Welcome to the sunlit uplands of LEJoG Day 16
Day 16 pre-amble
This phrase has been somewhat abused in British political circles these last few years. Here I mean it literally. Today was all about Exmoor, I reached the highest point of Exmoor National Park in mid-afternoon, the header image was taken from there, and the sun shone all day.
LEJoG Day 16 (Sunday 6 May 2018)
Simonsbath to Minehead (17½ miles)
Cumulative: 221 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 55 minutes. Average speed: 2.96 mph. At first glance I have no idea how this worked out slower than yesterday as I don’t remember it being as tiring. Weather: Very similar to yesterday.
Practicalities: The walk began from my accommodation in Simonsbath and ended at my accommodation in Minehead, so none until Monday morning.
Start: Exmoor Forest Inn, Simonsbath, 10:30am. End: The Quay Inn, Minehead, 5:20pm.
Once again I am going to use the rights of way network (for Somerset rather than Devon now) as a guide to the walk.
Day 16 Stage 1: Simonsbath to Warren Farm
Leave the hotel, turn left up the road and take a steadily rising footpath on the left through the Ashcombe Plantation and (after a brief descent to a stream) Ashcombe Bottom. You are heading north and aiming to reconnect with the Macmillan Way West (see Day 15). There is a linking path through slightly boggier ground to reach a gate and a direct easterly path towards Warren Farm. Here I made sure I was on the right (south) side of the fence so as to avoid any bovine entanglements.
I say ‘towards’ because, once past the cow field, you can see Warren Farm quite clearly but there is a substantial descent and a road in the way. The most direct route on the ground was not obvious to me, even with a map. I did quite a bit of stop-starting and re-tracing of steps here. This may be why the overall pace was slower. The trick is not to continue E at the first path junction. That is, do not start descending the hill directly in front of you (marked as ‘The Warren’ on the rights of way map) even though the farm is clearly in that direction. Instead head SE, through a gate and only descend (NE, down Three Combe Hill) when you reach the finger post.
There follows a reasonably straightforward climb to Warren Farm, where we also reunite with Andy Robinson’s End to End book. However, as he’s not diverting to Minehead on his way to the Quantocks, I won’t return to his route today.
Day 16 Stage 2: Warren Farm to Larkbarrow Corner
Could hardly be easier. Follow the Macmillan Way West. Go straight through the farm, round a left-hand bend, past the farm buildings and up to Dry Hill. From here there is a very obvious and almost completely flat path, heading E at first then NE. You may find some boggy ground. But it should be easy to avoid as you are in open fields throughout this stage. After a couple of miles you approach a road and head directly for a gate which is situated right on Larkbarrow Corner.
Day 16 Stage 3: Larkbarrow Corner to Dunkery Beacon
At the corner, head left up the road. This is a quiet road and there is a wide grass verge so don’t worry about the traffic. After ¾ mile you pass a cattle grid – turn right here, down another clear path. This one is more gravelly but easily passable.
Now then. After less than ½ mile on the gravel you should veer left on the Macmillan Way West. Cross a field to the road and cross another field to reach a point just north of Porlock Post and the main drag to Dunkery Beacon. However, that’s not what I did. This junction was not clearly marked as MWW, I missed it and ended up heading south all the way to Hillhead Cross. I then turned left and walked NE on the road to Porlock Post, overtaking a large group of youth walkers in the process. This added about 1½ miles to my journey.
I don’t recommend it of course, and I really should have used my compass, but it is not obvious. To be honest though, even if you do miss it gut instinct will tell you you’re probably on the wrong path. Especially when you see the stile much further up the road and realise you’re heading straight for a plantation that can only be ‘Greenlands’ on your map.
I think it’s only when you leave the road just after Porlock Post that you feel you’re really on the Exmoor National Park. It may not be as spectacular as the Lakes or Peaks, but the mile or two from here to Dunkery Beacon is a glorious walk in good weather. You may, as ever, keep wondering whether that apparent summit in front of you is the ‘beacon’, until finally you see the short, sharp ascent to the viewpoint itself.
