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…..

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Knowstone to Black Dog on the Two Moors Way: Day 26 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).

The title of this post is not entirely accurate. We did not quite start in Knowstone, nor did we exactly finish in Black Dog, but at farmhouses in the vicinity. We did, though, follow the Two Moors Way all day.

The Day 26 walk in Orange

After a good farmhouse breakfast we left West Bowden, walked back up out of the dip, through the field of spring lambs and turned left onto the minor road heading towards the A361.

Mike, Francis, Brian and Lynne
Ready to set off from West Bowden
My glasses are on a seat just inside the wooden gate over Lynne's left shoulder
After 500m the Two Moors Way detours to find a route under the main road. Thinking it was appropriate to check my map, I found my efforts hampered by lack of glasses. The others waited as I walked as swiftly as I could back to West Bowden. The field of sheep greeted me like an old friend, setting off a tremendous baa-ing, and I was relieved to find my glasses where I thought I had left them. I set off back, still at top speed. When I hit the rise from the farmhouse for the second time that morning I began to feel it and I was breathing heavily by the time I made the road. Despite working hard to give the impression of rapid movement I was definitely slowing long before I re-joined my companions, who were waiting with more patience than I deserved.

Spring lambs, West Bowden

We detoured left and then right down the edge of Knowstone Inner Moor. At first it was a pleasant path….

Along the edge of Knowstone Inner Moor

….. but as it dropped towards the Sturcombe River it became muddier and muddier. Wooden walkways covered some of the worst of it, but there was still plenty to wallow in.

Francis on Knowstone Inner Moor looking like he wishes he was somewhere else
Slipping, sliding and sometimes sinking, we eventually reached a drier path that took us under the A361 and then to the minor road we had driven along to Rackenford last night.

Under the A361

A right turn onto Canworthy Common put us on a green lane. Wide, relatively dry and yielding underfoot, this pleasant path lasted just over a kilometre.

Along the green lane
We emerged onto a minor road. The Two Moors Way involves a lot of road walking, at least between the moors, and we were now in for more than 4km of it. It is unusual to find such a paucity of footpaths in a very rural area.

Road walking has occasional compensations; a short section of the verge was covered in primroses….

Bank of primroses beside the road

 … while Creacomber Cross gave us our first view of Dartmoor, which we will reach next year (if we are spared, as Terry Wogan used to say).

Dartmoor rising in the distance, Creacomber Cross
 At Creacombe Parsonage, we passed the high, dense hedge of the Acorns Naturist Retreat. Somebody used the strangely dated phrase 'nudist colony' and for the next five minutes there was a sorry descent into full Carry On mode; somehow the seventies never died.

Twenty minutes later we paused for coffee leaning on a gate at Crowdhole Cross with a lovely view over the fields down to the Sturcombe River (again). It was, though, a noisy place – those birds never shut up.
Coffee-time view down to the Sturcombe River, somewhere down the bottom there
We slogged on down the apparently endless road,......

Endless minor road, approaching Bradford Barton

...... past Bradford Barton, across the Little Dart River at Bradford Mill and up the hill beyond. Just as it started to steepen we at last turned off to follow a footpath below Bradford Moor Plantation.

Below Bradford Moor Plantation
 Beyond the woods we crossed the slope above the Little Dart, passing its confluence with the Sturcombe.

The slope above the Little Dart River
Approaching a gate in a fence I became aware that Mike appeared to be straddling a sheep. In Wales we call that 'foreplay' but he claimed he was freeing the ewe, disentangling its head from the wire fence. He stuck to his story and for the defence he might point out that he has previous with animal rescue, a lamb hauled from a pit on the Brecon Beacons and the freeing of a string entwined magpie in Somerset spring readily to mind.

We had to sacrifice much of the height gained earlier to cross an unnamed tributary before climbing through Yeo Copse and across the fields to Witheridge.

Up through the Yeo Copse

With just over a thousand inhabitants, Witheridge was by far the biggest settlement we had encountered since Watchet, itself hardly a metropolis.


It was just warm enough to sit outside the Mitre to enjoy a couple of pints of lunch.

A pint of lunch at the Mitre, Witheridge
In Witheridge the Two Moors Way picks its way between the houses then drops across a field to a stream. Like most fields the muddiest section was around the gate.
Brian and Mike navigate round the mud

After another 'up' followed by a steep 'down' we reached a footbridge over the River Dalch from where a wooded climb took us up to Washford Pyne.

The climb up to Washford Pyne

The waters of the Dalch, like the Little Dart find their way into the Taw and thence to the north Devon Coast. At yesterday’s start, much further north, we had crossed the Barle, which flows into the Exe and on to the south Devon coast. Tracing the watershed through the deeply folded Devon countryside is not easy.

St Peter’s Church at Washford Pyne looked a handsome building to me. The Devon County Council website quotes from a 1954 book entitled Devon by W.G. Hoskins ‘Washford Pyne church was wholly rebuilt in 1883-7 and is of no interest.’  Ah well.

St Peter's, Washwood Pyne
The pattern of ups and downs continued. From Washford Pyne the path through Washford Wood started level,…

Through Washford Wood

… but soon descended to a stream,….

