A POPULAR walking and cycling route near one of Somerset’s busiest tourist spots could be extended and enhanced in the coming years.

The Strawberry Line currently runs interrupted between Yatton railway station and Station Road in Cheddar, largely following the route of the former Somerset and Dorset railway line.

Mendip District Council managed to open several isolated extensions to the line before its recent abolition – including a short stretch in Westbury-sub-Mendip and two separate sections in and around Shepton Mallet.

The prospect of extending the line directly south of Cheddar will now be explored by Somerset Council – potentially as part of a future bid to the government’s levelling up fund.

Somerset County Gazette: Map of the Strawberry Line.Map of the Strawberry Line. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Here’s everything you need to know:

Why is it called the Strawberry Line?

The Strawberry Line is derived from a nickname given to the Cheddar Valley railway line, which transported strawberries grown in and around the Mendip Hills to London markets.

The line formed part of the Somerset and Dorset railway line, which ran both freight and passenger services between Bath and Bournemouth (with a branch line to Burnham-on-Sea) in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Nicknamed the ‘Slow and Dirty’ (or ‘Slow and Doubtful’), the line closed in 1966 as part of the infamous Beeching cuts.

A short section was saved by local volunteers and is now run as the East Somerset heritage railway – while much of the remainder now forms the Strawberry Line walking and cycle route (which in turn forms part of national cycle route 26).

Somerset County Gazette: Outside Kings of Wessex school.Outside Kings of Wessex school. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Where does the Cheddar section start and finish?

If you’re coming from Bristol and the Mendip Hills, the Cheddar section of the Strawberry Line begins just off the busy A371 outside the neighbouring town of Axbridge.

The line then moves south, skirting the edge of Cheddar Reservoir and moving within touching distance of several major housing development – including the Mendip View estate (constructed by Bloor Homes) and the Oak Park development (currently being built out by Taylor Wimpey).

The line moves past Cheddar Rugby Club, travelling under the B3151 Lower New Road and snaking around the Travis Perkins depot before its current terminus on Station Road, near the former railway station site.

What upgrades are planned?

The Strawberry Line Association has been pushing for many years to “find an acceptable route through Cheddar to join the existing cycle path through the  Winchester Farm housing development to Labourham Drove.”

The existing pavements along Station Road are narrow and the road is frequently lined with parked cars, especially during the busy summer season.

There is an existing footpath and cycle path which runs from the entrance of King of Wessex Academy down past Old Bridge Lane and as far as Labourham Drove – a section which is currently very narrow in places.

Somerset County Gazette: Another stretch of the Strawberry Line.Another stretch of the Strawberry Line. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

From there, the Strawberry Line Association envisions that the path will continue around Nyland Manor, through the village of Draycott and then connect up with the existing short stretch in Westbury-sub-Mendip.

Greenways and Cycle Routes is currently working with Somerset Council on a number of extensions to the line, including the stretch between Westbury-sub-Mendip and Easton and a further 300 metres at Dulcote near Wells.

Ultimately, the finished Strawberry Line will form part of the Somerset Circle which, when completed, will provide 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.

Is there funding available to extend the line now?

The short answer is: no.

The Cheddar extension was considered as part of a £19.3m bid to the government’s levelling up fund in 2022 – a bid which included numerous regeneration projects in Cheddar, Highbridge and Shepton Mallet.

However, this bid – decried as “unimaginative” by Wells MP James Heappey – was rejected by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in January.

Somerset Council may consider this active travel scheme as part of a further levelling up bid later this year, but no decision on this has yet been made.

Somerset County Gazette: Southern terminus of the Strawberry Line.Southern terminus of the Strawberry Line. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Funding for active travel schemes may become available from the Department for Transport (DfT) – though following the last budget, councils across England will be fighting for a share of only £100m over the next two years, so the bidding process will be extremely competitive.

On a more positive note, Greenways and Cycle Routes has been perfecting a method of delivering multi-user paths using limestone dust and chippings, which is cheaper than Tarmac and quicker to lay.

With enough co-operation from landowners, small extensions to the Strawberry Line could be achieved at relatively low cost – with funding possibly being secured through small amounts of council borrowing or contributions from the private sector (e.g. from housing developments).

Is there the political will to do this?

In a word, yes.

Somerset Council has already made clear signals that it will be prioritising active travel, with a £50,000 study currently under way for new cycling routes to connect Taunton with Bishop’s Lydeard and Cotford St. Luke.

One of the key champions for the Strawberry Line is Councillor Ros Wyke, the final leader of Mendip District Council who now serves on the new council as portfolio holder for prosperity, assets and development.

Ms Wyke lives in Westbury-sub-Mendip and her Mendip West division borders Cheddar – meaning she has a keen interest in seeing connections to and from the village improved.

Speaking in January, she pledged that she would continue fighting for funding for active travel routes across rural communities, in order to reduce congestion and pollution and provide safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

She said: “The A371 [between Cheddar and Wells] 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.

“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. Using local volunteers and local contractors, we’re looking at relatively small amounts of money to make things happen.

“The work will continue in a lot of creative and imaginative ways. Inevitably, we will be running up against the challenges of finance, but we can find ways and means of overcoming those.

“Local people have made it very clear that they want alternatives to the car. If nothing else, one of the legacies of covid must be the fact that there is a renewed appreciation and need to have access to the countryside.

“We want to make Somerset a cycling, walking, horse-riding county, and that is something we’re going to work really hard to do over the next four years.”

How do I get involved?

To explore your local section of the Strawberry Line, or to find out more information – including how to volunteer – visit www.thestrawberryline.org.uk.