There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Along the Parrett and over the Tone: Day 20 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Mike and Alison T spent the night in their motorhome, the rest of us stayed at the Unicorn Inn, Somerton. Re-gathering at our chosen parking place at the eastern extremity of Langport, Mike looked sprightly but Brian, Francis, Alison C and I were weighed down by an enormous full-English - hopefully we would feel the benefit later.
Ready to leave Langport

Our first task was to find the route from the High Street to the bank of the River Parrett. After a false start walking down a dead end, our second attempt was more successful and we soon passed under the railway line on the path beside the wide but scarcely moving river (the Parrett drops 20cm/km between Langport and Bridgwater). We would follow the dry and well-made path along the levee for four kilometres or more. As the Parrett wandered to our left, the smaller River Sowy charted a much straighter course to our right. Beyond, Aller Moor stretched away to the low ridge where the village of Aller stood.

Beside the River Parrett
The River Sowy and the moor were much lower than the Parrett which lay between two metre high levees. Several times we crossed areas of hard-standing; presumably for the pumping equipment used during the floods to heave the water from low-lying moor over the levee and into the Parrett. Cattle grazed on Aller Moor, the grassland looking to have recovered remarkably well from the winter's inundation.

Looking across Aller Moor to the village of Aller

We passed the interestingly named Oath Farm on the far side of the river, swiftly followed by Oath Lock, below which the Parrett is tidal.

Opposite a house in the village of Stathe with a fine stand of willows and a magnificent cedar, we rested on a bench donated in memory of Stan and Doris Gadsby. I have no idea who they were, but I am grateful to them.
Stathe and a magnificent cedar
Crossing the river we followed the East Dene Way along the southern side of a ridge with West Sedge Moor to our left.

Re-crossing the railway line we took Railtrack’s wise advice to ‘Stop, look and listen.’ I appreciate the occasional statement of the bleeding obvious.

Mike crosses the main London to Penzance railway line

Mostly the going was fairly easy, though ploughed fields are hard on the legs. We also encountered a local speciality, v-shaped stiles with some of the vees rather narrow for bulky people to squeeze through.

Although we were on a recognised long distance pathway (the East Dene Way is a 70km circular walk through the levels starting and finishing in Taunton) there was one small section, perhaps no more than 30m long, that had obviously not been walked this year. Waist high nettles posed a considerable threat to those in shorts, which was everyone except Alison. Fortunately Alison was carrying a walking pole – not much use for its normal purpose in this flat land, but handy for slashing down nettles.
V-shaped stiles leading into the nettle patch

While crossing a grassy field a strange honking sound made us all look skywards to see five large, ungainly birds with stubby rectangular wings, long almost dangling legs and gawky necks. Swiftly and confidently identified by Brian and Francis as common cranes, they circled above us for some time. A rare site in this country, though a breeding group is well established in Norfolk, they caused immoderate excitement among the birders, but if I am going to look at birds I would rather observe something with a touch more elegance.

The village of Woodhill retains a functioning pub. We were briefly tempted, but there was far to go and it was early yet, so we nobly carried on.

Through Woodhill
After rounding Stoke St Gregory we were making our way to the highest part of the ridge when we encountered another (or maybe the same) mystery crop, this batch harvested and set on palates to dry. The sticks were surprisingly sturdy, maybe these were hazel for making hurdles. In the absence of anybody to ask we could only speculate.

Hazel? Maybe, maybe not
We followed the ridge towards Moredon.....

The ridge to Moredon with Curry Moor on the right
...where a farm breeds pheasants by the thousand. Most were the Common Pheasant, which I can see at home any day, but several enclosures contained species I had not seen before and have been unable to securely identify.

White Eared Pheasants from China? A bit of a guess.

From Moredon we descended the end of the ridge into North Curry.....

Descending to North Curry

...a smart and prosperous looking village with a church that boasts an octagonal tower with a peal of eight bells. The Bird in Hand was open, offered free roast potatoes on the bar and Otter Bitter in the pumps. We still had a long way to go so we limited ourselves to a single pint.

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, North Curry
Despite our moderate drinking we all set off in the wrong direction, but sanity reasserted itself and we located the correct road to Knapp. We had not thought we were walking particularly slowly, but we were behind schedule so we took the direct minor road rather than the more circuitous field paths. If we had not walked the extra three kilometres yesterday, we would have missed our lunchtime drink and still been a long way from the finish.

Brian leaves the Bird in Hand, North Curry
Roads are hard on the feet, but you get from A to B with reasonable speed and sometimes see things you would not see on field paths. In our youths the horse and cart was a sign of poverty, but over the years they have turned into rich mens' toys.

