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…..

Monday, 5 May 2014

Into the Quantocks: Day 21 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).
 [With updated text and photographs 21/09/14]

It is always pleasing when the B and B is the finish of a day’s walk and you start the next day by simply walking out the door. So it was today – but not for me.

Leaving home on Thursday I picked up my boots and felt a hard piece of the casing protruding inwards. An attempted repair was, at best, ineffective, at worst counter-productive and by mid morning on the first day a blister had already formed and burst.

Blister pads kept me going, but once the damage is done they can only slow the deterioration. By the end of the second day the inside of my right heel was an angry mass of raw, red meat. Despite medication (Ibuprofen, red wine & Famous Grouse) the pain woke me around four o’clock and I made my decision: I could not possibly manage another day.

I was unhappy watching the others set off without me, but there was nothing I could do. [In September I returned in the company of Francis and did the day's walk. We could not have picked a better day; bright sunshine, warm but not too hot for walking] Also galling was that after seven years of the Odyssey, this was the first day I could not blog from first-hand experience. However, others rallied round, and with their assistance Day 21 is not going unrecorded.

Leaving me behind at West Monkton
 Francis wrote. ‘Today we actually started from the B and B, Springfield House, something I always like, and walked up the lane towards Walford House stopping to admire its well-used dovecote.

Dove Cote, Walford House (Pic: Francis)
The lane took us round a U-curve and into West Monkton village…past the main door and through the garden of the pub where we had dined the night before….

[Francis and I dined there again and this time I ate the zebra. Before ordering I asked another diner about his  zebra experience and he said 'Well it's just a big slab of horse, really.' I disagree, Zebra has its own distinctive flavour and it was also gamey in taste and texture - I suspect it requires long hanging to make it tender enough to eat (unless you are a lion). Having walked to the pub on Saturday evening, we felt justified in starting from there on Sunday. When paying for our meal we had asked the landlord if we could borrow a space in his car park for the day. He agreed immediately and thanked us for having the courtesy to ask. Apparently a lot of people don't. They should.]

Francis strides past The Monkton
Shortly we met two alpacas in a field. The owners of the West Monkton Inn clearly must be unaware of their existence or else they would have them on the menu! (on the specials board with the zebra, ostrich and crocodile.) [The alpaca had gone, whether it had starred on the menu or just moved off we do not know]

Not our first  example of the rare Somerset Alpaca
(Pic: Francis)
Along with the alpacas, Alison noted a glamping site with 4 yurts, and Francis photographed a fine horse chestnut which looks more at home in this environment.

Horse Chestnut, West Monkton (Pic: Francis)
The route followed the West Deane Way (we had encountered the East Deane Way yesterday) to Hestercombe House. Alison noted …A few ploughed fields, but the soil was much more friable than the clay of the Somerset levels, and it was only muddy in parts, with ways round possible. There are over a quarter of a million words in this blog, but this is the first time ‘friable’ has made an appearance. I am delighted to welcome it. I had to look the word up, and for those as ignorant as I am, it means ‘apt to crumble.’

A field full of remarkably friable soil (Pic: Alison)
Hestercombe House is a sixteenth century country house with a chequered history including being the headquarters of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service until 2012. The Gertrude Jekyll designed gardens are open to the public.

Francis writes enthusiastically We climbed through fields and bluebell woods enjoying our return to more hilly country after two days on the Levels, Alison is a little more laconic A noticeably hillier day than the previous days.

The Vale of Taunton from Hestercombe (Pic: Alison)

After descending into and out of Gadd’s Bottom.....
Down into Gadd's Bottom (pic. Alison)

Francis admitted they arrived a little late in Kingston St. Mary for a coffee break. We found a bench in the churchyard which served our purpose only to discover, after leaving, a nicer one in a better, more sheltered location in the village.
Coffee break, Kingston St Mary (Pic: Alison)
 [The descent to Kingston St Mary's involves glimpses of the village through trees and gaps in hedges. It is a delightful place and I could not help comparing the soft lushness of southern England with the desolate moors and windswept hills we had crossed on our approach to Hadrian's Wall ten years ago. If humankind could not organise a comfortable and prosperous life for itself here then it had no hope anywhere. And this area did grow rich, mainly on the wool trade which is why a small village could afford such a fine church.

St Mary's, Kingston St Mary
Mostly 13th century, though the tower is 16th century
Benefitting from experience we went on to the second bench in the village. The oak tree was planted to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1896, the bench was added to commemorate the Millennium. We drank our coffee leaning back on wrought-ironwork depicting the village past, present and future.

Millennium Seat, Kingston St Mary

And then the route…took us up through the extensive grounds of Tetton House from where Alison observed we could see the main climb of the day, Cothelstone Hill, ahead. [I looked at Cothelstone Hill and said 'that's not much.' 'Wait til you get to Ball Lane,' Francis said ominously]

Cothelstone Hill looking less than imposing from Tetton House
Tetton House was built in 1790 but largely remodelled between 1924 and 1926 by H S Goodhart-Rendel, architect, writer, musician and all round clever clogs – though I am sorry to say I had never heard of him before.

