Welcome to LEJoG Day 15

Day 15 pre-amble

It’s Wellerworld, not me, that describes this header image as “one for the ladies” (I tend to find that phrase a bit ’70s). In fact, as I was to learn from My Listening Pleasure on Day 36, this video was actually regarded by some as homo-erotic. The Style Council are here for two reasons. Firslty because  didn’t take any photos on Day 15. Secondly because, in Britain in early May 2018, we were at the start of a long hot summer. This particular Saturday was the longest stage so far, and rivalled for unstinting heat only by the two days near Newquay in June 2017. Your blogger knows only two songs called Long Hot Summer. This one had a couple of lyrics which I could use as the teaser at the end of the previous page.

In case certain ladies’ (or indeed gentlemens’) thoughts wander elsewhere when the words “long hot summer” and topless guys called Paul are juxtaposed, click this link and come back later. You’re welcome.

And in the interests of balance, here’s that other song. On my compilation, as are all their singles apart from the drippy ballads and covers (including that ‘Walk This Way’ abomination), but far from their best. Their finest moment is of course this, an utterly irresistible, imperishable slice of delirious rule-breaking pop genius*. One of the two greatest British singles this century, alongside this.

*seriously though, 0:59 to 1:32 capped off with the rush/release of 1:32-1:33 is probably my favourite moment in the entire history of the female pop vocal – and I really don’t say this lightly. I guess I have to qualify it when thinking back to ‘I Feel Love’, or peak Blondie, peak Kate Bush, ABBA in general, imperial phase Madonna. But I don’t think any SINGLE MOMENT they had quite gets me like this. In all those cases their best was behind them before I turned 18. Nothing I’ve heard in my adulthood comes even close, apart from maybe the “got me looking… I don’t do this” section of Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy In Love’. It’s revelatory, almost orgasmically brilliant. Down almost entirely to Xenomania rather than the vocalists per se, but who the hell cares? All involved conceived, sold and executed it. Flawlessly. An entirely guiltless pleasure.

I also recommend this analysis, for the uninitiated/sceptical/deprived. Written by my favourite poster at the site which helped confirm for me that this marriage of band and writing/production team really had created something quite special.

Enough! Onwards!!

LEJoG Day 15 (Barnstaple to Simonsbath)

24½ miles

Cumulative: 203½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: A whopping 7 hours 55 minutes. Average speed: 3.09 mph. Weather: Very warm all day, occasionally hot; cloudless, dry, light breeze.

Practicalities: Well, this might take a while. First, some background: since securing my current job three years earlier I had been saving money for a house deposit. Only in early 2018 did I turn aspiration into action. On Sunday 29 April, six days before this walk, I saw an ad for what was clearly the best house so far: perfect location, already furnished and only slightly over my budget. That afternoon I went to have a look from the outside. On Tuesday 1 May I arranged a full viewing after work. I knew I wouldn’t see anything better all year. Having learned my lessons from fatal hesitation in the past, I made an offer by Thursday.

The plan for this weekend was to reach Minehead over two days, heading inland via the Somerset village of Simonsbath. This place is ill-served by public transport. It wouldn’t have been practical to drive down and then rely on a bus to bridge the gaps in the way I was able to in Cornwall and Devon. Thus on Friday afternoon I caught a train to Barnstaple (change in Exeter).

In mid-afternoon I received a call from the estate agent saying that my offer had been accepted and I had finally bought a house (STC). I emphasise this word because I was making my first attempt to buy a place when I became ill. My world then fell to pieces for a decade. So this was an enormously satisfying moment. There will be people of my generation who think I should have sorted all this out in the early 2000s property boom. There will also be those who know how difficult it can be to save for a deposit these days even without illness.

At Exeter station I discovered Fulfil protein bars, which have since become a staple of my long walks. Before this it was malt loaf and nuts. The dark chocolate and mint bar in particular is an extraordinary achievement: a health food that tastes like After Eights. Fulfil and Grenade are entirely responsible for me now having a Holland and Barrett loyalty card.

I stayed in the Rolle Quay Inn again, just for one night. Dropped off my key after breakfast and walked (10 minutes) to my official starting point at the end of the Long Bridge. Even that 10 minutes was enough to convince me I’d overloaded my backpack again. The sun was already strong enough for me to apply the Piz Buin before setting off.

The walk

Start: Eastern end of Barnstaple Long Bridge, 10:05am. End: Exmoor Forest Inn, Simonsbath, 7:15pm.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore”

I have now diverged from the South West Coast Path, so we’re now in territory not covered by widely available guidebooks. Until I hit the Pennine Way (Day 40), this means that a new part of my regular task is to provide full details of the route I took.

