Day 26 Saturday 23 August Clutton to Bath

Miles walked: today 14.2 cumulative 387.2

Most of today’s walk followed the Cam valley before passing over a ridge to enter the Avon valley to reach Bath.

Rather than walk back through Clutton I set off down the road to Timsbury. This was a B road but there was little traffic. It follows a valley and there were pleasant views up to the surrounding low hills. At Timsbury I rejoined the Limestone Link.

I crossed the disused Hallatrow to Camerton railway. This was only briefly used for passenger traffic. Its main role was to carry coal from the local collieries. These were never important nationally but supplied the South West. The railway was a branch of The Great Western Railway, known locally as God’s Wonderful Railway. The other local line, the Devon and Somerset railway was known as either “Dirty and Smelly” or ” Delightful and Serene” depending on your viewpoint. The railway is most famous for its starring appearance in the Ealing comedy “The Titfield Thunderbolt.”

I saw this unusual building next to the Cam brook. I have no idea what it was used for

I made good time along the valley, mostly through farmland adjacent to woodland. I re-crossed the Fosse Way, the Roman road running from Lincoln to Exeter, and climbed the hill to Combe Hay. It was very hot and I stopped for a cooling pint.

As I descended into the Avon valley it was surprisingly difficult to get a good view of Bath.Bath lies on the river Avon, or more accurately, one of the river Avons. There are actually 9 in mainland Britain. The name is derived from the Welsh for river, so they could more accurately be called the River River.

Angela has come down from Manchester for the weekend. I crossed the 18th century Pulteney bridge. This is one of only 4 bridges in the world to have shops lining both sides.

There is a legend that Bath was founded by Prince Bladud, father of King Lear, who was banished from Court because he contracted leprosy. He was sent to look after the pigs who also had a skin disease. He saw that when they wallowed in the hot mud they were cured and, following their example, so was he. When he became king he founded Bath on that site. Statue of Prince Bladud

I found Angela in our pub/B and B enjoying a glass of wine. We had a good weekend. We visited the Roman Baths, which has been developed into an excellent museum, The evidence is that the Romans developed Bath and built the town, temple and baths around 70AD and named them Aquarian’s Sulis. What was there before is unknown.

There is a lot of a Georgian architecture in the city and one of the houses on the Royal Crescent has been restored as a museum, also well worth a visit. Sadly, it was soon time for Angela to go home. For me, the Cotswold way awaits.

Day 25 Friday 23 August Wells to Clutton

Miles walked: today 19.1 cumulative 372.9

I woke up much refreshed. I knew this was going to be a long day so I did not look round the cathedral, I will have to return. As I walked up the hill two old shops had been knocked down to provide a magnificent view of St. Cuthbert’s church, the largest parish church in Somerset

The day started with a walk over a ridge to Wookey Hole. This has a show cave with a stalagmite that looks a bit like a witch, so there is a legend around the witch of Wookey. My parents took me round the cave when I was about 10. At that time there was the cave and a car park. Now, there is a resort hotel, a themed crazy golf course, adventure playground etc etc.

The horse are very intelligent and dexterous here

or the humans need to learn punctuation.

The Monarch Way then climbed steeply to heathland above Priddy. There were good views across the levels towards Glastonbury TorI crossed a stile with a nice memorialThe high ground above Priddy is now a nature reserve. It used to be an area of lead mining and evidence of old mine spoils can be seenI continued through a mixture of rolling countryside and pleasant woodland. As I approached the Chew valley I could see the Chew Valley LakeThis is a man-made reservoir but an important nature reserve for ducks and migratory birds. I said adieu to the Monarch Way and followed the Limestone Link which runs between the Mendips and the Cotswolds.

As well as having labelled footpath signs, on recognised trails there is less likely to be path obstructions, the maize field that I crossed yesterday being an exception. The temptation is to wander along, ignoring the map. This is not a good idea as it is easy to miss turns. I remember when following the GR5 in France we managed to head back along the path out of Briancon that we came in on the previous evening. Towns are always the hardest to navigate through, especially as developers can build houses faster that OS can update their maps.

