the landscape, we realise the ecological benefits of working in harmony together.”

Attention is also being paid to invertebrates, with the BrueCREW initiative of a monthly River Fly monitoring system taking place by volunteers all year round. The results help to assess the quality of the waters, checking for pollution and any invasive species.

Ewan Jones, Bruton Town Mayor and Chair of Bruton Town Council co-founded BrueCREW and has been impressed with the recent outcome. 

“The scores registered by our River Fly monitoring volunteers have been encouraging with recent results being better than previous years. We know that results are superior in the headwaters because sites downstream are more liable to pollution, but despite the warm summer of 2022 our scores are still on the up!”

These promising increments have also been mirrored by Sarah Hobbs, an ecologist tracking dormice along the riverbank.

“Although we’ve had a number of wood mice and a couple of their larger, fiercer cousins, yellow necked mice found in the boxes over the past few years, the dormice were still eluding us…that is until this year!

“As we approached the first box of the survey, we were astonished to see two baby dormice sitting on the top of the lid of the box! We opened it up and all chaos ensued, dormice were running everywhere!”

Somerset County Gazette: Dormouse monitoringDormouse monitoring (Image: Sarah Hobbs)

Heading into town

The walk towards Bruton takes you through the villages of South and North Brewham, home to a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest with species rich meadows.

Then as you approach the outskirts of the town, you’ll pass the eye-catching bund which was installed to prevent any future flood risk.

Until the events which happened in Boscastle, Bruton reluctantly held the title for the most devastating flash flood when the Brue burst its banks in 1917.

The bund is clearly an essential addition to the landscape for the safety of the town and does make for quite a striking photograph, though architectural engineering appreciation aside, questions have been raised concerning the effect it has on the natural migration of our watery wildlife.

The BrueCREW are aware of the compromise and with their team in place it is clear to see that the restoration of the natural balance of the river is the focus, and is well underway.

The year 2019 saw two successful alterations; a notch chipped out of a weir further downstream has now allowed the through passage for fish; as well as the implementation of two berms at the Church Bridge.

With oolitic limestone gifted from good neighbours, The Newt, BrueCREW worked closely with the Wild Trout Trust to develop a strategy which would encourage the River Brue to take a more meandering course, and thereby slow the flow and reduce flood risk further downstream.

Trout in the Town Officer, Theo Pike, continues to monitor the project.

“Even before we’d finished notching out the weir, we could see bullheads darting upstream to investigate, since then the habitat at the berms has bedded in and I am very hopeful that the fish population will have improved there, it’s a good indication of how quickly these improvements take effect.”

Where there is water, there is life, and no one can question how Bruton continues to thrive.

Ewan Jones continues to build strong relationships across the community and the town council is catalysing efforts to connect Bruton’s historic town centre with footpaths upstream and downstream.

Similarly, by working in conjunction with esteemed art gallery, Hauser & Wirth Somerset and the Bruton Conservation Trust, works are currently underway at Bruton’s Abbey Ponds.

Ewan says: “The BrueCREW has been fortunate to receive donations from visitors at the art gallery, which has given us the financial reserve to get started on the work. The Bruton Town Council-led project will, after archaeological assessment, aim to restore the wetland area crucially balancing the heritage of the town with habitat.”

Somerset County Gazette: St Peter’s Church, LydfordSt Peter’s Church, Lydford (Image: Rachel Mead)

The Levels

After a mini climb up to the limestone scheduled monument of Bruton Dovecote, it’s time to track the river again as it heads onwards for the Somerset Levels. The walking, after a short scramble out through Mill on the Brue, is of course flat and life along the riverbank is peaceful in this part of Somerset.

Now and again you’ll be reminded of the river’s power as you witness it coursing through Mill House or at the weir next to St Peter’s Church in Lydford, but on the whole the water flow is steady and there’s plenty of opportunity for birding and a quiet riverside picnic.

Apple orchards will feature along your path, a true representation of the county in which you walk, before you track between Kennard Moor and South Moor and the skyline is then dominated by the icon that marks your finish line – the Tor.

Perception of the distance remaining can be tricky to calculate, and as rivers have a tendency to do, the adjoining pathway to the Tor is cheekily divergent. This teasing from the Tor is accepted though with the visual delight of countless swans gracing the riverbank unperturbed by your footfall!

A trip up the high street then leads you to your final footpath and the climb up to St Michael’s Tower where you can stand, and on a clear day, see Alfred’s Tower where you began.

The BrueCREW

The BrueCREW charity is making great strides. By striking the ideal balance of being sensitive to nature whilst cracking on and getting things done the results are unquestionable.

Volunteers are encouraging in the popular revival of environmentalism by making the Brue accessible for riverside walkers, monitoring and reacting to the cleanliness levels, and without a doubt enhancing the immediate area for wildlife.

With the reawakening of people’s interest in nature the BrueCREW continues to welcome volunteers and local landowners to assist them with their restoration strategies whilst exploring and enjoying Somerset’s River Brue. You can find out more at bruecrew.orgSomerset County Gazette: The River Brue and the TorThe River Brue and the Tor (Image: Rachel Mead)

Transport Links and walking notes

For those of you who wish to eco-hike, Bruton is serviced by both rail and bus networks. Dave Taylor at West End Garage, next to Bruton Rail Station can drop you to the source at Kings Wood Warren.

Glastonbury has many buses - just be sure to check seasonal timetable changes. If you intend to hike the 25-mile route in shorter sections, you can break your journey at Castle Cary Rail Station or hop on the bus at Lydford-on-Fosse and Baltonsborough.

In addition to this riverside walk, you can explore other walks in and around Bruton by heading to