Sunday, 27 March 2016

Walking the Coleridge Way - Day 3

This morning when we came round  the rain had eased a little and the tent was dry which makes a massive difference to the weight. Mick then discovered that the tent bag which we had spent twenty minutes looking for at Bicknoller was in fact in his pocket. He offered to carry the tent today and I took the poles.

Attached to the petrol station in Bicknoller was a well stocked local store so we headed in there for a breakfast of coffee and warm bacon and sausage rolls. While we were standing in there munching on our food a fit looking man who I guessed was in his sixties came in. As soon as he saw us he came over and asked where we were walking. We explained that we were heading to Dunkery Beacon and on to Porlock and he smiled. "know it well, he said. "I used to live near then and I ran up Dunkery Beacon every day until two years ago when I moved here."
'You look well on it," I observed.
"Guess how old I am."
"Um, sixty-five?"
"I am eighty-four next birthday."

After breakfast we shopped for provisions for the day, deciding on a bunch of bananas, a packet of currant buns, some nuts, a bar of chocolate and a couple of rounds of sandwiches. As Mick had the tent I volunteered to carry the food. We set off and had not gone far when I suddenly stopped and said, "Hey Mick, I did pack the food didn't I?"
"Of course you did, I saw you put it in your rucksack."
"OK, that's alright then. I can't remember doing that at all." It's weird how one can do things on auto-pilot and not be consciously aware you are doing them.

We headed up the road to pick up the Coleridge Way again at the neighbouring village of Cutcombe. This is an ancient settlement, perched on the ridge above a steep valley. According to the History of the Hundred of Carhapmpton (1830): "Cutcombe is called a hill-country parish; the soil is generally a white rage, or as it is here called, a shellety soil, lying over a kind of bastard slate, not fit for roofing."
The slate may not be up to much but it is a pleasant little place all the same with a pretty Thirteenth century church and best known for its thriving livestock market. Wheddon Cross is more recent - it grew up around the turnpike gate which was put here in the 1820s when the Rest and Be Thankful was built as a coaching inn for travellers.

Packing the tent - Like trying to put
a condom on an elephant...
From Cutcombe we soon found ourselves walking along the drive of Raleigh Manor, a 'magnificent detached country residence' according to the sale particulars. (It was on the market for a cool £1.4 million last year.) The path plunged into the woods next to the manor before turning left up "Tom's Path". As so often is the case near country houses the woods were a mixture of indigenous and imported plants with rhodedendrons and bamboo competing with the deciduous trees and local flora. High in the trees we could hear a woodpecker thrumming away on the bark.

Unusual tree 
After crossing a road the path tipped steeply down towards the stream winding through the bottom of the steep valley before crossing on stepping stones. Soon we were climbing steeply out the other side, puffing our way out of the valley and up towards the open moorland of Dunkery Hill where Exmoor ponies roamed through the heather. The path skirts the bottom of Dunkery beacon and as we had been up there just two weeks before we didn't bother with the detour to the top and headed on down the other side, following alongside the beautifully-named Spangate Grove to arrive at the bottom of a steep valley and facing an equally steep climb up the other side.

It was a lovely spot with a stream bubbling along over mossy rocks and next to it an inviting soft tump of grass to sit down upon and rest awhile. By now we were pretty hungry - breakfast seemed a long time ago. "Time to demolish those hot-cross buns," said Mick rubbing his hands together. "i'm starving." I opened my rucksack to retrieve the goodies we had purchased from the shop and stared into the pack in disbelief.   What is it?" said Mick. "Hurry up and pass me a bun and a banana."
"It's not here."
"I told you I didn't remember packing the stuff at the shop!" I exclaimed. "You said you saw me put it in my pack!"
'I thought you did,' said Mick, perplexed. "I could have sworn I saw you do that."

So we tackled the hill on empty stomachs, distracting ourselves with a conversation about unreliable witnesses.

The route took us to Webber's Post where there was a large carpark and a couple of handy benches for a sit down. There was a fantastic view across the moors which would have been enjoyable had it not been for the very disconcerting huge black raincloud which was scudding its way in our direction. Three minutes later we, and everyone else in the vicinity were running for shelter from a sudden and very violent hailstorm which caused Mick to once again bemoan the fact he had left his gloves at home.

A bit farther on Horner Mill was a fabulous place to stop for lunch  - we had a superb ploughmans each and the visit was uneventful aside from one smashed cup  - pretty good by our standards. From here it was not far to Porlock where the route took us through quaint backstreets to emerge via "The Drang" into the traffic on the high street next to the church.

Lunch was very welcome as we had not had our elevenses...
It was allegedly a man from Porlock who disturbed Coleridge when he was partway through his poem Kubla Khan. Coleridge had been scribbling away in a drug-fuelled frenzy of inspiration. The interruption broke his train of thought and he was never able to finish the poem. Porlock is a nice village although slightly marred by the volume of traffic which trundles through it on the A39.  We called into the grocery stores for more provisions - this time I made doubly sure I had packed them before leaving the shop.

There is a pleasant and popular path which goes through the woods down to Porlock Weir. From here the path takes on a new and serious intent - for the walker is now faced with the towering hulk of the infamous Porlock Hill. The next section was a serious climb up through Worthy Woods. It was raining now and underfoot was muddy and slippy, making progress slow going. It was a relief to meet the Toll Road which had followed us up through the wood and stick with it round the top of the hill and along the hills towards Lynmouth, following the lane which ran high above  but parallel with the South West Coast Path.

Eventually we parted company with the SWCP and we swung left up another hill and over the A39. The wind whistled through us again now were out of the shelter of the hills as we pressed on along the ridge. Then a glorious route down the shoulder of the hill to Oare. The path dropped away steeply either side which Mick, what with his vertigo, did not like at all, but he gamely stuck with it. The deciding factor was when I told him that if he refused to come down then there was no way we were going to make the pub.

Rainbow over Porlock
It was becoming dusky now and Storm Katie was beginning to show what she did next, which was to start dolloping rain on us without mercy. If Oare had had a pub we would have stopped there, but as it was we pressed on along the bank of the river to Brendon. When Mick saw that the path once more begain a steep climb up the side of the hill he finally rebelled. "I'm not going up there. Its pissing with rain, its getting dark and I want a pint." We had walked 20 odd miles, and had our fair share of weather so I suppose he had a point.

We backtracked to a bridge which said no right of way, ignored it and crossed over to the road and trotted purposefully to the Stag Hunters Inn. It took ages to divest ourselves of our now filthy outer garments but once in the pub with our gear draped over radiators and a pint in front of us we relaxed. Shortly afterwards we were ushered into the lounge and we were very soon tucking into huge roast beef dinners and a second pint of Otter Ale.

I mooted the idea of camping next to the village hall where there was a handy piece of grass. But the rain was coming down hard now and Mick rebelled for a second time. He stalked off to the bar and came back clutching another couple of pints and a key to one of the rooms upstairs. "We're booked into a twin room for the night," he said, sticking his chin out obstinately. "And if you don't like it, you can camp and I'll see you in the morning."

Hmm. I thought about it for a nano-second and then said "Ok. Can I have the bath first?"

Stag Hunters Inn, Brendon


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