I now turned East towards Bath. There are a lot of maize fields in this part of the country. The Soil Association (SA) claim that maize is the fastest expanding crop in England and will have increased from 8000 hectares in 1973 to about 200 000 hectares by 2020. It is used for silage (although the SA claim it is not very nutritious) and increasingly for biofuel. They claim the other disadvantage of maize crops is that they are harvested late and the soil is compacted so that autumn rainstorms are less able to be absorbed by the field and run off to cause floods. It also uses land that could be used for growing food.

At the time of writing, whether we stay in or leave the EU, I think there is a need to consider what we grow on our land and, if food production is less profitable for smaller farms, how we can subsidise the farmers to protect the environment and make us more self sufficient in food production.

There does seem to be a new type of livestock on farms I didn’t see any so maybe they had been taken to market. I am going to start a pressure group for children as it is clearly cruel to stuff them in houses in cities.

I was hot and tired as I approached Clutton. I thought I was at journeys end but then realised the pub was about a mile away, on the other side of the village up a hill. At least when I arrived at the Hunters Rest, the food was nice, the bed comfortable and the Butcombe bitter refreshing.

Day 24 Thursday August 22 Castle Cary to Wells

Miles walked: today 16.2 cumulative 353.8

I had a quick look round Castle Cary before I left. There was a Norman castle here but it fell into disrepair after the civil war during the reign of King Stephen. There are no visible remains now. The buildings I liked were the Market Hall:

Although it looks older, it dates from 1855. The pepperpot is 100 years older and was used as a temporary lock up. Not a place I would have liked to spend a night in.It reminded me of the lookout post in Portreach, Cornwall (day 7) where they used to store dead bodies. I also liked the George hotel, where I stayed, which is the oldest building in Castle Cary

I had not slept well. I kept waking up with cramp in my left thigh and calf and my back ached. I then started to worry that I would not be able to complete the challenge. I was not in a good mood. Most lejoggers say they have days like this but I thought I would avoid this as I was doing a staged walk.

For the next day and a half I will follow the Monarch’s Way. This long distance path follows approximately the route taken by Charles II after he fled from the Roundheads. It it over 600 miles long and is very circuitous. I will walk other sections of the path later this summer. True to form, I was walking north, Charles travelled south.

I left Castle Cary by descending steeply to the River Brue and then crossed fields to reach the village of Sutton. My leg loosened up and I gradually felt more enthusiastic. After passing through more farmland I crossed the medieval packhorse Bolter’s Bridge.

About 1.5 miles after the bridge I arrived at the hamlet of Hornblotton. The church is remarkable. The current bulding is fairly new, dating from the late 18th century, although there has been a church on the site since medieval times, the ruins of a tower are next to the existing churchInside, the decorations are unusual. The walls have been plastered in the sgraffito technique where different layers of plaster of different colours are applied. The outer layer of plaster is cut away to produce a drawing.

Inside Hornblotton Church

I continued past orchards and through farmland. I was tired and not concentrating so I missed the turn to East Pennard vineyard. I thought it would be cool to walk through an English Vineyard and to do a tasting in the shop. I was cross with myself. I trudged uphill on lanes with high hedges and few views.

I had now left the Somerset Levels and was crossing the Eastern extent of the Mendips. Lovely rolling hills. From the top of Pennard Hill I could see Worthy farm (site of the Glastonbury festival), which looked just like a farm with no evidence of the recent festival.

I passed through North Wooton and climbed Launcherley Hill to enter a field of maize about 6 feet high. According to the map and compass the path lay straight ahead (And as I had not imbibed wine earlier in the day I was confident I was in the right place!). I decided to edge my way around the (large) field. I was fed up. My knee was hurting and I was tired. Path blockages became an intermittent problem when I was away from main National Trails Farmers are meant to leave a path through the crop when it is a recognised right of way. The other problem I encountered was that little used paths may become impassable due to overgrowth of brambles.

