Walk - Beer YH - Paizen Lane
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Beer Youth Hostel entrance turn right on Bovey Lane and follow it gently uphill and into the woods.
A short distance to the north west, but not on our walk, is a prehistoric earthwork known as Blackbury Castle. This was an Iron Age hillfort occupied by the Celtic Dumnonii tribe, who are thought to have travelled down through this valley to catch fish and collect shellfish on the beach at Beer. The track you are walking on, would have continued to be the main thoroughfare from the high ground to the shore over subsequent centuries. It is one of many local ancient pathways, or 'hollow ways', worn hollow by the passage of so many feet and hooves.
- At the end of the wood turn left on the road and continue uphill to the junction.
Along the driveway opposite as you come out onto the road, is Bovey House. Now a hotel, this is an Elizabethan manor built on a site dating back two thousand years.
In Roman times, at the end of the Iron Age, a garrison was stationed at Bovey. It used its strategic location to protect the quarries below, and to maintain control over the surrounding countryside. The Roman Great Road, the Fosse Way, ran from Seaton to Lincoln, and much of the stone quarried would have travelled along this road.
After the Romans left, the Saxons built a substantial house on the site. The property was owned by Sherborne Abbey until Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, when the King gave it to Catherine Parr as part of her dowry in 1543. The present house was built at the end of that century around the medieval hall. It was restored in 1868. The Great Hall is now a drawing room with seventeenth century panelling. There is a 'King Charles Bedroom', whose ceiling depicts the fugitive king hiding in an oak tree. There are also said to be a number of secret passageways and a priest's hole.
- Fork left and and then bear left again, ignoring the track through the gate on your right. Walk a short distance along Quarry Lane to the sharp right-hand bend.
- Bear left to carry on in the same direction along the narrow lane.
This is Paizen Lane, another green lane thought to be very old. The road to the right as you turn onto Paizen Lane drops to Beer Quarry Caves, well worth taking the time to visit. This man-made complex of underground caverns is the result of centuries of quarrying, first carried out by the Romans. The stone for 24 cathedrals was quarried here, including Exeter Cathedral and St Paul's Cathedral in London. Parts of Westminster Abbey as well as the Tower of London, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle were built of Beer Stone. Quarried by hand, blocks weighing as much as four tons were transported overland by horse-drawn wagons and in some cases overseas in barges launched from Beer Beach.
Beer Freestone is a chalk limestone which was laid down between 140 and 65 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period. At that time this was an area of lush swamps where dinosaurs roamed. The Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans expanded to form a vast sea, with a high carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere and no ice caps. Most chalk is composed of microscopic plankton remains known as coccoliths, but at Beer the currents flowing over the seabed removed the coccoliths, leaving a fine shelly limestone formed from the calcite crystals of sea urchins, well-cemented with clay and sand. With very few fossils it was ideal for carving, turning a rich creamy white on exposure to the air and hardening sufficiently to last for centuries in the right conditions.
After the Saxons, the Normans used stone from the quarry to build cathedrals, castles and manors. It was also used in building many parish churches, especially for decorative work wherever fine detail was required. The cost of transport meant that for churches further afield its use was confined to interior carvings. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the stone was used principally for secular buildings, including the remodelled Bovey House.
The original quarry closed in 1920, when a new one was opened opposite. This second quarry closed in 2003, since when there has been no quarrying here. There is a small museum in the old Roman section of the caves, whose centrepiece is a late medieval stone window from Beer. The caverns themselves make for spectacular viewing, resembling a vast underground cathedral with its vaulted roofs and massive supporting pillars.
It is also a world-famous bat hibernaculum. Most of Britain's 17 different bat species hibernate here in the winter, waking up to move from time to time. As well as the greater and lesser horseshoe bats, the rare breeds spotted here include Daubenton's, Natterer's and whiskered bats and the very rare Bechstein's. In January 2012 a total of 220 bats were counted.
- Continue ahead when Paizen Lane rejoins Quarry Lane, turning left onto Bovey Lane again a moment later to return to the Youth Hostel.
Selection of cafes and pubs in Beer