The corresponding day in Andy Robinson’s End to End book sees him head from Barnstaple to Warren Farm, Exmoor, covering 21 miles. This is not far from Simonsbath, so I could easily have chosen to follow his route. However it seemed fiddly, and I thought the more obvious alternative was to stick to Tarka/the Macmillan Way West as closely as possible. Based on some crude measurements I (wrongly, it turned out) thought my alternative was a mile shorter. You live and learn… although the reader will soon see that I am a slow learner where crude measurements and estimates are concerned.

My Fitbit is playing up as I write, and refusing to show me the full route map for this walk. However, I aim to please, and I am about 25 days behind, so I can’t afford to leave this blog for another day. So here goes, with the help of Google satellite maps and the Macmillan Way West link above:

Day 15 Stage 1: Barnstaple Long Bridge to Bishops Tawton

Follow the Tarka Trail south, by the side of the River Taw on a clear path. This section was very pleasant and ideal for walking on a warm spring morning. At least until the bag started to weigh too heavily on the shoulders and heat began to sap morale. The path stays close to the river until you pass under the A361. At this point it heads inland slightly and meets Bishops Tawton Road.

Climb the steps and cross to the left hand side (east) of the road. Continue south until you reach the village of Bishops Tawton itself, and take a left down School Lane. At the end of the road, turn left into Sanders Lane and go through the gate almost immediately on your right. You are now on a footpath which leads to Easter Street. On reaching the road, take a right and climb the hill: turn left at the top into Sentry Lane. After around ¼ mile you should find a footpath (marked green on OS maps) which takes you into the fields.

Day 15 Stage 2: Bishops Tawton to Landkey

This is very straightforward: just follow the OS-marked footpaths east through the fields. Note this is still the Tarka Trail or Macmillan Way West if you have an OS map. Pass Eastacombe Cottages on your right and the Venn Quarries on your left. The greenery is broken by a descent to Venn Road, which comes just after the quarry. Turn left into Venn Road and cross: soon another footpath heads NE to the village of Landkey. You will emerge on the main road: turn right, passing St. Paul’s Church on your left, then bear right into Barleigh Road. Cut through another field on your left: I had my first break here, already tired from the sun even before noon. On reaching the road turn left and head for Tanners Road. Here you find a footpath on your left that goes through a children’s playground.

Day 15 Stage 3: Landkey to West Buckland

Head NE along the footpath: when you reach the road turn right and then left under the A361. You are now on Birch Road, which you follow all the way to the end. Thus far the walking has been largely flat, but this is a long and gradual climb, becoming steeper the further you go. Eventually the road turns into a narrow, winding track which you follow all the way to the village of Gunn.

Turn right at the end, into the minor road, and then take the first right heading south all the way to Gunn Cross. You are still on Tarka/Macmillan. Bear right at the junction. Here, a well-intentioned driver said he’d seen me in Landkey and was concerned for my welfare. He wanted to know where I was heading and whether I needed a lift. Yes, this is the sort of attention that a knackered backpacker may well attract in 25-degree heat (and rising). I empathised with him to be honest. It is very easy to see how a third party would regard me with bewilderment.

Anyway, if you’re still following, look for the footpath on the left into Accott Woods. This was muddier than I expected in such weather, and I took the opportunity to have lunch. In less than a mile the path becomes a minor road which takes you straight into the village of West Buckland.

Day 15 Stage 4: West Buckland to Newtown Bridge

There is a shortcut behind the church hall which cuts off the road route via West Buckland Cross. Still following Tarka/Macmillan eastwards, you – not surprisingly – soon reach East Buckland. Proceed straight ahead at the crossroads, heading steadily downhill, and you come to Charles Bottom. Bear right at the road junction. The new track resembles a tarmac footpath but it is used by motorised vehicles. You may need to perch on the high verge to let them pass.

After half a mile you reach a road junction and cross to enter Blakewell Wood. I made another stop here, trying to adjust my backpack as the left shoulder strap had been slipping off all day. It wasn’t until Sunday that I remembered the solution was simply to clip the chest strap, which hung loose throughout Saturday. Oh the many and varied travails and humiliations of the amateur long distance walker!

You wind your way through Blakewell and Reapham Woods, but need to hit the road again at Newtown Bridge. Descend and then climb either side of the A399 in order to find the path heading north through Barton Wood. This looks easy enough on the map. However I ended up jumping a fence halfway down the hill, having proceeded directly north rather than climbing NW to the top.

