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…..

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dunkery Hill to Withypool: Day 24 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey was a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year finished at Start Bay on the South Devon Coast in May 2019.

At 15km the third day was a shorter walk, in theory to allow for the long drive home but in practice to provide time for fiddling around placing one car at the finish and getting six people to the start. How to do this using two five seat cars was a logistical problem that had taxed great minds in the pub the previous evening.
Mike and Alison set off up the towards Dunkery Beacon
Ten o'clock had come and gone before we set off from the car park on the flank of Dunkery Hill. As I suggested at the end of the previous post the final kilometre long 100m climb to Dunkery Beacon was easy when we were fresh.

There's the summit and Francis cannot wait to get there
It was a cooler start than yesterday and with a keen wind on the 519m (1700ft) summit I donned my jacket for the first time since Wednesday morning.
Dunkery Beacon with Mike and Alison (Photograph, Francis)
With my map case blowing in the chilly wind it is definitely time to put a jacket on

A plaque on the cairn commemorated the donation of this land to the National Trust in 1935 by Sir Thomas Acland, Colonel Wiggin and Mr Allan Hughes. 'There's some research for your blog,’ Francis (I think) commented.

Plaque on Dunkery Beacon
 So this is what I found. The Holnicote Estate, covering some 5,000ha of North Somerset, (most of it, including Dunkery Hill, now within the Exmoor National Park) passed by marriage into the ownership of Sir Thomas Acland, the 7th Baronet Acland in 1745. The National Trust was given a 500 year lease on the estate in 1918 by the 12th Baronet, another Sir Thomas Acland, and the freehold was donated in 1944 by the 15th Baronet, Sir Richard Acland, a socialist and a founder member of CND. How the Dunkery Hill section became National Trust property in 1935 in the time of the 14th Baronet, Sir Francis Acland is unclear, as is the reason why his long dead grandfather is given the credit. Mr Allan Hughes Esq owned a smaller parcel of land. He died before 1934 and the donation was actually made by his widow. She, doubtless, had a name of her own - most people have - but I have found no reference to her other than as Mrs Allan Hughes. Colonel Wiggin, was master of the Somerset Stag Hounds from 1917 until his death in 1936. After a military career he became a director, and then chairman of the family firm Henry Wiggin and Co* in Birmingham. He lived in Birmingham but had a house and some land in Somerset, part of which he gave to the National Trust in 1932.

Colonel Walter Wiggin
photograph published in Baily's Magazine, February 1920
sourced by me from Wikipedia
 From the summit the path descended gently and then contoured along the side of the moorland. In the lee of the hill it was much warmer and my jacket soon came off again. The path was wide, the stones crushed and rolled, unlike on the climb up, and it was easy going, but after four kilometres the sameness was becoming tedious.

Brian plods along the edge of the moorland
This path finally reaches a minor road at the point where the road splits into two tiny ribbons of unfenced tarmac which dribble their way across the moor. We paused at this point, known as Porlock Post, sat in the heather and drank some coffee. Like the posts on the Quantocks, ‘Porlock Post’ really is a post and is labelled as such. It told us walkers exactly where we were, but for drivers it was useless, whether through wind or vandalism, the arms pointed in random directions.

The Porlock Post
We followed the road off the moor and descended a long sunken lane to the village of Exford. The sides of the lane again consisted of stone walls topped with neglected hedges. Centuries of erosion had lowered the path level so that the walls sat on a bank of bare earth.

The sunken lane to Exford

We saw out first spring lamb back in December, though perhaps that unfortunate creature should not be described as a ‘spring’ lamb. This being the right season, the field were full of sheep and lambs, some so new their legs were still wobbly.

Spring lambs near Exford
Exford is a small village with a large green which we crossed and followed a path beside the River Exe.

Leaving Exford along the River Exe
Here, some five miles from its source at Simonsbath, the Exe is a modest stream. Flowing southwards for another 65 kilometres, mostly through Devon, it reaches the sea just beyond Exeter at Exmouth - there is a clue in the name. Rising in moorland, it is inevitably acidic but is home to a population of wild brown trout and has a run of Atlantic salmon.

Our path crossed the river which swings east for a little way while we followed the Exe Valley Way around the flank of Southcott Hill, before dipping down to the foot of Court Copse, ensuring the climb up Road Hill would be as long and stiff as possible.

You have to go down before you can go up
Approaching Road Hill (photograph, Alison)

After the climb we made our way across the hill’s rounded top. Curr Cleeve, a small steep valley descending to the Exe, separates Road Hill from Room Hill, but we were able to follow the ridge round the end of the valley without losing height.

Curr Cleeve between Road Hill and Room Hill

Room Hill Road runs close to the top of the hill, and after crossing the road we found a permissive path that descends to Withypool, zigzagging along the field boundaries with some impressive bridge/ladder/stile combinations.

Bridge, ladder stile on the way to Withypool
 A final steep descent across a grassy field brought us down to a minor road on the edge of the village where Lynne was waiting to meet us.
On the southern side of the village a fine late medieval bridge crosses the River Barle, which rises close to the source of the Exe but follows a more westerly path before turning east to meet the Exe at Exebridge some 11 kilometres from its source. Why some places, like Exebridge and Exeter retain their second 'e' and others, like Exford, and Exmouth, do not is a mystery.

Francis reaches Withypool first
Brian's car was in the car park on the far side of the bridge, but before crossing it we stopped at the adjacent tea house. Brian, and to a lesser extent Lynne, had checked out Somerset’s strong, cloudy cider and it seemed time to enjoy the region's other great delight, a cream tea.
The Bridge on the River Barle

Purists might say that half past two was too early, but we felt we had earned it. I savoured my scone with its thick coating of clotted cream topped with blackcurrant jam. Sadly, only Alison and I pronounce scone correctly (it rhymes with 'swan' not 'drone'), though even my wife will not admit the truth of this statement. There is also the vexed question of whether the cream goes on the jam, or the jam goes on the cream – to enjoy a simple cream tea it is necessary to negotiate a minefield of social conventions.

Cream Tea, Withypool
Well fed, we crossed the bridge to the car park and the 2015 instalment of the South West Odyssey came to its end. It had been one of the best; unexpectedly fine weather, excellent walking country and convivial evenings. What could be better?

The walk across Somerset
Next year south into Devon
To answer my own question, I would have liked the drive home to have taken less than five and a half hours. The M5 and M6 were extraordinarily busy as Lynne sped us from hold up to hold up. Ah well, nothing is perfect.

*Special Metals Wiggin Ltd, part of the Special Metals Corporation, now employs 700 people in Hereford.

The South West Odyssey (English Branch)

1 comment:

  1. Another lovely walk on another lovely day. A good blog too. I too say it as 'sconn' !!