Leaving the grounds over a stream, way finding, in the words of Francis, became a little confused.. but it was Alison who saved the day with some clever map deduction and good observation skills spotting a gate with a sign on a high fence that we had all missed. Or as Alison put it I brought us back to the route from which we had strayed. I feel pleased at my improved map reading since leaving Stafford, due to a combination of varifocal glasses, having a map, and practising. Well, having a map does help. Mike saw the incident as Alison frantically pointing out the path across the stream and the gate into the wood which was easy to see by all except Francis who was determined in the direction he was taking (60 degrees to the east of it) and that we were to follow! He goes on, with commendable honesty to admit, I was no use … as I had left day 3 map in my 'van!

The site of the navigation difficulties.
That does look the obvious place to cross the stream and the stile into the woods that only Alison
could see is on the left hand edge of the picture two thirds of the way up.
Francis and Brian had strayed into a field over to the right
Once on the right route it did not take long to reach Ball Lane and to start slogging up its 1.5km ….
[Francis warned me, and he was right. Ball Lane is always just steep enough to feel like hard work, but never quite steep enough to get the climb over and done with swiftly. It is a slog, more precisely, a long slog.]

Ball Lane

Resting after the climb up Ball Lane (Pic: Francis)
…and then a bit more to reach Cothelstone Hill, a dizzying height of 332m, part of the Quantock Hills. Cothelstone maybe considerably lower than Dunkery Beacon, assuming we reach Exmoor next year [we did], but it is the highest point on the walk since the Herefordshire Beacon (338m) on the Malvern Ridge.
View west from Cothelstone Hill (Pic: Francis)

Having reached the top, Francis continued we didn’t hang around up there long as the wind was strong and quite cold and we were running late. He did pause on the way down to photograph the bluebells in Twenty Acre Plantation. I am delighted to say they appear to be the native British bluebell - and looking as good as they get. [It was warm and sunny on top of the hill this time. The view west was the same but the weather conditions gave us an even better view north. Ignorng the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, we could see the whole sweep of the Somerset coast to Weston Super Mare and beyond, and across the Bristol Channel to Barry and Penarth. What we had no chance of seeing in September were the bluebells in Twenty Acre Plantation.]

Bluebells, Twenty Acre Plantation (Pic: Francis)
Alison observed that we were beginning to realise that it would be another long morning.There was even another climb up from the bottom of Cothelstone hill before descending to the pub at West Bagborough along the road, as a last minute short cut.

[I understand the need for a shortcut on the third day of three, but we were only there for the day so we carried on, taking a fine path that does not quite cross the summit of Lydeard Hill, though at 350m the path set a new high point for the day. They are proud of their colony of Dartford Warblers here, but Francis did not see one. I might have done, but I have no idea what a Dartford Warbler looks like]

Francis looks for Dartford Warblers on Lydeard Hill
We descended to West Blagborough on a path that was rougher and steeper than Ball Lane. It was redeemed by a) being downhill and b) being shorter.
The descent to West Blagborough
This was intended to be a short day’s walk before the long drive home. The previous evening we had chopped the finishing point from the hamlet of Triscombe to West Bagborough, and now a short-cut was necessary to make West Bagborough in a reasonable time. This year’s instalment of the South West Odyssey (English Branch) ended in the Rising Sun at West Blagborough. Well done! to those who made it. I am sorry I was not there.

[Well I got there, - four months late. We had a very welcome (and, I think, deserved) pint of shandy sitting in the sun outside the Rising Sun]

Wild ponies, Cothelstone Hill (Pic: Francis)
Perhaps we are walking a little slower than we used to, it does not feel like it, but we were all in our forties for 'Go West', we are in our sixties, now. I think these walks were slightly longer than the last couple of years, but then Cothelstone Hill apart it was as flat a three day walk as can be arranged without going round and round a running track. Something to think about before next year perhaps – but there will be a next year, and I will find time, hopefully during this summer, to get down to Somerset and fill in my missing section. Thanks to those who offered to accompany me. I hope to take at least one of you up on it. [Big thanks to Francis who was willing and available on the date I picked]

Thanks to Francis, Alison and Mike for the contributions and to Brian for doing two shuttle runs in the afternoon so that I could go home in the morning.


  1. Another lovely walk and I was genuinely pleased to be up in the hills again although was not too happy slogging up Ball Lane. You've got that pleasure to come! Having said that, the two days crossing the Levels were very enjoyable with plenty of variation to keep the interest - well, after the 6km slog along the Parrott at least.

    We actually stayed outside the Rising Sun at West Bagborough as, being now a gastopub, it was a little posh inside for us, even though Mr. Mud was not with us!

  2. To be fair to Francis, he had been heading in the right direction before Brian suggested it would be better to cross the stream in the next field, by which time he had probably lost sight of the path and the stile, which I could see clearly from my position at the back. I was behind due to taking photos of calves and the distant view of Cothelstone Hill - which didn't look very exciting as photos.
    Cothelstone HIll reminds me of Cottleston Pie, a rhyme of Winnie the Pooh, which I have been reading lately. It's in the story about Eeyore's birthday.

  3. The very same thought had occurred to me.

    Cottlestone, Cottlestone, Cottlestone, Pie,
    I fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
    Ask me a riddle and I reply:
    "Cottlestone, Cottlestone, Cottlestone, Pie."

  4. The repeat was also an enjoyable walk although I can't believe I volunteered to climb Ball Lane again. Also, this time, we found our way from Tetton Park into the wood no problem but managed to get slightly lost trying to get out of the same wood! I also feel I am better with a map in my hand than with a satnav on my dashboard.

    1. It was such a slight mistake in the woods I did not think it worth mentioning. Satnavs are another matter!