Saturday, 26 March 2016

Walking the Coleridge Way Day 2

We had planned to be up and gone before seven o'clock reasoning that anyone who was not in the pub last night would then be none the wiser but the plan didn't quite work. It was gone eight when we finally got up and began packing away our gear, moving gingerly so as not to disturb the hangover too much. Various locals came and went while we were packing, they evidently had an arrangement with the shop for collecting papers from a box outside when the shop was closed, but no-one seemed to mind our presence.

The only hiccup was that we had somehow managed to lose our tent bag last night so I stuffed the wet tent (it had rained in the night) into a plastic carrier bag and stuffed it into my rucksack. Mick had the pegs and poles which I felt was the better deal.

Camping behind the village shop
Today's route began by crossing the flat vale between the hills of the Quantocks and Exmoor. Just before we crossed the railway line I felt a stirring in the pit of my stomach. Oh no! Must have been all that beer because suddenly I desperately needed a Number Two. I informed Mick of my predicament and we looked at the map. Nope, nothing for miles, no chance of a loo then.
'You'll have to dig a hole and shit in the woods,' said Mick, handing me a roll of toilet paper and trying not to snigger. The operation took a while but after I had finished and covered the area with sticks and leaves and put the wet wipes in a little bag for disposal later (NEVER leave wet wipes behind if you are caught short in the countryside), I felt quite proud of my efforts and we went on our way.

We headed through the quiet village of Sampford Brett, stopping for a few minutes at the seat outside the church for some sustenance. But as soon as we stopped walking we began to feel the cold and it wasn't long before we heaved our packs on to our backs and started walking again to warm up.

At Monksilver we took a quick peek in the ancient little church.where it is thought that Sir Francis Drake married his second wife Elizabeth Sydenham, daughter of Sir George Sydenham, the High Sheriff of Somerset, in 1583.

Flowers in Monksilver church

A little farther on we came to a small footbridge with a little pile of pennies on the post at each end.  A man was crossing in the other direction, carefully holding a penny in his outstretched palm. As he reached the other end he put the penny on the post on the other side. "just in case,' he said, as he walked on. A sign on the bridge explained that in ancient times it was " to cross considered prudent for travellers about to cross a wooden bridge to make an offering to the spirits of the trees which were cut down to make the timber."

From here the route started to climb and we puffed and panted our way up Bird's Hill, feeling the weight of the packs on our backs. The weather had been deteriorating over the past couple of hours and it was now raining and blowing a hooley as we reached the top of the climb. Dropping down into the valley at Roadwater was a relief, giving us a bit of respite from the wind. I pulled out my hat and gloves and ask Mick why he wasn't doing the same.
"I didn't bring gloves," he said, ruefully, "I thought I wouldn't need them."

After Roadwater we climbed again, up a track through Langridge Wood. At the top there was a small fence and a sign for Langridge Cist. Mick wasn't keen on a detour but I reassured him it was only a few steps and he followed me over the grass to the cist - a Bronze age bural cairn. It was discovered by workers digging for road stone in 1820 and found to have a skeleton inside which was reinterred in a nearby churchyard. We stared at it for a while, standing in the rain with water dripping off our clothes, our pack and faces before carrying on, stomping through waterlogged, muddy fields with great clods clinging to our boots as we went. Every time we reached a stream Mick stood in the water to wash his boots which I considered pointless as within ten seconds they were covered in mud again.

The Langridge Cist
Classic Exmoor beech lane
By the time we reached Luxborough we were in dire need of some shelter and a hot drink so we removed our boots, opened the door of the Royal Oak and went in. There was no porch at this little Exmoor Inn to divest ourselves of our outer layers and the woman behind the bar laughed when she saw us standing there, completely drenched. 'I didn't think it was raining that hard!' she said.
'It is up there,' I replied, pointing in the direction of the hills we had just traversed. We ordered coffee and sat on the settle by the door, trying not to drip on the other people in the pub. They all looked like they were settled in for the day, drinking pints and playing board games or reading the paper in the comfy chairs by the fire. We looked at them enviously, they had evidently correctly deduced that it was not a day for outdoor pursuits. Outside the rain started coming down harder.

Mick capitulated first. 'Lets get a room,' he said. 'I've had enough.'
I hesitated for a moment-  reluctant to give in. But I was cold - and very wet. 'OK.'
I went to the bar and asked if we could book in. The landlady shook her head regretfully.  "I'm sorry, we're fully booked up. Easter weekend.' Bugger. She kindly lent us the phone (no mobile signal here!) and we called the Rest and Be Thankful Inn farther on at Wheddon Cross. Same answer. Ah well. We heaved ourselves up, thanked them and departed, leaving two large wet patches on the seat.
'They don't care about us at all,' Mick said scornfully, as we plodded down the road.
'What did you want her to do?' I asked. 'Give up her own bed so you had somewhere to sleep?'
'Don't see why not,' he said grumpily.

He cheered up as we made our way on to Wheddon Cross at the top of Exmoor. The weather was worse than ever but by now we had resigned ourselves to it which somehow made it almost enjoyable. We had Lype Hill in front of us as we headed through the fields where inquisitive sheep gathered behind us in search of food before suddenly charging off as if their life depended on it. 'They really are dim animals,' Mick observed. At the top of the hill my plastic cape made a terrific din rustling and flapping as the wind whipped round us. It was getting late now and we had eaten all our supplies. Wheddon Cross is slightly off the route but when we neared the village we detoured onto the road and headed down to the crossroads and the pub.

On Lype Hill

Inside it was packed with people enjoying an Easter Saturday evening meal. Thankfully there was a table for us and we ordered a three course meal and extra chips and extra bread and tucked in with gusto. A couple of hours later, installed by the wood burner and stoking my now distended stomach, I felt much better. Mick suggested I check the weather forecast on my phone. Logging on to the homepage I saw the message "sever weather warnings have been issued."
"Oh no," I said. Look at this."
"When is it for, tomorrow?"
I clicked the link and checked. "Oh, it's for today. No wonder it was windy. We've been walking in Storm Katie."

The Rest and Be Thankful, Wheddon Cross
We camped surreptitiously this time, in the playing field next to the pub. although I can't imagine anyone would feel anything other than pity if they had seen us. But in fact it was not too bad. There was a shelter so we pitched there which protected us from the rain and there was a toilet block which was clean, well-stocked with soap and free to use (Take note Lostwithiel parish council who have just started charging 20 pence a visit!)

Before going to sleep we had a debate about resetting the time as the clocks go forward onto British summer time this evening. For forty or so years I've been doing this and every single year I say the same thing - "Ok, so tonight the clocks go forward - does that mean it will be lighter in the mornings or darker?"

Weathering the storm...


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