This was a good day’s walk, one of the best so far on the trail. Another late start, mainly because I’m behind schedule and so our campsite this week is close to Bridgwater, making for a 90 minute journey to the drop-off point. It was cooler this morning, which came as a relief after the heat of the last few days, and when I began walking the Exmoor hilltops were covered in low cloud. That burned off quickly, making it hot work climbing up to the moors, but giving me amazing views all day.
Most of today’s route was a long slow climb to Exmoor, mainly on bridleways, with a bit of road walking – it was all very remote and until I got to Exe Head I didn’t see another soul.
Challacombe, the last village before you get onto Exmoor proper, was very pretty and extremely quiet – a quick climb up on a stony track and a couple of fields of grazing animals, and I was onto South Regis Common and the first moorland. There was a fresh breeze and some wispy clouds, but otherwise no sound apart from the skylarks and my boots. After passing a small reservoir, the going underfoot became mixed, with some boggy patches – I am very glad that I did this part of the route in late June after three weeks of dry weather!
Exe Head (the source of the Exe), which I had been looking forward to seeing, was an anticlimax – a dribble of greasy-looking water through a field of cows – and I trudged on towards Black Pitts. I got to Warren Farm by about 3.30, feeling tired and discouraged, and stopped for a sit down and a look at the map. Rummaging in my pack, I discovered the thermos of hot water that I had packed and somehow completely forgotten about! Half a litre of black tea and an almond slice later I was a new woman, and decided to try and press on to Dunkery Beacon – the next point on the route at which Arran could pick me up, but by my (somewhat erratic) reckoning about 9-10k of cross-country walking. I headed past the farm and onwards with renewed determination.
Pushing on was an excellent decision. The walking from Warren Farm to Dunkery Beacon was flat or gently uphill; the paths were generally much better, and I made much faster progress. The last stretch, up over Rowbarrow and on to Dunkery Beacon itself, was one of the most rewarding walks I have ever done, with views down into the valley behind me and over to Porlock, and wild ponies grazing in the afternoon sunlight.
The view from Dunkery Beacon, at just before 7pm on a clear day, was astonishingly beautiful. I could see for about 25 miles all around me, including where I had walked over the last few days and the onward path for the next few days going over the Quantocks and up towards Bristol and Wales. My phone camera is totally unable to do it justice:
I was completely alone on the top, apart from a couple of butterflies, and there was no sound but the wind. It was a genuinely moving experience. I was pleased and relieved I had managed to accomplish my target despite tired feet, and for the first time it was possible to see just how far I have come. I was very reluctant to come down, but managed to time it so that I met Arran as he drove into the car park. Home in time to read Rowan a story, get Isaac to sleep, have a shower and do the washing up. Tomorrow is a well-earned rest day.
Highlights: Boots scrunching on loose stones on the path; the old packhorse bridge out of Challacombe; managing to encourage a whole herd of cows with calves to move off the path; the line of mature beeches at the start of South Regis Common; the brisk wind on top of the moors, with a vast clear blue sky overhead; an improbable Victorian-looking couple who appeared out of nowhere on the moor just before Exe Head, she dressed in ankle-length skirt and stout boots and he in blazer and light-coloured trousers; pork pie for lunch from the local farm shop; the view from Dunkery Beacon in the evening sunlight.