Sunday, 3 April 2011

Exford to Tarr Steps

Typical! I set my alarm for seven o'clock this morning and hot-footed it sharpish into the dining room, determined not to donate my sausage and bacon to one of those freeloading mountain bikers. The place was deserted and the shutters were down. Hmm, maybe I had been a little too prompt. When she did open, cook assured me that she had gone shopping and that the kitchen was piled high with pig in various guises. As it was the mountain bikers didn't even put in an appearance. Oh well, at least it meant a nice prompt start for today's walk.

I headed up the road from Exford to the junction with the B3223, Chibbet Post, then headed down Sparrow Lane, a quiet narrow road lined with beech hedgebanks.

Tarr Steps
At Withypool I stopped for a coffee to fortify me before the next stage. The tea-shop was closed but the little stores had just that week installed one of those little drink machines like the one at Stogursey. 

I needed that coffee before the steep climb out of the village. I was now on the Two Moors Way, following roads and tracks across the moor to the wonderful Tarr Steps.This is a "clapper" bridge (from the Latin "claperius" or pile of stones). It is often said to be prehistoric, in fact it is more likely to be medieval in origin. This was the only busy place I had come across since arriving at Exmoor, probably since there was a car park right next to the bridge. 

Exmoor jeep crossing the River Barle
Most people when out for the day don't like to stray more than about fifty yards from their car.At Tarr Steps people had crossed the road and were setting up picnics on the grass, and were having a wander over the bridge and back. But that was pretty much it. Having not seen a soul for about three hours I now queued up to cross the bridge and then caused a bit of a backlog by refusing to cross until I could take a photo with no-one on it. The jeep of course, didn't have to queue.

By now it was lunchtime. I had sandwiches and a bottle of water, but temptation had reared its very attractive head in the shape of the Tarr Inn. The garden was packed with people enjoying a drink in the spring sunshine. I went in and bought a pint of Exmoor Gold and sat in the garden watching the numerous chaffinches which were perching on the fence.

If you look really closely you can just make out a chaffinch on the fence......
The walk along the river from Tarr Steps back to Withypool was delightful.This was the alternative Two Moors Way route and it wound its way through woodland and fields alongside the River Barle, crossing brooks and streams by way of footbridges. Near the end of the path which had now left the river to its own devices, a small waterfall gushed out on my right hand side and on the left was a beautiful view across the valley.

Time for a beer! I called into the Royal Oak Inn in Withypool and ordered a pint. Just as I sat down with it in the lounge one of the staff began vacuuming around me. This was, to say the least, irritating. I took my pint and wandered outside but the sun was shining and all the outside tables were full. I headed down the road, still clutching my pint, and found the entrance to the other bar.

According to the pub, RD Blackmoore wrote part of Lorna Doone in this bar when staying at the Royal Oak in 1866. (Although this is also claimed by the Rising Sun in Lynmouth and the Ship at Porlock, so I don't know how much truth there is in the claim. But apparently he did stay in several inns on his holiday in Devon in that year so maybe he wrote a little bit in each of them.) The bar was empty except for two farmers sat at the bar. If either of them noticed me come in and sit in one of the settles in the corner they gave no indication. Although I tried to distract myself with a copy of Hare and Hounds I couldn't help but overhear their conversation.

"She was gagging for it, mind," said the younger of the two, aged about thirty.
"Were she?" his friend replied in an envious tone.
"Ar she were. She 'ad 'er 'and on me knee all the way back from Tiver'on," said the first.
"So what did you do?"
"Well I shagged 'er in the "orse box didn't I?"
I wondered idly whether the horse had still been in it at the time. Assuming that it wasn't the horse to which he was referring.
"Blimey!" said his friend. "An 'er bein' so bleedin posh as well. Did she enjoy it?"
"Well put it like this," said the young stallion, "I never 'eard 'er complainin!"

At this I picked up my pint and quietly went outside. I finished it sat on the step and then retraced my route back of Sparrow Lane to the hostel.

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