Saturday, 2 April 2011

Exford to Porlock

Total chaos at breakfast this morning. There was a large party of mountain bikers staying at the hostel and evidently quite a few of them had not ordered breakfast the night before as required but had tucked in anyway. So by the time I blearily staggered into the dining room at half past eight there was very little food left and the cook was looking as frazzled as the one remaining rasher of bacon. She managed to scrape enough together to make a reasonable meal and I made a mental note to get into the dining room first tomorrow morning.

Dunkerry Beacon
Taking the advice of the barman in The White Horse I decided to head for Dunkerry Beacon. The path was wide and well used, the first section forming part of the Samaritan's way and the second section was part of Macmillan Way West, and it didn't take long to reach the top of the hill. At 520 metres (I'll save you the bother - that's 1700 feet) it's the highest point on Exmoor and is a Marilyn.

Today it was incredibly windy and I took shelter for a while behind the cairn, along with another couple who were seeking some respite from the wind whilst I considered what to do next. i had only walked six miles and didn't want to turn back yet.  I decided to strike out for the coast. As I approached Horner Wood I passed another couple. They were in their sixties I would say and were clearly seasoned walkers. I bade them good day as I passed.
"Come far?" asked the man.

I explained I had come from Exford and was heading for the coast.
"We love this area," he said. He told me that they had taken a caravan at Blue Anchor and they were planning to stay there for the night before heading back to their home in Taunton.
"It's not much," he said almost apologetically, "and our friends say its not worth it, being so close to home but we like it."
"I bet it's lovely," I said. "A bolt hole."
He smiled. "Yes that's it exactly. A bolt hole."
They told me about the walking holidays they had experienced in years gone by. The itinerary was impressive, they had walked in Turkey and in Crete, in Switzerland and in Spain.
"My health stops me going so far now," said the man who had introduced himself as Roy. "I can't walk like I used to. She can, she's as fit as a fiddle," he said, nodding at his wife.
His wife was slim, lithe and tanned. Only the lines around her eyes gave away her age. She smiled fondly at him. "Well we still get out, don't we?" she said.
"Oh yes," can't complain really," he said.

Eventually I said I would have to press on, although I think Roy would have happily stood there chatting all day. I sauntered confidently into the wood and then immediately got lost. I vowed that I really must get a compass. Eventually I emerged from the wood and surmised from the OS Map that I must be on "Flora's Ride", a bridle path which led to one of the minor roads across the moor. From here it was a steep and slippery scramble down into the very pretty village of Doverhay and a walk down the road to Porlock.

I like Porlock, it's a sleepy village clustered around one winding High Street. It still has plenty of individual little shops and character, and I spent a pleasant hour wandering around before stopping for a cup of tea and a bowl of soup in the excellent Whortleberry Tea Room, a haven of tranquility. Not that the rest of Porlock was hectic. The Tearoom had some information about the whortleberry, which I read with interest as I had never heard of it. Whortleberry or "wort" is apparently the local name for a bilberry. This little fruit has a staggering array of names attached to it. In the south-west it may be known as a hurtleberry, a hurt or a hart. Farther north you would call it a wimberry, or a whinberry whilst if you are Scottish you will know it as a blaeberry. It isn't however a blueberry, which is a larger berry native to North America. So now you know.

It was allegedly a "Person from Porlock" who visited Coleridge at his home in Nether Stowey whilst he was partway through his poem Kubla Khan, the idea for which had come to him in a dream (possibly a laudanum induced one). Anyway, Coleridge claimed that when he was fifty lines into the poem a person from Porlock knocked on the door, he lost his train of thought and that, as far as the poem went, was that.

I headed out of Porlock back up the road to Doverhay, but this time headed along a lane to Hawk Combe before climbing the inevitable hill and joining the road over the moor to Wilmersham Common. This is a less visited part of Exmoor and there was little traffic, and hardly a soul about. I was delighted to see on the common some magnificent deer. They scarpered before I could get my camera out though.

I was a wee bit tired by the time I stumbled back into the Youth Hostel carpark but it had been a jolly fine walk. I managed to drag my weary legs over the road to The White Horse for a pint and then wandered back to the hostel and to bed.


"Farewell my husband and my Children dear
Now I am gone don't for me shed a tear
As I am now so must you shortly be
Therefore prepare for Death and follow me"


The route I took (roughly!!) is here

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