Rural Landscapes: Area 2 Chew Valley - Bath & North East Somerset Council
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Home   > Environment   > Planning Services   > Landscape   

Area 2 - Chew Valley



The View from Slate Lane
The View from Slate Lane


Summary of Landscape Character

  • Low lying and undulating valley of the River Chew

  • Slowly permeable soils

  • Disused coal mines and distinctive spoil heaps

  • Mainly grassland with patches of arable land-use

  • Characteristic small regular fields of late medieval enclosure

  • Less common irregular fields created on slopes by medieval enclosure of woodland

  • Large woodland areas such as Lord’s Wood, Hunstrete Plantation and Common Wood

  • Characteristic woodland on slopes and hillsides

  • Patches of bracken in hedges and in areas of rough grazing

  • Main settlements often on lower slopes

  • Farm buildings and settlements often nestled into the valley sides and often amongst trees

  • Occasional smaller groups of more recent housing in more elevated locations

  • Rich variety of traditional building materials reflecting local availability

  • Extensive views across Chew and Yeo valleys

  • Tributary valleys have intimate character enclosed by hedges, trees and side slopes

  • Views to Blagdon and Chew Valley Lakes

  • Sunken lanes

  • Buildings and chimneys associated with Bristol Waterworks

  • Disused North Somerset Railway and viaduct at Pensford

  • Standing stones at Stanton Drew



A view of Chew Lake
A view of Chew Lake

7.2.1 This is the largest character area of some 67sq km and extends from the western boundary of the area eastwards to Burnett and Marksbury. The landscape consists of the valley of the River Chew and is generally low-lying and undulating. It is bounded by higher ground which includes the Dundry Plateau and the Hinton Blewett and Newton St Loe Plateau Lands character areas to the north and east respectively. The boundary generally follows the top of the scarp slopes except at the southern boundary where the landscape changes to the characteristically flat Upper Chew and Yeo Valleys.

Geology, Soils and Drainage

 7.2.2 The oldest geological formation is the Supra- Pennant Measures of the Carboniferous period. It is a significant feature towards the north-eastern part of the area and is represented by the Pensford Syncline coal basin. It is a complex formation containing coal seams and is made up of clay and shales. The landscape is typically undulating and includes outcrops of sandstone.


7.2.3 Mercia Mudstones are the main geological outcrop represented throughout the area although less widespread in the north-eastern section east of Pensford. The Mercia Mudstones consist of red siltstone and mudstone of the Triassic desert basins resulting in the underlying characteristic of the gently rolling valley landscape. Bands of Butcombe Sandstone of the Triassic period occur as outcrops within the Mercia Mudstones. They generally form minor ridges or shelves, as for example through Nempnett Thrubwell towards Chew Stoke, that contribute to the undulating character of the area.

7.2.4 Outcrops of Lias Limestone from the Jurassic period occur to the west of Chew Valley Lake giving rise to shelves of higher ground such as to the north and east of Nempnett Thrubwell, east of Butcombe and around Breach Hill Farm.

7.2.5 There are also more recent alluvial deposits beside the course of the River Chew.

7.2.6 Most of the western part of the area and around Stanton Drew have neutral to acid red loamy soils with slowly permeable subsoils. They mainly occur on the Mercia Mudstones. Soils to the eastern part of the area are slowly permeable clayey and fine silty soils. They are found on Carboniferous clay and shales typical of the Supra-Pennant Measures. They are frequently waterlogged where the topography dictates. They tend towards being acid and are brown to grey brown in colour.

Major Planning Designations

7.2.7 Only a small part near the Chew Valley Lake falls within the Mendips AONB. Most of the undeveloped area is within the Bristol/Bath Green Belt.  



Landform and Drainage Pattern

7.2.8 The principal characteristic of the area is the gently undulating landform of the broad Chew Valley. The tributary valleys of the River Chew and, in the extreme south-west, tributaries of the River Yeo dissect the landscape leaving occasional hills. The old coal spoil heap at Pensford has modified the local landform in a dramatic way.


7.2.9 The land is mainly under grass and occasionally in places is used for cereals particularly eastwards from Chew Valley Lake and south of Keynsham. Horticulture is rarer and is found for example at Byemills Farm near Belluton. In the past apple orchards were common around the settlements as was typical throughout the area.

7.2.10 There are several historic parks that include Stanton Drew, Hunstrete, Stowey House and Sutton Court.

Fields, Boundaries and Trees

 7.2.11 The medium and small fields are generally bounded by hedges and occasionally by tree belts and woodland. The hedges are typically trimmed and mostly contain trees. Mature oak and ash trees are characteristic of the area with occasional groups of Scots Pine particularly around the Chew Valley Lake. Many elm trees have been lost in this area and dead / dying elms are evident across much of the area. The hedges generally contain a diverse range of species.

7.2.12 The small fields in the western part of the character area are particularly characteristic of the Chew Valley and date back to the most evident period of enclosure of earlier open fields which took place in the late medieval period. Fields of this category are generally small in size, regular in outline and often the boundaries preserve the outlines of the earlier strip field system. Regional variations in field size and pattern do occur. For example there is evidence of medieval clearance of woodland on the slopes around Nempnett Thrubwell, south of Bishop Sutton and west and south of Chelwood. The resultant fields are irregular or organic in form; the smaller fields being more typical of piecemeal clearance and the larger and more regular fields characteristic of organised clearance.

