Day 19 - Exford to Blue Anchor Bay
A couple of things that I hadn’t spotted yesterday that are worth noting. First is that during the walk from Simonsbath to Exford I had left Devon and entered Somerset, the third county of the trek. And that I have now walked more than 200 miles. Roughly a sixth of the way.
Our breakfast server at the hotel was telling us that two thirds of Exmoor is in Somerset and one third in Devon. She thinks that’s why Exmoor isn’t as well known as the other national parks, as the two counties pull against each other with funding instead of working together. It is certainly very quiet compared to the Lakes, for instance. No bad thing.
I said goodbye to my friends, promptly set off in the wrong direction, had another run at it and was soon climbing. The walk to Dunkery Beacon from Exford is entirely uphill, though not as steep an incline as yesterday. Although the skies are overcast today, and it’s not especially warm, my system went into overdrive and I was soon sweating in the most remarkable manner. I wonder why this is. I’m not unfit, and I didn’t feel that hot. I was glad there was no one to see my damp face toiling up the slope.
The moor opened out quite soon, and I was rewarded for the climb by walking very close to a herd of ponies. They are semi feral, one of the native wild pony breeds of the UK. Some had very young foals, wobbling on their gawky legs. I was concerned that being so near them on the path would worry them, but they’ve clearer seen more disturbing sights than me.
For the whole of the 4 miles to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor, I was on my own. Not another soul apart from the ponies. I saw the commemorative plaque that said this special place was given to the National Trust in 1935, and felt like it had been given just to me. I was going all Wuthering Heights with the isolation, ready to make some rather moving poetic statement, and then in the distance I saw a Sainsbury’s delivery lorry. It brought me down to earth a bit, but couldn’t diminish my joy at being there.
The path was clear and fairly easy walking to the top, but coming down became much rougher underfoot, requiring concentration. That concentration seemed to exacerbate the stillness. There was the faint sound of insects, distant calling of cows and sheep across the valley, and the odd bird singing. The heather, gorse and young ferns contrasted each other with their vivid purples and greens. I love this sort of place. I sat at the side of the track at the 6 mile point, just listening and looking, enjoying my cup of tea and today’s squashed sandwich. I couldn’t have been more on my own, or more content.
As I left the moor and entered the woodland at the edge there was a little drizzle. That added to the sensory joy, as the wonderful petrichor (the smell of rain on dry earth) filled the air too.
At Wooten Courtney I had to make a decision between taking the path I’d planned or the road. The road was slightly shorter and involving a lot less climbing. The path had the chance of a view, and also some shelter from the drizzle. So I went with the path. 500 feet of climbing in less than a mile, I arrived at the top demonstrating my obbligato perspiration skills again.
I then met a walker with a dog. The dog barked at me from a distance in a way that I didn’t find particularly unnerving. His owner bellowed at him in chastisement with her face distorted in fury, almost out of control. I found that far more unnerving.
The choice to come up to the top was a good one. The views down to Minehead were great, with what looks like the tents of a circus big top, but is in fact the Butlins holiday park.
I ate the second half of my lunch in the forest, sitting on a fallen tree. Here the silence was more profound. The canopy of pine trees muffled the sound, and there weren’t many birds. I could hear the snuffling and movement of a mammal of some sort fairly nearby, but we didn’t disturb each other.
For some of this afternoon I was following part of the MacMillan Way, which I’d also been on yesterday. This wasn’t a path I’d heard of before, set up to raise money for the MacMillan charity. It stretches from Dorset to Lincolnshire and runs for 290 miles. It takes in quite a chunk of the Cotswolds too, so I’m sure I’ll encounter it again after Bath.
So having had moorland, forest and common land today I then walked into Dunster, and enjoyed and English medieval village, complete with castle. I called in to Born Appetite hoping for an ice cream, as I’m conscious that my ice cream followers have been missing out over the last week or so. No ice cream, but instead a lovely cup of tea given to me on the house along with lots of useful advice on things to see and good routes. Thanks to Martha and Wendy.
Following their suggestion, I called in at Dunster Castle, an excellent National Trust property above the medieval village. I was so delighted that Andrea on the ticket office donated to the charity before explaining the best bits to see.
The castle is National Trust at its best, with comprehensive explanatory texts and helpful volunteers giving additional information - I learnt a lot about the leather paintings depicting the excitable life of Anthony and Cleopatra. Lots of old stuff, and then I was somewhat taken aback to find that the modern kitchen (that reminded me very much of the one I had at home as a teenager) was installed in 1962 - the year I was born. It was being displayed as an historical artefact. Hmmm.
The route is planned was going to take me for a mile or so along a busy road. Having had a look at it, I did a quick diversion to take me down to the sea instead. Then a lovely couple of miles walking on the English Coastal Path ( the SWCP having finished in Minehead). This couldn’t be more different to the last time I saw the sea. This is flat, tranquil, drama free. I’ll be spending more time with it tomorrow.
An extremely good Exmoor made mango ice cream by the sea before checking in at my pub for the night.
Finally, a brilliant conversation in the pub with the couple next to me at dinner. This ranged from managing the problems of a rescue dog from Nicosia to how they turned their back on their jobs, rented out their house and went to live on a narrow boat for 3 years. Until you ask them, you have no idea what amazing lives people have been living.
It was a great end to a fantastic day. And my dear friend Philip is coming to see me tomorrow.
Distance: 15.8 miles
Total ascent: 2300
Calories burned: 2126
Local tipple: Half of Exmoor gold
Dinner at The Smugglers Arms - very friendly
Veggie burger with goats cheese. Chips and tomato salad.
Kitkat left over from my packed lunch. I’m a girl who knows how to party.
New song of the day
Some Tennessee Jar: Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt
This was a struggle. It felt like the sort of jazz that would have been played on the Fast Show. Nice.
Number of insect bites that were the payment of hanging out on Exmoor and will undoubtedly go mad overnight because I’ve got that sort of blood: 8
Video of the day: