Today’s stank restored my love of winter.
It feels as if for weeks I have been rain soaked twice on most days.
And I’ve let the cold seep in. Bad move!
Time to explore new hills, new wild spaces.
Exmoor isn’t so far from home, but my knowledge of it is scant.
Its 267 square miles includes open moorland, impressive woods, managed farmland and the dramatic stretch of coast from Ilfracombe in the west to Minehead in the east.
I left my sister’s in Castle Cary in bright winter sunshine, having had an excellent breakfast at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in nearby Bruton.
Unfortunately by the time I’d passed under the M5 at Taunton the mist was settling in, and the Brendon Hills were lost to us with visibility already minimal.
My plan was to walk up Dunkery Beacon, but there’d be little point other than the exercise if we couldn’t see anything. Nonetheless we made our way to our chosen parking spot at Webber’s Post and dashed around to the back of the van to have lunch and hope the now pelting down rain might ease.
I now know that Webber’s Post is a special spot in itself, offering a fabulous view to the west across the valley towards Horner Wood, but at the time the rain obscured all.
Polly had a few Iams, and I feasted on a delicious pork pie from a farmshop just north of Taunton. Crusty pastry, a little jelly, and good coarse meat, ideal. It’s no wonder that a supermarket pork pie is such a disappointment when a good butcher’s one reaches such standards. There’s no comparison. I’m sorry I don’t remember the particular shop’s name as it deserves a mention.
A long stank up to Dunkery Beacon
The lunch break not only fuelled us, it took enough time for the rain to abate sufficiently for the proposed walk to happen without being a complete wash out.
We made some mistakes. We (I) had no map. We (I) had a compass in the van, but left it there. We (I) didn’t load the OS app while there was signal to do so. We (I) trusted my usually good inner compass that today was horribly wrong, like 180 degrees wrong. She (Polly) blindly trusted me!
In case that doesn’t sound like bad enough planning, there are more mistakes to come.
From mistakes come learning and I’ll be a genius at the rate I’m going.
The afternoon was still a success.
We set off on Dicky’s Path, a low route that generally stayed around the 340m level and took us through wonderfully varied scenery.
At this level, a couple of hundred metres below the high points, there is a lot of water gushing down through the wooded coombs. Woods of oak and holly, the odd birch, that were heavily bearded with impressive lichens, and insulated with a deep cover of mosses and ferns.
Polly likes this water and drinks frequently – that may not seem of interest, but she’s a dog who rarely takes a top up. I guess it’s as sweet as she’s likely to taste, recently fallen, filtered, but with no farmland additives.
In the falling afternoon light the colours were intense, winter at its best. Damp and cold in the air, glints of late sun through the clouds. Vibrant greens, the red gold of last season’s bracken, a few new shoots already, so fresh, despite their battering on the moor. All that colour immediately before us.
Look back and the distant scene is special too. As the sky clears for the end of the day I can see that across the hills, moorland and fields there’s more than a glimpse of the Bristol Channel. It was at this point that I realised the error of my inner compass – how could north possibly be in that direction? In my defence there wasn’t enough sun to give its position away, but nonetheless I remained magnetically perplexed for the rest of the walk.
Red deer, ponies and sheep.
We saw nothing of the Bronze Age cairns, or Iron Age settlements we knew we were passing, but barking ahead alerted me to something else of interest. Staring at a particular patch of scrub 50 metres in front I realised that it was no dog. There, just in front of us, was a herd of 25 or more red deer, including a stag with a fine set of antlers. At her level Polly couldn’t see them, and we passed close without the horror of the Poodle giving chase.
The sheep and ponies she ignored, but I enjoyed seeing them in the deep heather and gorse.
Eventually we left Dicky’s Path and started heading more seriously uphill to the massive cairn on the Beacon that marks its gift to the National Trust.
Just before the top the full vista down to distant Minehead opens up and even in the near dark it was truly special. I must visit again on a clear day to get the most from this view.
Did I mention near dark? Ah yes, there’s another mistake. Setting off on a two and a half hour walk at 3pm in mid January. Schoolboy error, or idiot’s folly. Fortunately the paths are running with so much water they glint in the light from the sliver of moon.
Trusting an app
We happily now trust the lady at Google Maps to guide us to far away destinations. We can even talk to her – and I’m sure we’ve all shouted at her now and then as she tries to do her best.
Trusting the OS app when its map suggests taking a path in what is definitely the wrong direction is another matter altogether.
Even as dim as it’ll go the phone screen’s light robs vital night sight, I wish I was more confident of where I was going.
I guess someone 20 years younger wouldn’t question the app. But I did.
It was right.
The path soon doubled back on itself and the hulk of the van came into view. 5.30pm. Fully dark.
Still or sparkling?
In my defence, before I admit to another mistake, I intended to stop at a pub for the night, enjoy a decent meal, a couple of Exmoor ales, and a sleep in their car park.
Finding Webber’s Post was a bit of a gift though, and once parked I decided there and then to stay the night even though I hadn’t stocked up for the occassion. ArchieVan has a reasonable stock of foodstuffs and I knew I’d not go hungry, even if dinner might not constitute something you’d happily serve a potential partner on a first date. What I hadn’t realised though was that both the large bottles of water I was carrying were sparkling.
Polly was easy to sort out, a quick trudge through the dark to the first stream and she had more water in her bowl than she’ll drink in a few days.
I was going to be more difficult. I knew I’d be making a dahl and I’ve never cooked with sparkling water.
Well it fizzed like fury when I poured the lentils in, but it soon calmed down and my rather curious rice and lentil dahl with anchovies was truly delicious. It’s amazing what hunger does for a simple meal.
It’s now approaching 8.30pm. If you don’t mind I think I’ll do the dishes, take Polly for her last pee of the day, I’ll make my bed, open the weissbier from the fridge, and call it a day.
The melancholy, beautiful, K by Cigarettes After Sex (I wouldn’t even listen to the band for ages because of what I considered their silly sixth form name).
Stop over reference.
Drying wet clothes on wet days in the van isn’t easy – we’ll soon have lots of hooks, including in the bathroom. Dripping wet can drip into the shower. Damp can dry as we drive.
New Duvaly mattress pads with zip over sheets are brilliant – I’ll write a post about them soon.