7.2.13 Woodlands form an important component of the landscape and are particularly evident on the hills and slopes. There are many small woods giving the landscape a well-wooded appearance. Towards the east of the area there are a number of large woods such as at Lord’s Wood, Hunstrete Plantation and Common Wood.

Settlement and Communications

7.2.14 The area is well served by a dense network of mainly minor routes. The major routes are the north to south A37 linking Bristol and Shepton Mallet via Pensford and the west to east A368 linking Weston Super Mare and Bath. Numerous footpaths criss-cross the area including the north-south aligned Three Peaks Walk and the westeast aligned Two Rivers Way which cross near Chew Magna.

7.2.15 Chew Stoke, Chew Magna and Pensford are the main settlements. Each is located on the lower valley slopes at the junction of several routes. There are also several moderate to small villages such as Stanton Drew and Chelwood and a few distinctive smaller groups of mainly more recent houses arranged along a single road in elevated positions.

7.2.16 The traditional building material is white Lias Limestone; sometimes incorporating red sandstone or conglomerate, with red clay tiled roofs. Red Sandstone buildings are characteristic of the villages north of Chew Valley Lake such as Chew Magna. Many dwellings are also painted or rendered in shades of white, grey and cream. Historically houses were also built of Pennant Sandstone where it was locally available, such as in the area of Stanton Wick.

7.2.17 Farm buildings and settlements are generally nestled into the valley sides taking advantage of minor depressions in the landscape. They are generally well integrated into the landscape and are often nestled in amongst trees.

Landscape Characteristics

 7.2.18 The landscape of the Chew Valley is distinctive and generally harmonious. It results from the balance of hedges, trees and woodland within the enclosed farmland and from the ‘well-treed’ setting of the settlements which are generally integrated well into the topography. This balance reflects the historical evolution of the landscape.

7.2.19 The undulating nature of the landscape gives rise to extensive views across the Chew and Yeo Valleys and across the Chew Valley and Blagdon Lakes to the Mendips, Dundry Hills and the plateau around Hinton Blewett. Well-wooded slopes form prominent elements within the view. The tributary valleys by contrast have a more intimate quality. They are enclosed by hedges, trees and the valleys themselves.

7.2.20 Features within this landscape include the Chew Valley and Blagdon Lakes bordering the area and at Blackmoor the distinctive chimney marking the remains of an engine house put up by Bristol Waterworks in 1859 to pump water from an exploratory well.

7.2.21 The varied topography has given rise to several notable sunken lanes sometimes bounded by high hedgebanks.

7.2.22 The line of the now disused North Somerset Railway runs south from Bristol crossing over the River Chew on the surviving distinctive viaduct at Pensford and on to Midsomer Norton. It is identifiable in the landscape from the scrub along its course and its gently curved alignment that forms the boundaries of fields.

7.2.23 The area around Pensford was an important mining area and the old tip is a prominent legacy. Patches of bracken within hedges and in fields of rough grazing are characteristic of this area forming distinctive fresh green fronds in spring and warm brown coloured dead leaves in autumn and winter.

7.2.24 The area includes a number of visible archaeological and historic features including the Stanton Drew Stone Circles Scheduled Monument, the Stowey Castle earthworks and Marksbury church tower. The mills of the River Chew, sometimes dating back at least to Domesday, are also an important feature whilst old quarries, limekilns and early field boundaries are now only evident as undulations on the ground.

7.2.25 The landscape is generally very tranquil with the silence broken only by occasional tractors, other vehicles, aircraft and farm animals. There are however less tranquil areas dictated by proximity to main routes and to local activities and land-uses.


 Landscape Change and Condition



7.2.26 The general structure of the landscape appears to have changed little since the 1st Edition OS map. There are however three main types of change. Firstly there has been a degree of amalgamation of fields particularly of the late medieval enclosures. This is evident for example around Blackmoor and Upper Stanton Drew. Secondly many of the settlements had orchards which have now been cleared leaving only occasional remnant mature trees. This has occurred for example around West Town, Nempnett Thrubwell and Stowey. At Bishop Sutton traditional orchards have been replaced by housing. Finally there has been a significant loss of parkland and estate trees in areas such as Stowey, Compton Dando and Hunstrete.

7.2.27 The creation of Blagdon Lake in 1904 and Chew Valley Lake in 1956 has had a major impact on the landscape through the replacement of undulating farmland and dwellings with open expanses of water. The lakes now appear as a natural part of the landscape and are designated SSSIs principally for their bird interest.

7.2.28 New tree planting has taken place in some areas in recent years which will contribute to the distinct wooded character of the area.


Contact Details

Name or Team Name:- Landscape Team
Address:- Trimbridge House, Trim Street, Bath, BA1 2DP
Telephone:- 01225 477528
Fax:- 01225 477663
Minicom:- 01225 477535
Published Date:- 26/05/2004 15:22:00
Author:- Matthew Hawkins

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