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…..

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Morchard Bishop to Copplestone: Day 27 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 last day of this year’s Odyssey started with a promise of more good weather, if not quite as outstanding as the last two days.

Driving home would take more than three hours, so only a half day walk had been planned....
The South West Odyssey, Day 27 in green

...and it seemed expedient to shift cars to the end of the walk before we started. Vehicle shuffling takes time so it was 9:45 before we set off, back on the Two Moors Way.

On the Two Moors Way near Lower Brownstone
Morchard Bishop may be in the title of this post, but we did not quite start from there and it took fifteen minutes to reach the rather sparse Morchard Wood.

Morchard Wood
Arriving at the village itself took another quarter hour, the approach dominated by the 16th century St Mary's Church with its 30m tower.

Morchard Bishop
Rural Devon experienced hard times in the late 19th century, with a decline in mining, the mechanisation of the lace industry and the loss of the woollen industry to Yorkshire. Many emigrated or moved away - Lynne’s mother’s family relocated en masse from rural Devon and Somerset to work in the tin-plate industry in South Wales. Morchard Bishop was particularly hard hit, once on the coaching route from Barnstaple to London it was by-passed first by the new turnpike and then by the railway and lost half its population between 1870 and 1905. This may help to explain why the village has retained the longest row of thatched terraced cottages in the country and several 14th and 15th century buildings.

Old Buildings in Morchard Bishop
We passed the primary school, a sturdy Victorian construction rather spoilt by the later extension where a plaque records that Ernest Bevin attended the school in 1889. Bevin’s is a remarkable story. He was born in 1881 in the Exmoor village of Winsford; his mother described herself as a widow and his father was unknown. He had little formal education and was at work by the age of 12. Moving to find work in Bristol, he joined the Bristol Socialist Society, became the local leader of the Dockers Union and was, by 1914 a union national organiser. In 1922 he was one of the founding leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union, later becoming its general secretary. In 1940 Winston Churchill appointed him Minister of Labour in the wartime coalition government and a seat was found for him in parliament. He was re-elected in the post-war Labour landslide and was Foreign Minister in the Atlee government. He died in office in 1951.

Morchard Bishop Primary School
Leaving Morchard Bishop we met an alpaca. I described our 2013 encounter with a small herd as a ‘rare sighting of the North Somerset Alpaca, long thought to be extinct in the wild.’  I was being facetious, but I now regularly pass a herd near my home in Staffordshire, so ‘rare sighting’ was perhaps incorrect. Apparently the British Alpaca Society has 1,400 members who look after some 35,000 alpacas.

Brian inspects an alpaca, Morchard Bishop
Yesterday involved a series of descents to streams followed by steep climbs, but here, a little further south, the land undulated more gently.
A more gently undulating piece of Devon
Sometimes we walked over fields, sometimes along green lanes often following field boundaries. In some we encountered the sort of mud we met yesterday....

For the second day running Francis wonders if there is a way round the mud
.....while others were pleasanter.

A better path towards Slade Farm
Beyond Slade Farm there was a more prolonged section round field boundaries, with some impressive stiles....
Impressive stile!
.......and several right angle turns at field corners. The terrain was now generally flatter, but one long slog up beside a ploughed field seemed to me to be endless. It was not particularly steep, it just kept going and going and …...
A long slow climb beside a ploughed field
After this we soon crossed the Shobroke Railway Bridge. The scenic (at least when it is not in a cutting) single track Tarka line looks like a hobby railway but is actually owned by Network Rail and operated by Great Western, though with support from the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership. It runs from Exeter to Barnstaple, the northern section of the line following the Taw Valley, the home of the eponymous otter in Henry Williamson's 1927 novel.
The Tarka Lane from Shobroke Bridge
We followed the railway embankment for a couple of hundred metres. Although I am, of course, immune to the irritating charms of cutesy animal photos I realise I have included an alpaca in today's post, and spring lambs in the last two, so to blow away all my remaining credibility, here's a picture of two friends beside the railway. Altogether now..... aah, bless.
Friends beside the railway
Some surprisingly flat fields - at least for Devon - took us to a bridge across the Knathorne Brook. As there is a rare usable parking space on the minor road before the bridge we may well be walking the next few hundred metres again next year.