The cairn and plaque at Exmoor’s highest point (519m)
I took a few more photos from Dunkery Beacon. However they’re almost indistinguishable from the header image, so we’ll move on.
Day 16 Stage 4: Dunkery Beacon to Wootton Courtenay
Straight ahead down Dunkery Hill, bearing roughly ENE and still following the Macmillan Way West. I’m used to some stony and awkward descents in the Lakes, Peaks and North York Moors. Here in Exmoor the relatively benign landscape lulled me into the classic false sense of security. This is quite a challenging descent. There are a lot of loose stones and quite a bit of awareness is required in choosing the most favourable route. It’s not horrendously steep, although you’ll feel the last few hundred metres in your knees. But it’s no gentle wander either. After crossing the road at Kit Barrows, only 50m lower than Dunkery Beacon, you come down from 469m to just over 150m on reaching the road near the village of Brockwell.
Actually you have a choice. You could stick to the Macmillan Way, head SE and take the footpath past Brookside Farm rather than using the road. I just fancied a more direct route, having already done those extra yards in stage 3. The road from Brockwell to Wootton Courtenay has narrow verges. Thus it requires more care with regard to traffic than any other part of this walk.
Day 16 Stage 5: Wootton Courtenay to Minehead
On reaching Wootton Courtenay you have another choice for the route to Wootton Common. Follow the Macmillan Way West footpath a further half mile down the road, or take a path on your immediate left marked as ‘Roadway Lane’. I went for the latter as I didn’t want to walk any further on the roads. It may have been a mistake. This was steep, and as it bends to the right you can’t see the summit. So the minor torture must be endured for an indefinable length of time. Look: it probably wouldn’t have been that bad with a nice little day-pack instead of my 65-litre rucksack. Just be aware that it’s a nasty little climb after 5 hours of walking.
When you do reach the top, there’s a four-way path junction. Here you need to take some care to choose the path to Wootton Common rather than Periton Hill. Slightly further along and the same scenario is duplicated. This time you need to bear right rather than straight ahead. At the third crossroads, it would be very easy to continue east to Dunster. Indeed, if you want to follow Andy Robinson’s route to the Quantocks and aren’t interested in Minehead, this is what you should do.
I wanted to spend some time there as it’s a seaside resort I remember being heavily advertised when I was a child, but one I’d never been to. Also Sampford Brett, my destination for Day 17, was strongly recommended by other LEJoG walkers. For Minehead then, look out for the gap in the trees on the left, pop through it and join the path to Hopcott Common. Head NW, then N and sharp downhill to Higher Hopcott, where you join the southern end of a minor road.
Follow this road to the end, cross the A39 and turn right. Take the second road on the left, which has an interesting name I don’t believe I have seen in any other British town. Within a few hundred yards, you’re back on the ubiquitous Macmillan Way West. Follow it down Bampton Street and to The Parade. Here and on The Avenue, a major thoroughfare, you will start seeing shops, banks, pubs and a lot more traffic.
I bore left up Blenheim Road. This takes you to the seafront, Quay Street and my accommodation for the night, the Quay Inn.
After the walk
I turned up in the middle of Sunday afternoon karaoke. No I didn’t join in: my singing voice is so amazing I was asked to mime the songs in a school play. Went out for a look around in the early evening. Thought about a curry or similar exotic slap-up meal, but settled for a chicken burger at the Hairy Dog, on The Avenue.
The karaoke was still going strong when I got back to the hotel.
And still… at 9:30pm. Not my kind of thing, but that’s some Sunday afternoon.
Bank Holiday Monday practicalities
Minehead does not have a main line train station, so I caught a bus to Taunton (about 1¼ hours). Hopped off at Taunton railway station, wandered into town and had a meal at Pizza Express before the journey home. Monday was even warmer than Saturday or Sunday, so I was pretty glad not to be walking again.
Picture (taken 6 May 2018) shows the view across the Bristol Channel from Dunkery Beacon. I promise South Wales is visible on the horizon, although my iPhone’s resolution may not be strong enough to capture it here.
Next: Day 17 (26 May 2018)… in which the coast is revisited, and destiny beckons over tea and cookies.