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, 8 April 2015

From the Quantocks to the Sea: Day 22 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 2017) reached Lustleigh on Dartmoor.

For various reasons this year’s instalment of the Odyssey was moved forward to April. Early spring weather is notoriously unreliable so we were prepared for anything, but hoped it might at least be dry. The forecast, though, suggested much better than that. The morning was cool as we reassembled outside the Sun Inn in West Bagborough, but once the mist burned off we were promised a day of unbroken sunshine.

Lynne, the party’s only non-walking member this year, took the obligatory photograph and then, as we walked west along the road, she drove off to research family history in the Somerset archive.


Ready to go, West Bagborough

West Bagborough (pop 358) sits on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills. Bagborough probably means Badger’s Hill and as badgers cannot tell left from right it matters little that there is no East Bagborough. The village is best known for the ‘West Bagborough Hoard’, 681 Roman silver coins buried here in the 4th century and unearthed in 2001.

 
The Somerset section of the South West Odyssey

We turned uphill towards the church which is dedicated to St Pancras, not the London railway station but an obscure teenage martyr beheaded in Rome in 304AD.


Pulling out of St Pancras, West Blagborough


From the church our path contoured along the flank of the hill. A kilometre later, a right and left round Rock Farm led to more contouring forty metres higher up until we reached Triscombe.


Contouring from Rock Farm to Triscombe

The hamlet of Triscombe is a kilometre up a narrow road off the A358. It is too small to be expected to have a pub, or if there was one once, it would now be closed, but the immaculately thatched Blue Ball Inn looked both traditional (well as traditional as gastro-pubs go) and prosperous.

The Blue Ball Inn, Triscombe
From Triscombe we headed up Triscombe Combe (so good they named it twice), a stiff climb up a rocky gully. An even steeper climb on a grassy track around Great Hill cut off the corner to the Macmillan Way West which runs along the top of the Quantock’s southernmost ridge. The path is an offshoot of the Macmillan Way, which we encountered near Chedworth in 2011, a 290 mile route from Boston in Lincolnshire to Abbotsbury on the Dorset coast promoted to raise money for the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.

Starting up Triscombe Combe

Skylarks sang above the grassland as we paused for coffee at a point which the map calls 'Fire Beacon' though there was no obvious reason why.
 
Coffee at Fire Beacon, Quantock Hills

We followed the ridge for four kilometres. Sometimes rocky, sometimes grassy it was a lovely path through flowering gorse and heather with fine views over the valley to our left and the rest of the Quantock range to our right.

 
On the Quantocks (picture, Francis)


Brian and Francis identified meadow pipits and stonechats perching on the gorse. They hung around long enough for all to get a good look at them, but the chiffchaffs, though easy to hear are harder to see and only the serious birders got a sight of them (they are not that exciting, anyway).
 
On the Quantocks



We passed some wild ponies. 'Dartmoor ponies are different from Exmoor Ponies,' Brian informed me before asking 'Are Quantock Ponies different again?' I had no idea, which did not prevent me getting into a complicated conversation which led to our questioning whether Exmoor ponies were a 'breed' or a 'sub-species' (and what, if anything, is the difference).

It was not the first conversation I have been involved in on a subject about which my ignorance is total. Subsequent research tells me that Exmoor ponies are a particular breed related to the primitive wild horse. There is little special about Quantock ponies which have been living wild on these hills only since 1956.

Quantock Ponies

Despite the good views, the broad ridge is a little featureless. The map labels several otherwise undistinguished points such as Halsway Post and Bicknoller Post. Reaching them we discovered that the ‘Posts’ actually are posts and what is more they tell you that they are. I find this oddly reassuring.
 
The Halsway Post, proud to be a post


Nearing the end of the ridge we swung left onto a track inappropriately called The Great Road; great in neither width nor length, it is a track not a road.
 
