So when Lisa from A-Z suggested accompanying me on a walk round Exmoor to road test (or rather walk test) the map, I jumped at the idea. A nice warming winter walk, what could be nicer?
Hmm. By the time the agreed date for our walk drew near it had been raining on Exmoor more or less every day for at least a month. It had been blustery too, with vigorous winds blowing in off the Bristol Channel. Many of the paths had degenerated into muddy, slippery quagmires. Were these the conditions to head up onto the moor or venture along the steep and exposed cliffs of the coast path? Probably not. Lisa had told me she had never been on a proper walk before, surely she would be put off by the weather? I confidently waited for her to cancel. Lisa, however, was undaunted. Instead of the cancellation email I received one telling me she was looking forward to our walk. She was obviously made of sterner stuff than I realised. There was no getting out of it now.
I arrived in Combe Martin a little early and called in to the local bakery for a coffee and sausage roll. 'You're not off walking are you?' asked the baker. I nodded and told her we were walking up to Great Hangman. 'Well be careful,' she advised, 'I went flying when I was out walking the dog earlier this week. It's lethal up there.' Great.
Pack o' Cards, Combe Martin. The story goes that in the seventeenth century a fellow by the name of George Ley who was fond of spending time on the gaming tables had a big win at cards and built a house to remind him of his luck, with four floors to represent the suits, thirteen rooms for the number of cards in a suit, fifty-two windows and fifty two stairs. The whole building was then constructed to resemble a pack of playing cards. By the nineteenth century it had been converted to a pub. Originally officially called the King's Arms Inn, locals had always known it colloquially as the Pack o'Cards and it officially took that name in 1933.
|A wet start|
|Above Wild Pear Beach|
We were now heading up to Little Hangman's big brother. Great Hangman, at over a thousand feet is the highest point on the South West Coast Path and the highest sea cliff in England, with spectacular views up and down the coast. The wind was whipping round us now, settling any lingering doubts about the wisdom of heading too far along the coast path. No trees, just a wild expanse of brown heather and gorse bushes tipping down to the sea below. Up here it was easy to understand the inspiration Richard Doddridge Blackmore derived from Exmoor for his novel Lorna Doone.
But then a minor miracle occurred - the rain stopped and the heavy grey clouds parted to reveal a crisp blue sky as we made our way across the moor.
|Top of Great Hangman|
'Is it safe?' Lisa asked with understandable concern.
My reply was somewhat non-committal and not terribly reassuring. 'Uh, yes, I think so. Er probably.'
|The disappearing path|
|The muddy way down|
|Not all routes are as well sign|
posted as this!
Walking the cliff tops would have been foolish so we were now heading back inland. After glooping through ankle deep mud the tarmaced road to Trentishoe provided welcome respite as we continued on, passing grazing sheep on the verges and spindly trees with trunks leaning back from the coast, away from the wind coming off the sea.
'Huh, you've told me that before,' she replied. I assured her that this time it was true and showed her the map to prove it. Sure enough, at the top there was nothing but a long steep lane down to take us back to Combe Martin.
|A little grubby by now|
If you want to check our route click here.
Total distance 9.27 miles.