After what seemed an eternity I found the exit into Twinhills Wood and as I emerged I had my first view of Wells

As I got nearer the magnificence of the cathedral became obvious

I was too tired to look round the cathedral . So it was off to the pub (next to the cathedral), a lovely old building, for a quick bite to eat and an early night

Day 23 Wednesday 21 August Long Sutton to Castle Carey

Miles walked:today 19 cumulative 337.6

Another long day. I must say, respect is due to lejoggers who walk in excess of 20 miles a day for 7 weeks or more. And to Sharon Gayter who ran it in 12 days 11 hours earlier this year. Cycling the end to end is popular, not only with conventional bicycles but also on tricycles and unicycle. I think that someone is trying to do it at the moment on a penny farthing.

In 2005 David Sullivan hit a golf ball 1100 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End. If any of my golfing friends are still following me they may wish to emulate this.

Other odd modes of transport include swimming, paddle boarding (on the sea, not on dry land), paraglider, lawn tractor, electric car etc. Some of those in recipient of a senior bus pass have achieved the feat using local buses.

There is now a “beeline” challenge, the aim to travel in a straight line using sea kayaks to cross open water and climb Ben Macdui, the second highest Scottish mountain, which happens to be in the way. There is a great page on Wikipedia, it does say that some of the data hasn’t been verified)

The walk was pretty, there were nice villages and no vicious cattle. I wandered along in a relaxed manner enjoying the countryside which is what the trip is about.

The village of Somerton was particularly attractive. There was a nice market square and old tithe barn

After Somerton I followed fieldpaths to the village of Charlton Adam where I stopped for lunchtime pint. The walk continued through fields and villages (including a solar farm) to reach the river Carey. It then meanders alongthe valley before climbing out of teh Levels to reach Castle Carey. I have seen a lot of butterflies and dragonflies the last two days. I particularly like the bright blue dragonflies. Mark Moxon also took a liking to them, it must be something that appeals to walkers.

For those interested in my route, I followed the Macmillan Way West again today ( I have been following it most of the time since Simonsbath). Signposting is sometimes lacking but it’s a nice route. The Macmillan Cancer Support organisation was founded in Castle Carey by Douglas Macmillan. To try to raise money, the Organisation have set up a series of routes across southern England and you can buy a guide book and accommodation list for about £10 for each route. Of course, I have done it west to east, not east to west so (like the coastpath) the directions were backwards. It did give me useful information about the places I passed through.

I wanted to walk across the Somerset Levels as I had never visited them before. Although I enjoyed the two days, I think if I do the walk again (and I am contemplating doing the “four corners”) I would cross the western edge of the Levels and walk along the north edge to Glastonbury. Alternatively I would head further north and wlak along the main ridge of teh MendipsThe great thing about lejog is that there is no fixed route. Some wakers use the Offas Dyke path and then cross the Cheshire Plain. In his excellent book (which gives alternatives as well as a well described suggested route) Andy Robinson uses the southern part of the Offa’s Dyke path before crossing the Shropshire Hills.

Day 22 Tuesday 20 August North Petherton to Long Sutton

Miles walked: today 17.9 cumulative 318.6

Another long day, crossing the Somerset Levels. You have probably heard of the levels in the news as they have been the site of severe flooding twice this decade.

The area was underwater until 4500 BC when peat deposits were laid down. This has produced land that is extremely fertile and prehistoric people built wooden trackways across the bog. Some believe that because animals could only graze here in the summer the people were known as “Sumersata” from which “Somerset” was derived. Otters are meant to thrive here. Needless to say, I didn’t see any.

King Alfred lived in the levels when he fled from the Vikings (allegedly, he burnt the cakes here). The 9th century Alfred Jewel was discovered in North Pemberton. It now resides in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Incidentally, it was the inspiration for the Wolvercote tongue in the Inspector Morse novel. I thought there was a facsimile in The church in North Petherton but I was unable to find it (we managed to see the original in Oxford in 2020). The church is rather grand though

I crossed the M5 and the Birmingham to Cornwall railway. I don’t know where the geographical boundary of the South West peninsula is, but psychologically I felt I was now in central England. I descended to the levels, walking through a 200 acre cider apple farm. Apart from climbing Barrow Mump and the hills into Langport and Long Sutton the walk was absolutely flat, my altimeter recording 0 feet of ascent. The whole day was spent about 20 metres above sea level, which is why the area is so prone to flooding.