Horse and trap on the road to Knapp
From Knapp we made our way to Bird's farm from where the line of descent to the River Tone was obvious and at the bottom we turned right along the minor road to the village of Ham and a footbridge over the river. I was convinced we should turn left, but found myself in a minority of one. After a slow and careful explanation I was finally convinced that everybody else was right, but my sense of direction, which is normally fairly reliable, continued to demand a left turn.

The descent to the River Tone
The Tone rises in the Brendon Hills and flows away from the coast through Taunton (Tone town) and eastwards across Curry Moor. It then reaches the Parrett and discovers that, like me, its sense of direction was sending it the wrong way

The bridge over the River Tone at Ham
(Picture credit Francis)
After the Tone, field paths took us to the railway line which we crossed for the third time that day and the second time by walking directly across the rails. Then we crossed the Bridgewater and Taunton canal, though we used a bridge as not even Francis can walk on water.
Over the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
A gently rising path took us up to Creechwood Terrace, at the north end of Creech St Michael, through another mystery crop. We were able to get a close look at this one and found it soft-stemmed with bamboo-like rings. Although superficially like yesterday’s osiers this was on well drained land and I suspect it was elephant grass destined for a bio-mass power station but, like the osiers, it might be something else.

Mike and Alison approach Creechwood Terrace through what might be elephant grass
A minor road took us across the M5 which we had crossed in the opposite direction in 2010 (Upton-on-Severn to Andoversford) on Day 7. The footpath after the motorway was labelled ' cul-de-sac', which gave us a moment’s pause. Technically the sign was right, the path angled back towards the motorway and came to a full stop at the fence, but on the way it crossed a minor road through the hamlet of Langaller. We were able to pick up that road, and find our way to a field path which would take us the last kilometre to our B & B in West Monkton.
Over the M5, again

That should have provided a simple finish to the day but half way up we were distracted by a commotion in the hedge. A magpie was hanging upside down, one claw ensnared in bailer twine tangled round a strand of barbed wire. Every so often it would flap frantically in an effort to break away, then dangle for a while as it built up the energy for another futile bid for freedom.

You never know what sort of dangling bird is going to be just round the corner.
Taking a clasp knife from his pack, Mike leaned into the hedge and grabbed the struggling bird. To me it looked like an excellent way to get pecked, but once he had a firm grip it went still. He picked patiently away at the bailer twine and eventually managed to free it from the wire. It had lost some blood, but appeared largely undamaged by the ordeal. Mike held the bird with two hands while Brian took the knife and removed the bailer twine wrapped round its claw.

That done Mike threw the magpie into the air. Momentarily it seemed confused by its sudden freedom, then flapped up into a tree and, just to prove its feet were undamaged, hopped from branch to branch.

'Last time I used that knife I was cutting a peach,' Mike remarked. Alison suggested it would probably be wise to sterilize it before his next peach.

That was almost the end of the day's excitement, but the path finished at the dual carriageway A38. We had to cross it, which was life-threatening, and then walk along it, though fortunately only for 50m before turning up a side track to our B & B and the end of a long day's walk - which would have been over-long if we had not done the first three kilometres yesterday.

We dined a short drive away at the Monkton Inn where the South African landlord had a menu which included zebra, ostrich and crocodile. Mike had pork, I had a duck breast and everyone else had fish and chips. Ah well, maybe next time.


  1. I believe the Sowy is an artificial flood relief channel which is why it is both low and relatively straight while the Parrott meanders between high banks and is actually above the level of the Level.

    The soaring cranes did look a bit ungainly but I can assure you all that on the ground they look and walk very elegantly. On this occasion, perhaps they looked down and thought the same about us on foot (especially in the nettles) as we did about them in the air.

    Another excellent blog, David.

  2. Mike 13th May 2014
    I agree with Francis entirely re. his final comment - an extremely excellent and comprehensive blog. Well remembered and described, but with no reference to similarities to the Dordogne anywhere, mysteriously!
    Bleeding obvious may the sign have been but it's not often you cross a high speed line like that. Alison and I reckoned that an approaching train would sound its horn maybe ten seconds or so before it reached the crossing - it was three seconds - as we discovered on our second crossing!
    The canoeists at the beginning of our walk reckoned that if the river was properly dredged then it might one day be possible to see watercraft once more sailing up from Burnham-on-Sea. I'd like to see that.
    It was a wonderful walk with fine views and new sights (for me) such osiers, and Common Cranes soaring noisily high above us.
    Well done and thank you David.

  3. In my experience, the only British river with any similarity to the Dordogne is the Trent!

  4. FYI the 'mystery crop' is willow, widely grown on the moors in the area and used for basket making and hurdles