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, 26 April 2017

Drewsteignton to Bennett's Cross: Day 29 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).

Updated with extra pictures and text 03 Nov 2018

A Tedious Little Prologue (skip if you have read Day 28)

The ‘five like-minded people’ would only be 4 this year. I did my preparations and after four full-day practice walks with Mike and Francis and some solo strolls I was feeling fit and ready… except for a nagging little pain beneath my right heel.

Then, with less than a week to go, a further morning’s walk saw that nagging little pain explode into something I could no longer ignore. It was no better next day and a trip to A&E resulted in a diagnosis of plantar fasciisitis, inflammation of and/or damage to the tendon where it joins the heel bone. And the cure? Rest, probably for several months.

But the accommodation was booked so Lynne and I went anyway. There were cars to shuffle which Lynne usually does on her own, food to be eaten and beer to be drunk for which my talents might be needed.

I found these three days frustrating, transferring people to starts, collecting them from finishes and in between hobbling around various tourist sites. (End of prologue)

[I needed to fill in these missing legs and Brian kindly volunteered to provide accomodation in Torquay and accompany me on the walks in February 2018. We completed Day 28, but the arrival of the ‘Beast from East’ then forced a tactical withdrawal.

It was not until November that we returned to Drewsteignton, this time with Francis as well, to finish the job. I have added some extra photos and plenty of extra text (in red).]

Day 29, Drewsteignton to Bennett's Cross
As we were staying a second night in Moretonhampstead, car shuffling was simpler this morning. Before breakfast Alison and Mike took a car to the finish at Bennett’s Cross, 3 kilometres onto Dartmoor and 435m up – details I mention only because they found the moor under a carpet of snow, a rare event in April though the snow would not last for long.

Mike leaves his car at snowy Bennett's Cross (photo: Alison)

Later I drove the walkers to Drewsteignton. It is a lovely village which I wrote about yesterday, though I failed to mention its little square with church and pub – what could be more cosily traditional?

Drewsteignton Square
My picture, but it's a shame I could not come back for the afternoon sun. 
Text (in blue) is now by Francis who took all the photos (except as noted).

It was again cold but we set off in clear sunshine. [The 3rd of November started as a very warm and pleasant day, for November – it would be a day of two halves!] We immediately dropped steeply down off the road and then steeply up on a path so punishing it needed steps, but at the top we were provided with an excellent view back to Drewsteignton.

We then had a very pleasant walk along the top of the valley side along the edge of Piddledown Common (yes, really). [Walking across Devon has involved an endless succession of ridges to climb, only to drop down into the valley beyond to climb the next ridge to drop….etc, etc. It was a rare pleasure to reach a ridge and to walk along it (or just below it) and enjoy the views].We were in the Castle Drogo Estate and caught a brief glimpse of the castle though it was hidden behind scaffolding.

Along the top of the Teign valley below Castle Drogo (photo: Alison)
[Sorry to interrupt. Castle Drogo, designed by Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe, founder of Home and Colonial Stores, was built between 1911 and 1930. It is often called ‘the last castle built in England’, but as there is no agreed definition of ‘castle’ and Castle Drogo was never in anyway fortified I prefer the description ‘vanity project'. Economic uncertainty meant it is only half the size originally planned and the asphalt roof – a new and untried technology - leaked almost from the start. In 1974 the building was donated to the National Trust and in the current six year restoration programme the roof is being replaced and the windows reset which accounts for the scaffolding. Lynne and I visited Castel Drogo while the others were walking; the gardens are magnificent, but the ‘castle’ will be a lot more interesting when fully reopened next year.] [The National Trust’s 'project watertight' is ongoing, so the scaffolding is still there.]

Castle Drogo, still scaffolded and covered in Niovember 2018
Much pleasanter sights were Whiddon Wood…

Whiddon Wood - looking remarkably like broccoli
and a Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Pearl bordered fritillary
The path passed Hunter’s Tor then descended to the River Teign which we followed for 6 kilometres [it is a lovely walk along the Teign, too, so I have inserted one of my pictures as a complement to Francis']...

The River Teign near Dogmarsh Bridge, 03 Nov 2018
passing Dogmarsh Bridge where we crossed the A382 and shortly afterwards saw a red kite, Rushford Mill where we paused for coffee, and Chagford.

Along the River Teign
On the narrow road after Chagford Bridge we were passed (with difficulty) by an amazing number of delivery vans all heading to Gidleigh Park Hotel and were pleased to leave the road and join a footpath heading up to Teigncombe. [We were not troubled by delivery vans, but spots of drizzle started to become noticeable as we rounded Chagford and headed up towards Teigncombe. It was far too misty for the view below].

Looking back to Chagford
Here we left The Two Moors Way.... [A little navigational inattention meant we missed this path and appeared on the moor 300m metres to the north.]

The last stretch before the open moor (Photo: Alison)
.... and headed further up onto Dartmoor intending to pass north of Kestor Rock, but the best path went to it and it seemed sensible to visit the rocks and sit out of the cold wind on its lee side to have our lunch. Mike and Brian had bought pasties in Moretonhampstead, Alison had Bombay Mix while I made do with cereal bars. As we sat in warm sunshine admiring the 360 degree views we visually plotted our afternoon route.

Lunch at Kestor Rock
[We headed up up Kestor Rock through tussocks and gorse as the drizzle thickened and the wind began to blow. After a very pleasant morning the day was taking a turn for the worse, but the rock provided shelter for our lunch, too.]

Kestor Rock, November
The moor was incredibly dry and the afternoon walk was pleasant and easy. We came eventually to the restored Grey Wethers Stone Circles and then headed south-east over White Ridge (just over 500m) and east over Assycombe Hill to an ancient settlement on the side of Water Hill.

[The day became incredibly wet and the afternoon walk was unpleasant and difficult. The remains of Hurricane Oscar had worked its way across the Atlantic and we walked south across open moorland straight into a strong south wind driving the stinging rain into our faces. We gained a little shelter rounding the north of Fernworthy Forest, but seemed to have been toiling round it for ages before we again turned south into the teeth of the wind and picked up the path to a clapper bridge...

Clapper Bridge, near Grey Wethers Stone Circles
...and a few metres beyond that the Grey Wethers stone circles.

One of the Grey Wethers Stone Circles
Grey Wethers is a pair of stone circles, both about 30m in diameter with their centres aligned North-South. On a good day (like the 26th of April in Francis' picture below) I would have greatly admired these Bronze Age circles; in the circumstances my first thought was 'What the expletive did these people think they were doing building this out here?', closely followed by 'What the expleteive did I think I was doing out here?']

Grey Wethers, a pair of re-erected  (1909) pre-historic stone circles
From here it was an easy amble through the heather to meet the B3212 ..

Across the moor from Grey Wethers
[November did not provide an easy amble through the heather. Given the weather conditions and the visibility we followed a wall back to Fernworthy Forest and turned south beside it descending sharply to cross the Vitifer Mine Leat, then climbing to the 500m White Ridge. From the top I was hoping to be able to see the end of the walk, but instead the stumps of the forest stretched ahead until they dwindled into the mist. Words from Scott of the Antarctic's diary seemed to describe it well. 'Dear God, this is a dreadful place....' he wrote, though I cheered myself up with the thought that unlike Scott I still expected to get out of this dreadful place alive.

Darkness falls early in November, so to get off the moor in the light we followed a wall to the B3212 and walked along it to the car. It was a longer, but safer.]

...and follow it a short way to The Warren House Inn. Brian and I enjoyed pints of beer while Alison had a soft drink and Mike a pot of tea but quite why we opted to sit outside in the cold I do not know.

Sitting outside thee Warren House Inn (Photo: Alison)
I had planned a walk down to the old mines below the Inn then back up to the road at Bennett’s Cross but in the end there was a unanimous decision to simply follow the road to the car park.

Bennett's Cross
And who, you ask, was Bennett and why was he cross? The simple answer is nobody knows, there are theories but no definitive answer. Its age is unknown, too. It was mentioned in a tithe dispute in 1702 but its rough-hewn nature suggests it might be much older. It marks the boundary between the parishes of Chagford and North Bovey and once bore the letters WB for ‘Warren Bounds’ as it denoted the limit of Headland Rabbit Warren - so you knew if you were poaching someone else’s lunch.

Later, back in Moretonhampstead, we had pre-dinner drinks in The Horse. Francis described the Drewe Arms as ‘delightfully unimproved’ and at first glance the same could be said of The Horse, but I suspect it is more archly retro.

We ate a few doors down at Berto’s, a tiny Italian restaurant. We had booked yesterday on a recommendation from our B&B – and booking is necessary when six people want to eat at a restaurant with only four tables. Berto’s has no drinks licence but we non-walkers had been tasked with purchasing appropriate wine. The menu is limited but the quality is high and the flavours genuine. It has the vibe of a small family run Italian restaurant, which is what it is, if not quite in the expected place.

Walking to the car we passed a youth group coming off the moor with their leaders. We later passed the minibus going to pick them up. They were destined for a hostel, or worse, a night camping. We were heading for the warmth and comfort of Brian and Hilary's home, a hot shower, dry clothes and a good meal. The misfortune of others can be strangely cheering.

Today's distance 23km


  1. A second lovely day. I am enjoying your additional comments, David.

  2. The walk along the River Teign was delightful – mainly in woodland but with tremendous variety - sunshine and shadows on the water and through the trees, rushing water, and reflection in the still pools. The afternoon walk wasn’t as easy and pleasant as Francis implies – heading over White Ridge there was no clear path, and we encountered the boggiest section of the walk this year.
    The settlement on the side of Water Hill intrigued Brian, Mike and me, although the most interesting bit for Francis seemed to be a wheatear. According to Geograph, it wasn’t that ancient, but an unproductive tin mine which became a farm in the 19th century – Caroline Farm. We passed other earthworks before reaching the road, which could have been old tin mines or old rabbit warrens, or both.
    We arrived at the Warren Inn hot and sweaty, and the atmosphere inside was similar, due to the fire that had been burning since 1845. The sun was still shining at that point, which is why we decided to sit outside. However, a cold wind immediately got up and I retreated to the loo for a leisurely visit while the others finished their drinks.

  3. According to a teacher at Reigate Grammar School who once had a job at the Warren House Inn, the fire has always been going out overnight. The staff were instructed to get it lit before the pub opened for the day.

  4. The Moor was relatively dry again (at least it was before this weekend!) but it seemed to take much longer than I remembered to reach Grey Wethers and time then seemed to pass very quickly and of course it started to go dark early under the heavy cloud. Walking off the Moor at 5.00 in November is not something I'd want to do again!

  5. I still can't quite believe that school took their youngsters out on expedition in November. I hope they were staying in a hostel and not camping.