Day 21 Monday 19 August Williton to North Petherton

Miles walked: today 20.4 Cumulative 300.7

This was my last day in the south-west uplands and one I was really looking forward to. I had walked in the Quantocks on a miserable, misty February day when I was a student. Today there was a good chance I would walk the ridge in fine weather.

It was raining when I woke up, drizzling by the time I left but within 10 minutes the sun had come out. I had an hours walk across farmland to the pretty village of Sampford Brett then on to Bicknoller. I reached the ridge by walking up Bicknoller Combe which is a lightly wooded sunken valley. As I drew near to the top of the ridge I saw some red deer higher up the hillThe main Quantock ridge runs in a north west to south east direction so a little out of my way. As I explained in the introduction, my plan was not to walk in a straight line from England to Scotland but to meander to walk areas of particular interest to me.

The Quantocks did not disappoint. The ridge keeps at a height of about 1000 feet above sea level throughout its length. There are steep combes on either side but only gentle slopes are present on the ridge. There are some macabre place names on the map, e.g. Slaughterhouse Combe, Dead Woman’s Ditch. I was unable to find out the origin of these names. (The body of the wife of John Walford was found in the Ditch in the 18th Century but the name appears on older maps). The Quantock Hills were first area of land to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in 1956, and they certainly deserves this title. Samuel Coleridge lived in the Quantocks.

The path joined a beautiful beech lined avenue, the Drove Road, that was a trader’s route for hundreds of years, particularly used in winter when the Somerset levels were flooded.

Further on is a the Triscombe Stone, dating from the Bronze Age

It’s not very impressive. However, legend says if you sit on the stone you will be granted a wish.

The path then climbs to the high point of the ridge, Wills Neck, probably named after a local Saxon tribe, the Wealas. The views were outstanding, Exmoor could clearly be seen in the West and the Somerset levels and Mendips towards the East. Less picturesque was Hinckley power station.

There were a herd of Quantock ponies at the trig point. These are not a pure breed. They were originally Exmoor ponies but have been interbred with Arabs. Like Exmoor ponies they are owned. They run wild on the Moor but are brought down for the winter

A day walker arrived at the summit at the same time as me. We spent about 15 minutes watching these beautiful animals. We did not dare go up to the trig point for fear of disturbing them.

My final point on the ridge was Cothelstone Hill which has some tumuli on the top. Again there were great views backwards and forwards along my route.

Reluctantly, I descended from the hill, passing an old pony corral that was being used as a wood store. I still had a long walk to North Petherton so it was time to stop dithering and start walking. I just made it in time to get a mug of tea at the National Trust centre at Broomfield.

I eventually arrived at the Walnut Tree Hotel to find I had been upgraded. After a long bath and a juicy steak I felt recuperated. I think this was my favourite day on the trip so far. I am re-editing the posts in 2021 and I still look back on this day as one of the best days on the English section of the walk.

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.

Tuesday June 11: Day 0 travel

Miles walked 0, pints beer 2, cream teas 0.

Not much to say. A long train and bus journey, everything on time. Had a good view of the August leg from the train . If the weather is nice there should be good views from the Cotswold escarpment.

When I planned the trip I imagined getting here and feasting on fish and chips sitting on the beach on a sunny evening. Instead there was heavy cloud and a strong northerly wind but at least the south west has avoided the torrential rain that hit the rest of England today. Either it’s the beer or the cloud is thinning out now. Unfortunately I think wet weather gear will feature high on the list for tomorrow.

Nice fish and chips and a couple of pints of well kept St Austell Proper Job IPA in the “Top House” pub in Lizard. Fish depends on what was caught; today it was hake. Pub Recommended if you are down here.

Cream teas: I must remember it is jam before cream in Cornwall and cream first in Devon.

COVID19

looks like LEJOG part 2 is off this year. In theory I could camp and cook my own food en route I don’t know whether campsites will be open, and communal washing and toilet facilities are hardly self isolating. Wild camping is theoretically possible but is illegal in England, difficult in central Scotland but I will explore this. If I do this there will not be a blog as I won’t have internet access or charging facilities for my electronics.

Favoured option at present is to stock the car up (or use the trains) and bag some Munro’s as well has some of the lower but still beautiful Scottish hills. Or the Cape Wrath trail or Knoydart (avoiding the village at the tip of the peninsula) which is self isolating in the extreme!

Stay safe everyone and the blog will continue in 2021

Preparation

A month to go!

I am very grateful to those who have published books and blogs about their journey. At some point I will add a bibliography and links.

Preparation actually started at the beginning of the year. I was worried Cornwall B &B would get fully booked so I booked accommodation really early. I am going to start at the Lizard and walk to Lands End via the coast path, then continue along the north coast to Padstow before following the Camel trail to Bodmin. Nice easy days of 10-12 miles to ease in gently and to have time to sit on the beach if it’s sunny.

I have done minimal training. I cycle to work and walk and swim regularly but have not backpacked for more than 3-4 days at a time for ages hence the relaxed start. Hopefully B&B will allow me to keep my weight down. Like other walkers it’s a compromise between the amount of clothes to carry vs not wanting to smell! There are some fabrics which claim to avoid smelling sweaty and are easy to wash and quick to dry so, as long as it doesn’t rain every day I should be ok. My I pad will double as a book reader and iPod and allow me to upload a diary and pictures as I go along. My new boots seem comfortable and hopefully will be blister free. I won’t even have to carry much food as most days will include a bay where there is a pub or kiosk where I can buy lunch.

I decided to take “real” maps and a compass as I don’t trust electronic devices in case the battery runs out. However, if I keep the sea on my left I shouldn’t get lost!