The (not very) Great Road, Quantock Hills

The Great Road soon came to its end in a car park where a small but undeniably real road toils up to the ridge. Ignoring this road, we turned right, dropping down the edge of the ridge into Vinny Combe, the steep and slippery descent made easier by a set of steps. It was a pleasant walk along the combe bottom until it widened into an ugly disused quarry from which we exited onto the A39 at the village of West Quantoxhead (there is an East Quantoxhead a few kilometres away, but why both have an 'x' when the hills are spelt with a 'ck' is a mystery).

Alison arrives in Vinny Combe
The village is a cluster of prosperous looking houses off the main road, while St Audrie’s church stands across the road. It was built in 1858 on the site of its dilapidated medieval precursor. Opposite the church is the modern looking Windmill Inn, which provided us with a couple of satisfying pints of lunch.
 
St Audrie's, West Quantoxhead (picture, Francis)

After walking northwest all morning we turned southwest through the village and continued down Luckes Lane, from where well-signed field paths took us down to Williton (yes that is its name - puerile jokes are available and you can make them yourself).

Field paths to Williton


We crossed the West Somerset Railway at Williton Station. With over 20 miles of track between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, the West Somerset is Britain’s longest standard gauge heritage railway. The line operates from March to October running several trains daily, mostly operated by steam. It is largely single track but the station provides one of the passing places and we were lucky to see two steam trains.
West Somerset Railway steam train leaves Williton Station
A scruffy track around the Williton industrial estate was enlivened only by a few chickens marshalled by this self-important character. More field paths took us to Watchet, which sounds like another made up name though the town is much better known (though only slightly bigger) than Williton.

I'm beautiful, and I know it
Less than a kilometre of field paths separate Williton from Watchet. A perfectly good farm track seemed to run just the other side of the hedge from the path so we set off up it. It quickly became clear that it was not a perfectly good track, but a linear quagmire. We abandoned track for field only for the path to end and decant us back into the clarts.


Alison picks her way carefully round the mud, Watchet
We walked Watchet from south to north, passing the West Somerset Railway station and reaching the harbour with its statute of the Ancient Mariner by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived at nearby Nether Stowey for several years and the setting off point for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was inspired by Watchet harbour. I can't say it looks very inspiring with the tide out but it did make me think…

‘Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.’

The Ancient Mariner, Watchet
'Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.'
Our B&B was beside the harbour - and for Lynne and me there was a sea view, though limited by the sea wall which is high, concrete and ugly but sometimes very necessary. It had been an excellent day’s walk under blue skies in a temperature that would have graced early June never mind April. The Quantocks in the morning had been great walking country, and if the afternoon was less impressive, the steam trains made up for it.

With a harbour and a muddy shoreline but no beach Watchet, unlike nearby Minehead, is hardly a holiday resort, indeed walking through the town’s landward side, it had looked a little depressed. Around the harbour, though, all we needed was close at hand. A fifty metre stroll took us to the Pebbles Tavern, which serves no food but is eccentrically rated by Trip Advisor as the town's best restaurant. Its attraction lies in its range of gravity served local beers, and an impressive selection of Somerset ciders. Somebody had to check them out and Brian nobly volunteered to sacrifice himself. I don't mind cider being cloudy, but some of the rougher, and therefore more highly prized specimens seem to me to have a flavour of rotten wood. Still at 6+% alcohol, Brian thrived on them.

Indian restaurant and our B&B, Watchet

From the Pebbles we made our way to Trip Advisor’s second ranked restaurant, which does sell food, in fact it was the Spice Merchant Indian restaurant nextdoor to our B&B. So that was it, a walk in the sunshine, a couple of pints and a curry - good day!
 


The South West Odyssey (English Branch)
 
Day 1 to 3 (2008) Cardingmill Valley to Great Whitley
 

2 comments:

  1. Great day. Great blog.

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  2. Yes, it was a great day - after a lot of poor weather since before Easter it was great to have bright sunshine and clear blue skies and if it was a little bit chilly that only helped make it a great day for a long walk along the Quantocks (or Quantox? - no, I think not) to the sea. Good blog!

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