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Burrington Combe
Rock of Ages, Burrington Combe
Burrington Combe is located in Somerset
Shown within Somerset

Coordinates: 51°19′17″N 2°45′02″W / 51.32140°N 2.75047°W / 51.32140; -2.75047

Site of Special Scientific Interest
Area of Search Avon
Grid Reference ST478583
Interest Biological and Geological
Area 343.8 acres (1.391 km2; 0.5372 sq mi)
Notification 1952 (1952)
Natural England Website

Burrington Combe (grid reference ST478583) is a carboniferous limestone gorge near the village of Burrington, on the north side of the Mendip Hills, in North Somerset, England. "Combe" or "coombe" is a word of Celtic origin found in several forms on all of the British Isles, denoting a steep-sided valley or hollow.

There is a legend that Augustus Montague Toplady was inspired to write the hymn Rock of Ages while sheltering under a rock in the combe during a thunderstorm in the late 18th century. The rock was subsequently named after the hymn. It is now generally accepted that the attribution of this location to the writing of Rock of Ages only arose well after Toplady's death (The 1850s is suggested by Percy Dearmer in Songs of Praise Discussed, 1933) and has no proven factual basis.

The then Vicar at Westbury-on-Trym H. J. Wilkins published a 16 page booklet in 1938 titled "An enquiry concerning Toplady and his Hymn "rock of Ages" and its connection with Burrington Combe Somerset" that found that in relation to the hymn "All available evidence goes to show that it was published in 1776, soon after it was written." Toplady had left the neighborhood of Burrington Combe in 1764.

In George Lawton's 1983 publication Within the Rock of Ages the author finds the claim that Rock of Ages was written at Burrington Combe to be only a legend, although he does state that "It is extremely doubtful whether at this distance of time, the legend that it was written in a cleft there can be proved or disproved." In George Ella's 2000 study A Debtor to Mercy Alone any links between the hymn and Burrington Combe are again said to be no more than legendary, with readers being referred to Lawton's 1983 study.



The combe contains the entrances to many of the caves of the Mendip Hills, including Aveline's Hole, Sidcot Swallet and Goatchurch Cavern. Recently a through trip has been dug from Rod's Pot to Bath Swallet, which are both on the hills above the majority of Burrington caves.


Archaeological discoveries of early cemeteries demonstrate human occupation of the combe and its caves from the Bronze Age with some evidence of occupation during the Upper Palaeolithic period.[1]

Special Scientific Interest

In recognition of its biological and geological interest, an area of 139.1 hectares (343.7 acres) within and around the combe was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1952, because of the calcareous grasslands and bat populations and as a fluvial karst feature which partly intersects a buried and filled gorge of Triassic age.[2]


  1. ^ "Mendip Hills An Archaeological Survey of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" (PDF). Somerset County Council Archaeological Projects. Retrieved 2006-10-28.  
  2. ^ "Burrington Combe". SSSI Citation sheet. English Nature. Retrieved 2008-10-21.  


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