Over the Knathorne Brook
More field paths, including a long but gentle climb beside a field of beans… 
A field of beans and the end of the Two Moors Way for us this year
…brought us to the point where next year we will go straight on along the Two Moors Way but today turned left onto a track towards Chaffcombe Manor which took us a kilometre closer to Copplestone. The final kilometre for this year was on field paths. On the map the footpath heads straight across the middle of a field but the farmer had redirected the path round the edge and left a large heading to walk on, which provided a comfortable path into Copplestone.
Along the wide header towards Copplestone
The walk ended at the car park fifty metres from Copplestone Cross, an intricately carved pillar of Dartmoor granite which is either a boundary stone or the surviving shaft of a late Saxon cross. Putta, the second (and last) Bishop of Tawton was murdered in this area in 910 and possibly Copplestone Cross was erected on the site of his murder.
Copplestone Cross
So at 1:00 almost precisely this year's instalment of the Odyssey was over. The walking had not been as good as 2015, the route being something of a lull between the high points of Exmoor last year and Dartmoor next year, but it had to be done. The April weather, though, treated us exceptionally well, as it had last year. Next year’s walk is also tentatively scheduled for April – can we be so lucky again?

All that was left was the long ride home, all 200 miles of it. Google suggests the quickest way from Copplestone to North Staffordshire is taxi to Exeter, fly to Manchester and drive from there - though that is no help if your car is in Copplestone.

Our journey took well over four hours. Stopping for a cup of tea and a large slice of cake in Crediton was a pleasanter (and shorter) delay than the congestion round the M5/M42 roadworks. I envied Brian's much briefer trip to Torquay.

It only remains to thank Francis for organising the accommodation and working out the route, Lynne for making sure there was a car at the finish each day and driving others to fetch their vehicles - without her contribution we would be in trouble - and Brian, Mike, Francis and Lynne for their companionship on the road and in the pub.


  1. Great to read your account for the three days, and see the photos (especially the cute animals!). It all makes me want to go and do it - even though the landscape isn't the most exciting or pleasant to walk in. I'm aiming for September, or possibly early July, and will probably make further comments then. Hopefully it will be less muddy!

  2. It should be less muddy for you in July or September, Alison, but this is England so don't bank on it. Its a pity that the Two Moors Way uses so many roads but I studied the maps in detail and could find no alternatives except for the first morning when we went up onto the last part of Exmoor.

  3. An excellent account of the three days, David. I suppose the road walking at least avoided a lot of mud. By the way, I still feel that Washford Pyne sounds more like an American blues singer than a Devon village!

  4. A good account of our three days. Your continued logging of our Odyssey is an excellent record that I really appreciate. We are all agreed that this year was not our best for the walking but, as you said, at least the weather was kind and it had to be done if we want to get to Dartmoor. Until next time. Thanks to Francis for his organisation, Lynne for transport and everyone for their companionship. Brian

  5. Our third day, 24th August, but we didn't quite get to Copplestone. The previous day we had been thinking how nice it would be to swim in the sea, and we hadn't had a cream tea yet. The walking and the distances felt great, so I decided I could do most of today's walk next year, the day before we start the next leg proper. So today we just walked a couple of miles to Morchard Bishop, then set off for Dawlish Warren.
    The shop there is great - fresh local veg, eggs, bread and dairy produce, good quality groceries, everything the locals might want, and bits and pieces of interest to tourists. Including alpaca wool. I bet I know where that came from. And coffee, which is the reason we went in in the first place. So that's where I'll start again next year.

  6. Good to read your accounts, Alison, and pleased you enjoyed it. You said you'd do it either in July or September so I'm amused that you ended up doing it in August! Looking forward to walking the next leg of the South West Odyssey with you next year.