Day 15 Stage 5: Newtown Bridge to Scatford Pit

Continue to follow the Tarka Trail. A sharp downhill from the road is followed by a gentle rise through Barton Wood and a flatter stretch through Coney Close Wood. On reaching the road turn left (north) and take a path on your left. This path cuts through a field and crosses a stream to reach Lower Hall. Easier said than done. Some minor cow avoidance to kick off, and then a slightly fraught struggle to find the crossing for the stream. Hot and bothered, I stumbled up a surprisingly steep farm track to reach the road and a waymarked footpath (heading NE, then N) to Whitefield. This was the first time I doubted whether I’d have the energy to make it all the way. I’d already walked 2-3 miles further than expected and was now beginning to realise that even my upper estimate of 22 miles was optimistic.

Halfway along this footpath there was an enforced diversion to Whitefield Lane. This meant I had to climb two (rather than one) steep hills on the road to Whitefield. By now I was, frankly, exhausted. Carrying too much, rationing my water, starting to think about early finishes and taxis that might return me to the giving up spot on Sunday morning. From Whitefield village the Trail/Way heads NE across Whitefield Down. At the end of the Down is Scatford Pit. From there it’s a flat four and a half mile road walk to Simonsbath. Morale begins to pick up as you sense the last stage ahead…

…but Whitefield Down is seemingly never ending. First there’s a rough track where it was necessary for me to wait several times for farm vehicles. Then a huge open field, with no apparent rescue option should I hit the deck. Enticed by the prospect of seeing the road just over the brow of that small, distant hill, I ploughed on… only to realise at least twice that these were false summits and only yet more green lay over the horizon. At 5:40 (after 6½ hours walking) I stopped about half a mile short of Scatford Pit… and this is where the cramp hit. In both calves – unable to stand again for five minutes. Quite surprised that there was no recurrence afterwards, though I did walk more gingerly than usual.

You should be aware, by the way, that from Lower Hall to Scatford Pit your altitude rises from 189m to 461m. About 120m of this gain is the climb to Whitefield, over a relatively short distance. The rest is Whitefield Down, over more than twice that distance. Something to bear in mind if you’ve already walked 17 miles with very little height gain. The steeper climb will hurt and the longer one will demoralise.

Day 15 Stage 6: Scatford Pit to Simonsbath

When you reach the road you finally part company with the Tarka Trail/Macmillan Way West (to be rejoined tomorrow) and head SE to Kinsford Gate. There you will find a crossroads and the sign welcoming you to the county of Somerset. We’ve had no county controversies yet, but there’s one due in about seven days. So, just to make my position clear as we proceed, whenever I refer to counties on this blog, I mean the ceremonial counties as per this article. I grew up knowing the 1974 counties by heart, but this is, basically, the happy medium between traditionalism and the modern world. Some of those unloved 1974 counties (Avon! Cleveland!) are no more, but also there’s no need for the unitary authorities that now defile some maps of England (“Bath and North East Somerset”? No thanks).

Anyway, turn left at the crossroads, leave Devon behind and follow one road all the way to Simonsbath. It’s a very wide road for most of the three remaining miles, so there shouldn’t be any traffic issues. And it snakes downhill after Blue Gate, becoming steeper on the last half mile into Simonsbath. Descents are often harder than ascents, particularly on the knees and especially if you (who me?) are carrying too much or walking too far. But this one is reasonably kind, nothing like the cliffs of the SWCP.

Last word on route finding

This route can be followed quite easily by using the following resource, at whatever scale you so choose: Devon public rights of way.

After the walk

Checked in at my accommodation: the Exmoor Forest Inn. Lovely place, very good food and a perfectly refreshing pale ale on draught. I was looking forward to either a luxurious bath or a power shower. I had visions of finally being able to stretch out like Paul Weller in the header image. However this was a very traditionally-furnished room, with a bath apparently designed for genteel ladies. Not really big enough for my 6’3″ body (or Paul’s) to lie down, and no walk-in shower. So I had to settle for crouching in Simon’s bath with one of those deeply unsatisfying hand-held tap-mounted shower heads.

Distance walkers will appreciate the immense value of a good bath or shower on arrival at their destination. I’m afraid this particular wash turned out to be the Bob Cunis of post-walk ablutions.

Postscript: My Listening Pleasure

This podcast took me as far as Landkey. Then this one was the soundtrack to Birch Lane, Gunn and Accott Woods. Then I had the iPod on shuffle until it conked out, which it did in one of the woods in stage 4. Yes, there was no listening pleasure to ease the pain during the hardest part of today’s walk. That Style Council lyric was more prophetic than I could have imagined.

Picture of Paul Weller, in the video to Style Council’s Long Hot Summer, taken from wellerworld.co.uk.

Next: Day 16 (6 May 2018)in which Ben sets eyes on South Wales 8 days before setting foot there.

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