I followed the river Parrett for most of the day. This has high flood defence banks which have clearly been raised recently. The landscape reminded me of the Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire fens with raised river banks and deep ditches between fields and at the roadsides.

There are a lot of man made drains and rhynes (the local name for ditches) to try to prevent flooding. Pumps were introduced in the 19th century and I passed an old one on the Parrett.

About six miles from North Petherton there is a natural hill, Burrow Mump. This was a Saxon look out post and then a Norman motte castle. There were then churches on the top of the hill. The current ruin is of an unfinished church dating from the 18th Century.

The views from the top are extensive. The above image looks north over Sedgemoor where the eponymous battle was fought in 1685. This was the last pitched battle on English soil. The Duke of Monmouth tried to seize the crown from James II. Monmouth’s army was poorly trained and were routed by the better equipped Royalists and over 1600 rebels were killed.

The walk continued between the Parrett and the man-made Sowey river, completed in 1972. On the horizon I could see the Pynsent monument built by Pitt the Elder. Pynsent was a local landowner who left Pitt his estate in thanks to the Prime Minister’s opposition to a cider tax. Boris, if you abolish the tax on wine and beer I will leave you my house.

I then entered Langport. In medieval times the Parrett was navigable as far as here and it was an important market town and a centre for cloth making. In 1645 the battle of Langport was fought and Parliamentary victory was all but assured (the Royalists claimed offside but there was no VAR).

Then a navigation disaster (one of many I hear you say) I couldn’t find the path on the North side of the river. “Never mind” I said ” I will cross the river at Pibsbury.” The bridge was blocked by a large gate with spikes on top. This meant a 2 mile detour to the next bridge.

However, as I was walking along, a kingfisher swooped along the river for a short distance. I have never seen one before and it was spectacular.

I was very tired when I arrived at the Devonshire Arms at Long Sutton so no blog writing but delicious food (guinea fowl in a cep sauce, no slumming it on this trip) and an early night.

Day 20 Sunday 18 August Dunster to Williton

Miles walked: today 12.9; cumulative 280.3

Knowing that it was a short day I spent some time wandering around Dunster and the castle gardens. The village has a medieval “feel” to it. It was featured on Time Team and many of the buildings date back to the 14 Century. It was the centre of the wool trade in medieval England.

This is the yarn market, where cloth and fleeces used to be traded. Looking down Main Street towards the church

The old nunnery

The castle was originally Norman but was extensively rebuilt by the Luttrell family as their stately home in the 18th century. I visited the old water mill, which has been restored and is now producing flour. I then walked round the castle gardens which has some interesting trees including sequoias.

This is the “Lovers Bridge” which is found in the castle gardens. You were meant to sit on the seat between the arches with your sweetheart whispering sweet nothings and admiring the view. Nowadays I expect lovers sit here texting on their phones or updating their profiles. I have just re-read that sentence and I realise I am way behind the times. Of course, they will be taking selfies and uploading them to Snapchat, or whatever is the fashionable social media platform when you read this.

I didn’t set off on the Walk until after 11. Today was spent following the Macmillan Way West (heading East, of course). I left Dunster by crossing the medieval Gallox bridge. The name is a corruption of gallows, which used to stand next to the bridge.

I then got mildly lost in a wood adding another mile to my day. I am obviously walking faster as I get fitter as I walked past my turning thinking I needed to go further on the track before turning off. I guess I need to cunt paces rather than time distances. As I emerged from the wood I realised the blue sky that was present when I was in the castle gardens was now clouding over. The walk was pleasant with good views forward to the Quantock Hills and back to Dunster

The walk continued through pretty countryside and villages. I passed through the village of Withycombe. This has an old church which dates from Norman times. I had forgotten, and so didn’t look for, that there was an old carving in the church of a man carrying a heart shaped case. This is said to indicate that he died elsewhere and his heart was brought back to the church for burial.I took a worthwhile detour to visit the Cistercian Cleeve Abbey. Although Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey Church most of the other buildings were used as farm buildings and are relatively unchanged. There are unusually well preserved medieval wall paintings and floor tiles. This was one of the most interesting ruined abbeys that I have visited and is highly recommended.

