Welcome to LEJoG Day 17…  make yourself at home

Day 17 pre-amble

The title celebrates this place, one of the magic circle of just four B&Bs I have ever given a full 10/10 on booking.com. One of the other two appears here, while the third is a couple of weeks north and the fourth is in Llanberis. My score is not a statistical outlier. Their own website, booking.com and Trip Advisor would all confirm this. In fact even a 9.5 would probably drag the Old School’s average down ever so slightly.

It’s also a Significant Moment in the LEJoG walk and the origin story of 50FootHead. For it was here that the idea of writing a blog was first suggested to me, by host Charles. Read on…

LEJoG Day 17 (Saturday 26 May 2018)

Minehead to Sampford Brett (10½ miles)

Cumulative: 231½ miles

Facts: Time on walk: 2 hours 50 minutes. Average speed: 3.71 mph. At time of writing, the bronze medal day for walking speed. Weather: Overcast throughout but no rain.

Practicalities: With no railway station in Minehead, I decided to drive down to Somerset for the three-day Bank Holiday weekend. I would then rely on buses to travel between car and start/finish point each day. It was a long but straightforward drive, at least until hitting the winding A39, when progress became slow. Arrived in Minehead after 9pm. Parked overnight opposite the Quay Inn. Paid another fee the following morning so I could leave my car there during the walk.

The walk

Start: The Quay Inn, Minehead, 11:40am (late start due to shopping for drinks and sandwiches). End: The Old School House, Sampford Brett, 3:00pm.

As hinted at in the blog post ‘Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome’, the journey east out of Minehead sees the return of coastal walking. However, it most definitely does not mark a return to cliffs, valleys and ceaseless exertion. Minehead is the northern trailhead of the South West Coast Path – head east instead of west and you’re no longer on the National Trail. Instead you can enjoy the sort of easy stroll a casual walker might well anticipate if you suggested a coastal walk.

In other words, the early miles are almost perfectly flat. Starting out along the Minehead seafront, pass Butlin’s holiday resort (pictured) on your right. As you approach a golf course, the road comes to an end and a well-signed path takes you beyond Warren Point, the bay and on to Dunster Beach. You can follow the beach, or the cycle path that runs parallel to it, all the way to the first village en route, Blue Anchor. I stopped there for lunch after 1¼ hours walking. There are a number of convenient benches on the seafront.

It’s hardly worth linking to the Somerset rights of way map here. The course between Minehead and Watchet (8 miles) is obvious on any OS map, should be marked as the (West) Somerset Coast Path, and is covered by many other blogs. This is one example.

Proceed along the road through Blue Anchor until you reach a sharp right turn uphill. Yes, finally, you are climbing again. After 100 yards, follow a path on your left, into an open field. This wasn’t particularly well marked today, and in order to reach the very obvious path into the woods I had to make my way carefully through some crops. The next few miles involve some gentle climbing through woods and past a caravan site. Although you reach cliff top height, most of the time there is no clear view of the sea. Eventually you emerge on the B3191, which you follow downhill into Watchet.

Upon reaching the harbour (on your left), turn right and head for the railway station. It’s almost certainly worth crossing the footbridge rather than tackling the nasty road junction on an uphill bend. Having left the Somerset Coast Path, here is a link to the rights of way map. Facing south at the railway bridge there is a V-shape in the road. Head SE (left) and at the next junction bear slightly right, heading up the street with the church on your right. Follow this right to the end, and take the footpath directly ahead. After a short, slightly downhill tarmac section you rejoin the B3191, which you can follow into Williton.

In Williton town centre, the B3191 flows into the A358. Stick with the A358 until the sign for Sampford Brett on your right. There are two roads into Sampford Brett. The first will take longer to reach the village and is narrow, winding and has no verge. Thus I recommend staying on the A358 for another few hundred yards and taking the second road. This is also narrow and has no verge, but is much straighter. Therefore you are far less likely to be unsighted if a vehicle approaches. Also, you will see the Old School House after less than three minutes: it is right next to the ‘church with tower’ symbol on the linked map. There is a bus stop right next to the second road off the A358.

After the walk

I checked the bus timetables for a return to Minehead, just in time to catch the next one from the aforementioned bus stop. Picked up the car and drove to the Old School House. Parked outside and was welcomed in by Charles. Being offered tea and cookies immediately is a major winner for all guests I suspect, but especially welcome when you’re a walker. Charles was a very friendly and engaging chap, and genuinely interested in my attempt to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Many other LEJoGgers have stayed there before me – Sampford Brett seems to be a fairly common base for those linking Exmoor to the Quantocks.

Charles mentioned that one such walker-guest had written a blog, which he then followed all the way to the end. To be honest, although I like writing and had already read several online accounts of the End to End walk, this idea hadn’t even occurred to me. I guess in part because every blog I’d read was by someone completing the whole thing in one go, rather than in sections. But hey… doesn’t that mean there’s a “gap in the market”? Charles certainly thought it was worth thinking about.

As I pondered, Martine joined us (see link in opening paragraph for Charles and Martine, and see reviews here and here). Another lovely host, she showed me up to my room and arranged dinner at the Masons Arms in Williton. The complimentary dark chocolate mint and orange crisps could have been designed as a bribe just for me – in a flight of fancy it was easy to imagine Charles and Martine as anti-O’Briens, knowing exactly what they could put in their anti-Room 101 that would make that particular guest certain to give them a 10/10. More prosaically, it was just another of the delightful touches of the Old School House.

Martine drove me to the Masons Arms. I had no complaints at all about the food. However I paid in cash and waited more than 15 minutes for my change (over £5 from £30). I began to suspect the young waiter had assumed it was a tip – I always tip, but really don’t like being taken for granted. Then he came back and asked me to vacate the table ready for the next diners, with no acknowledgement that I was still owed money. I’m afraid I bridled at this and asked for my change, which I pocketed without tipping. I mention this only because it has never happened before, or since, at any hotel or inn I’ve eaten at in Britain or Europe, whether on business or pleasure.

The other downer about the meal was the solitude. It doesn’t often get to me, but this evening it did. In such moments I imagine dining with friends I’ve lost or people with whom I’ve enjoyed scintillating conversation. The memories, and the contrast, were enough to prompt a few tears on the walk home.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain in the evening, while listening to Real Madrid beat Liverpool in the Champions League final (free to air TV highlights later).

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

This: probably my favourite episode of West Wing Weekly, a retrospective of the Sorkin years with the man himself.

Picture (6 May 2018) shows Minehead, looking out across the bay from Quay Street, with Butlin’s in the background. Not very exciting, but I didn’t take any other photos today.

Next: Day 18 (27 May 2018)… in which the pretender pays homage to the true king of punning walkers.

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