In the summer of 2022 I organised a sponsored walk along the 102 mile length of the Macmillan Way West long distance trail in aid of the Macmillan Cancer Support Charity and in memory of my late wife Susan who died of bone cancer in May 2020 in New Zealand. To give you a flavour of what to expect and perhaps to whet your appetite this page is devoted. The dates for my walk were from Thursday 28th July 2022 from Castle Cary to Sunday 7th August in Barnstaple.
As a boy I lived in North Petherton which is on the trail although it was not in existence then. I also lived near Nether Stowey and know the Quantock Hills like the back of my hand which is an ANOB (Area of Natural Beauty). The trail follows the old packway along the spine of the hills which was used to take cargo from ships in the Bristol Channel on pack horses to Bridgwater.
As a member of the Scouting Association, camps were often held in one of the Quantock or Exmoor combes and later, on returning home from some years as a seagoing engineer and a Deep Sea Scout, I was asked by Skipper Green, my old scout master who by then was district commissioner, to take out a warrant as a Senior Scout Leader of a new troop of scouts called Quantock Seniors.
In later life I walked extensively in Somerset and Gloucestershire with my wife Sue when we lived in South Petherton including the Cotswold sections of the main Macmillan Way when we lived in Cheltenham. So the idea of walking this long distance trail to raise funds for Macmillan in memory of Sue where we had both spent such happy times seemed appropriate.
The trail starts at Castle Cary in Somerset which is where Douglas Macmillan was born. He founded the Macmillan Cancer Support charity after his father died from cancer in 1911. In New Zealand where I was treated with chemotherapy for the Myeloma cancer, my local cancer centre in Tauranga provided information from Macmillan on every aspect of the treatment I received. Even though it is a charity based in the UK, the information service it provides is available and is used the world over.
In the UK specialist cancer Nurses are employed and funded for their first three years by Macmillan working for the NHS, the community or occasionally in a hospice. After this period the nurse continues to be employed by the same employer but are always known as Macmillan nurses. Specialist Support groups are provided on-line for carer's and cancer patients wherever they are in the world.
For our sponsored walk I envisage an average of about 10 miles a day so we would take about 10 days to complete the whole walk but participants would be able to join or leave the walk for the different sections and transport back to their car or accommodation would be arranged at the start and finish of each day.
I have put a date on each stage of the walk so if you are planning to walk only certain sections you can join with others on the right day. You will need to tell us your detailed plans so we can arrange transport for you back to your car. I have also provided a grid reference at approximately the halfway point where it is possible to pdark a car if you want to walk less.
Stage 1 - Castle Cary to Charlton Adam 15km (9.32 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 57884 29669
Equip yourself with the OS app on your mobile as you will find it invaluable to navigate the Way where the route of the path has changed, on open moorland, through overgrown sections or where farmers have planted crops blocking the path.
The walk begins at Douglas Macmillan's house in Castle Cary. It can be found in the Upper High Street opposite the Methodist Church.
The first few days on the trail are a fairly easy introduction there being very few gradients to negotiate. Castle Cary itself is a pleasant market town and the source of the River Cary.
If you right click or touch on the image below and subsequent map images, then open them in a new tab you will have more readable maps of the different stages.
The circular blue symbols on the detailed maps indicate the number of hotels or B&B's nearby, A hotel where you see a bed and a car park where you see a 'P'.
After you leave the town you emerge at the top of a hill with fine views over the countryside you will walk. The trail first follows the course of the River Cary which does not deserve to be called a river here as it is barely a stream at this stage. After crossing the railway line you follow a pleasant tree shaded drove road before emerging into farmland and passing though Perry Mead Nature Reserve. You eventually cross the Fosseway, an ancient Roman road and now the busy A37, before skirting the village of Keinton Mandeville. When we first started trading as Provender Deli in South Petherton I used to drive every day to collect bread from the excellent baker here.
Beware of fields where farmers have planted crops right across the public right of way. Legally farmers are obliged not to obstruct ROW's but many seem to ignore the law in this regard. Between Keinton Mandeville and Charlton Adam I encountered a huge field full of potatoes where it was impossible to follow the footpath across the middle of the field necessitating a detour round the perimeter of the field over about half a mile with no signage and being forced to negotiate overgrown and difficult terrain.
This is unforgivable especially along the route of a long distance trail clearly marked on OS maps. Nobody minds the farmer planting crops over ROW's against the law providing temporary detours are maintained and clearly marked.
Charlton Adam is the next village and in the same parish. There is a pub there called the Fox and Hounds which was a Butcombe Brewery owned pub who brew very fine beer indeed, second only in my opinion to Otter. It would make a good meeting point for the volunteer drivers to collect and transport you back to Cary or wherever you are staying the night. You will have walked just over 9 miles.