The final place which I intended to visit was the Bakelite museum. This is not dedicated to the Wallace and Grommit character from “A Matter of Loaf and Death;” but to the original plastic casing. This was in use when I was a child. I remember it being a yellowish colour and very brittle, breaking if dropped. The museum was shut and the contents are being relocated.

It was then a short walk into Williton and the White House, which used to be owned by the bassist from the Chris Barber jazz band.

Day 19 Saturday 17 August Simonsbath to Dunster

Miles walked: today 18.5 cumulative 267.4

This morning, I Woke up to find myself in Somerset. I didn’t realise that Exmoor straddles Devon and Somerset. The border passes just west of Simonsbath.

I read in other blogs and books that the long distance walker is obsessed by two things: weather and legs (his or her own)

Weather: perfect walking weather, at least to start. Dry,sunny, not too hot and a gentle cooling breeze.

Legs: apart from one blister my feet have been fine. On the first stage, I did have a sore 5th metatarsal base. Being a hypochondriac, I was convinced this was a stress fracture and my lejog was over before it has started. It got better within 2 days. I must be a fast healer because I can’t believe my diagnosis was wrong (lol). On this section I have had a sore hamstring since day two. It is a persistent niggle and it wakes me at night. So far I have only had showers but my B and B in Dunster has a bath.

Simonsbath is a small hamlet set admist trees in the middle of Exmoor. I set off up through a small wood behind the pub. This was a “natural garden” that was planted by John Knight in the 19 century but never completed. It is situated behind the ruined old village school and the National Park are currently restoring both. Route up on to Exmoor

Exmoor consists of high moorland with deep wooded valleys and the views were spectacular today. The purple heather flowers are just coming out. However, I was unable to take a good enough picture to publish. Once up on the plateau the walking was easy with no steep ascents or descents.

I have not seen many walkers this trip. I was not surprised in mid Devon as I was not on a major footpath. but I expected to see more today; until I reached Dunkery Beacon I only saw two walkers and one cyclist. Horse riders were out in force

These pictures give you some idea of the expanse of the Moor.

As I approached Dunkery Beacon I saw a small herd of Exmoor ponies

These are a specific breed, native to Exmoor. Although they are allowed to roam “wild” on the Moor they are all owned and the herds are managed and well cared for.

Dunkery beacon is the highest point on Exmoor at 1705 feet, and the highest point on my walk so far. The hill is very rounded so the summit cairn is hidden from view until the Walker is nearly at the top

There are several Bronze Age burial mounds on Exmoor. The grassy mound on Dunkery Beacon dates from 3000-701 BC. I am not sure whether it has been excavated. There was a fire beacon on top in the 17 century. The stone cairn is modern. It was a bit hazy but I had a good view of South Wales, across the Bristol Channel and Eastwards towards the Quantock Hills, my next target.

Although I am now the proud owner of a DSLR it is too heavy to take on a trip like this. A pity because I think judicious use of filters may have produced better images. The wind was cold so I soon set off downhill towards Wootton Courtenay nestling in the trees

Then disaster! I set off through the woods behind the village intending to walk along the ridge you can see in the background. I reached a path junction and took a track that I thought was heading in the right direction. I turned too early and the track deteriorated into an overgrown path and finally nothing. I pressed on, trying to find another path. Big mistake, it took me an hour to find my way down to a road and I finally arrived at the Olde House in Dunster at 8pm. Sorry George.

My spirit was immediately lifted by a home-made florentine ( the B and B is also a tearoom). And a big bath! After a good soak I headed off to the Luttrell Arms for a pint. The hotel was featured on Time Team and dates back to the 15 century. I think it unfair to say that a particular B & B was the best. I think it fairer to say which are my favourites and the Olde House in Dunster is one of them and well worth a stay.