The bridge at the bottom of Washford Wood
….. then it was up and over, and repeat, to the hamlet of Lower Black Dog.
Lower Black Dog
The village of Black Dog was a few hundred metres to our east, but we would return there in the evening to dine at the pub, unsurprisingly called the Black Dog Inn.

Black Dog lies on the highest ridge between Exmoor and Dartmoor, giving views of both moors at once. We passed through Blue Anchor on the Somerset coast last year, and this may well be another case of a village taking its name from its pub. Black Dog grew up round a well and a story tells of how the tunnel running from the well to Berry Castle, an earthwork a mile to the south, was once guarded by a ghostly black dog. Sadly, no such tunnel ever existed and the story sounds suspiciously like a later invention to explain a name already in use.

The undulations continued, as we first walked west then south to our B&B. There were no great heights to scale, the ridge at Black Dog is a little over 200m, but between the ridges the path had a way of dropping quite steeply and then, at what should be the bottom of the valley, there was a further descent to the stream itself which had spent several millennia digging itself deeper and deeper into its bed.

About to drop down to the next stream

On one of the high points we passed an isolated barn containing the remains of a threshing machine that had once been dragged from farm to farm behind a traction engine. Several years' restoration work was available for an enthusiast, but I would not know where to start. Mike gave one of the wheels an exploratory turn, and it moved surprisingly easily. That was when the pigeons nesting inside decided to complain.

Mike inspects the remains of a steam powered threshing machine

By the time we had finished examining it, Francis was dwindling into the distance on the way down to the next stream.

Francis dwindles into the distance

We reached the B&B, an isolated farmhouse, about 4.30. The farmyard was something of a contrast to the neat and orderly world of West Bowden Farm the previous evening.

Our stay with Brian and Hilary in Torquay last week had provided an insight into the worlds of collecting and hoarding. Brian is, among other things, a walker while Hilary is a collector. She likes to cover every surface with objets d'art, mainly of far eastern origin, many of very high quality. Together we had visited Greenway, the former home of Agatha Christie. Christie and her daughter also filled their house, perhaps over-enthusiastically. The National Trust have kept it as it was, perched on the cusp between collecting and hoarding. Tonight's friendly landlady had no truck with ‘the cusp,’ she was a confirmed hoarder; you always had to move something to sit down.

The welcome was warm and genuine, but she was elderly so it did not include twenty-first century ‘necessities’ like Wi-Fi, nor indeed late twentieth century ‘necessities’ like mobile phone signals, en suite bathrooms, televisions, tea making equipment or even heating. 'I don’t light the wood burners because there's jackdaws nesting in the chimneys and I don't like to disturb them.' Our stay was appropriately inexpensive, but I suspect she was in business more for company than the money.

Later Brian nobly drove us back to the similarly welcoming but more up to date (free Wi-Fi) Black Dog for a pleasant evening involving food and beer – two of my favourites.


  1. First, I can confirm that Mike was indeed rescuing a sheep who had pushed her head through the wire fence as I was with him. It was now held within it, its squared wire structure just the right size for a mishap.

    Second, its also worth recording that the beer at The Mitre was called Twiglets Tipple. The landlord reassured us that the statement on the beer clip "Brewed by Coors" was wrong; the beer itself was named after the pub cat and was a very good brew.

    Third, these comments have been written as a result of a complaint from the blogmaster if its correct to call him that.

  2. This day will be remembered more thanks to comments about 'the Acorns' and 'Mike's activities' rather than the quality of the walking. Mud or road are not the two alternatives that make a good day. However, our first sighting of Dartmoor and what that will bring was a highlight. Brian

  3. I did this walk on Tuesday (23rd August). It was a hot day, so it was very good to have the sections of the walk that went through woods, and that was part of the delight of descending to one of the many valleys, that they tended to be wooded for some shade. We particularly liked the green lane.
    We too, had to return to West Bowden farm - I had left the cheque book. I had no idea though, until we arrived at our destination, which luckily I had mentioned at West Bowden. Mrs Bray had phoned our host so she was able to tell us, and we drove back at the end of the day to pick it up. The lambs have grown. That drive, mainly along single track roads, was rather exciting, as all the farms had been madly harvesting, and we kept meeting tractors with trailers. Also motorbikes and horse boxes.
    There was less mud at Knowstone Inner Moor than you had, but we were glad of the board walks. The woodland and the stream were lovely, but contrasted with the noise of the road, which wasn't so pleasant.
    Co-incidentally, we stopped at Crowdhole Cross for elevenses as well - plums rather than coffee. It was probably the point when the road walking had got particularly tedious, and for us, the shade of the tree was welcome. Good views too. It was good to see Dartmoor, then, climbing out of Witheridge later, there was a really good view back to the village and way beyond to Exmoor in the distance, so we got a sense of how far we had come.
    For me, the worst climb up out of a valley was the last one, diagonally across a long field full of clover almost up to my knees in places.
    Like you, we had been told that everyone does the Two Moors Way south to north, and like you, we didn't meet anyone coming the other way. I did, however, meet a young man near Black Dog who was walking north to south, and was just having a rest.