EDITORIAL NOTE: a Facebook Live of the new section of the Strawberry Line can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/somersetlive/videos/1112436696795066.

Travelling across rural Somerset without a car is now a little bit easier after a new section of a vital active travel route was opened to the public.

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

Numerous other short sections of the route have been opened over the last 12 months, including a stretch in Westbury-sub-Mendip in early-January and two sections in Shepton Mallet in March.

The latest section of the path, completing the link between Westbury-sub-Mendip and Easton, opened to the public on Saturday afternoon (September 16) – bringing the vision of an uninterrupted car-free route between Cheddar and Wells one step closer.

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

Between the closure of the railway line in September 1963 and the opening of the new multi-user path, Easton residents wishing to walk to Westbury-sub-Mendip had to either use lengthy diversions on existing footpaths or face the dangerous A371, which has very limited pavements and numerous sharp bends.

This newest section of the path builds on the initial Westbury-sub-Mendip section (which ran from Station Road to Erlon Lane), running from Erlon Lane under a new bridge (to maintain access for the landowner), through the old railway tunnels under the main road and ending on Ebbor Lane, near Easton Village Hall.

It was funded by money set aside by Mendip District Council shortly before its abolition, with the path being constructed by local contractors MP & KM Golding Ltd.

The new section has been planted with more than 5,000 hedges and tree saplings, which will ensure that the path blends in its surroundings and reflects the character of the Mendip Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

The new section was opened with a community walk starting at the Westbury-sub-Mendip end at 3pm on Saturday (September 16), followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Easton Village Hall with a performance by the Wells City Band.

Councillor Ros Wyke, Somerset Council’s portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said the path would make a huge difference for both her Mendip West constituents and everyone visiting the Mendip Hills.

She said: “The community walk marked a significant moment for the communities of Easton and Westbury-sub-Mendip. It was a celebration of being reunited after 60 years since the Beeching railway closure.

“I’m particularly pleased that children can now safety walk to school in Westbury-sub-Mendip and the communities can safely reach and enjoy each other’s facilities and events.

“We continue to open more paths and get ever closer to completing the Somerset Circle, and it’s only been made possible through partnership working.

“I would like to thank the Strawberry Line volunteers for their commitment in reconnecting Somerset communities as well as the former Mendip District Council for funding the path, Somerset Council staff and the local landowners for their support.”

The Strawberry Line is part of the Somerset Circle which, when completed, will form a 76-mile traffic-free circuit linking Bristol, Bath, the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels.

Mick Fletcher, chairman of the Strawberry Line Society, said: “Our ambition is to see a continuous, traffic-free path from Shepton to the sea at Clevedon. This stunning new section of path is an important step towards realising that vision.

“It makes a vital connection between two communities, gives people a real green alternative to commuting by car for work or shopping, and will form part of the Somerset Circle.”

Construction is currently under way on a separate extension to the Strawberry Line near Dulcote recycling centre, which is expected to be open to the public by the late-autumn, weather permitting.

A separate section on West Street in Wells will be delivered under plans for a larger Lidl supermarket on the A39 Strawberry Way, which were approved in July.

The land to the north of Easton Village Hall has already been secured ahead of any further (as yet unfunded) extension, which would eventually connect the village to the Haybridge area of Wells.

Work is also proceeding on a separate section of the Somerset Circle to the north of Shepton Mallet, with councillors approving plans for the Windsor Hill route towards Radstock which will see two former viaducts and historic tunnels brought back into active use.

In the longer term, the Strawberry Line will be extended to the west of Westbury-sub-Mendip, providing connections to the neighbouring villages of Rodney Stoke and Draycott before joining up with the existing route in Cheddar.

For more information on the Strawberry Line, including how to get involved as a volunteer, visit here.

LDRS, Daniel Mumby