Stage 2 - Charlton Adam to Langport 17km (10.56 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 4801 2747
From Charlton Adam the Way passes around Charlton Mackrell and is really attractive. You get the impression that nothing has changed around here for a few hundred years. You leave the Charltons and descend into a valley where you cross over the River Cary, now slightly larger, on a footbridge then across a field, along a long paved lane, eventually arriving at the next place of interest which is Somerton.
Lytes Cary manor house dating from the 14th century is a national Trust property nearby. It also has an Arts and Crafts style garden which was laid out by the Jenner family in the early 20th century. There are also extensive estate grounds and gardens.
The main London to Taunton railway line runs right though the middle of the town in a deep cutting so with the high speed diesel electric trains and welded rails you just hear a swishing sound as they pass. Strangely, Somerton does not have a station considering it's size and the nearest one is at Castle Cary.
There are lots of pubs and cafe's here and you can sit out with a drink or a meal under an umbrella on the square opposite the Buttercross which makes for quite a continental atmosphere.
The walk continues down the main street until just before the bridge over the railway line you turn left and follow the markers along various paths until you descend to a lane. From here, almost to the next village over two miles away you travel on paved roads for the majority of the way.
Descending to Long Sutton provides fine views over the Somerset Levels and there is another good pub here on the village green called The Devonshire Arms which claims to be a Gastro Pub and is well over half way to Langport. We have eaten here on many occasions and food and beer have always been of the highest quality. A good place to stop for lunch.
The trail now follows the River Yeo which eventually flows into the River Parrett at Langport completing this stage of just over 10 miles. For most of the time you walk along the top of the river bank dyke and a large part of it may be ungrazed and overgrown which in summer has Nettles and Dirty Mans Plaything 10 feet high! A detour may be necessary.
You are now on the Somerset Levels, a wetland area, much of it below sea level, that has been drained and farmed since the 13th century. As late as 1600 barges of 20 tons could navigate the Parrett as far as Langport. I worked for a time for the Somerset River Board maintaining their grab lines and diesel pumping stations which kept the levels flood free for most of the year.
Langport would be a good place to call a halt and you have a big selection of hostelries here for the night but if you really want a proper pub you must travel out of town 15 minutes walk on the A372 back towards Long Sutton at Huish Episcopi where you will find the Rose and Crown Inn known locally as 'Eli's', named after the former owner Eli Scott who took over the family pub in 1920 and the pub is still in the same family.
At Pibsbury pumping station you don't cross the bridge over the River Yeo but stay on the North bank and follow the river until you meet the road between Muchelney and Huish Episcopi at Bicknell's Bridge. This is contrary to the advice given in the guide book of the walk. Muchelney is 2 miles distant and often becomes an island during the winter floods. It has a 7th century abbey which you might like to visit.
The end of this stage is a mile further on where the River Yeo joins the River Parrett but if it is your intention to visit Eli's you should turn right and walk up the road to the junction, turning right past the church and along the A372 until you come to the pub. If you turn left at the junction you will pass under the hanging chapel and arrive in Langport but the Macmillan Way bypasses this attractive old part of Langport following the River Yeo.
Eli's pub is legendary in these parts and is an example of what an English country pub should be like. They even serve food now which is reported to be as good as their beer and cider. This seems to be turning into a Somerset pub guide but where else can you get food, drink, hospitality and to meet the locals, that is if you can understand them!
Language could become a problem as the Somerset dialect can be difficult for strangers to understand. I have therefore included a little section here which includes some well used words and phrases often used in pub conversations which may come in handy. It is incomplete
Stage 3 - Langport to North Petherton 19.4km (11 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 35763 30450
The next stage begins at the main car park in Langport next to the leisure park alongside the River Parrett. There is a shopping centre here where you will find a fish and chip shop, bakery and a general store. This is less than a mile from Bicknell's Bridge.
The map below details the part of the stage between Langport and Northmoor Green. The remaining part of this stage is shown further below. Once on the main road you turn right, cross the road and look for the Macmillan Way turning left down a narrow alley until you arrive through a gate onto farmland where you turn left back towards the river.
Leaving the main road you now follow another long distance walk known as the Parrett Trail. We now follow along the bank of the River Parrett for a few miles until a large sluice gate across the river called Oath Lock. This is where the river becomes tidal and eventually becomes an unattractive muddy ditch.
A strange looking mound appears on the horizon shortly after leaving Langport which is some seven miles ahead at a bridge across the river called Burrowbridge. The mound is called Burrow Mump and has a ruin of a church on the top. In 1946 it became a war memorial and is well worth climbing for the splendid view across Kings Sedgemoor to the Quantock Hills where you are heading.
You will see drainage ditches everywhere, often with willow trees on the bank but occasionally in a plantation. The ditches are called rhynes down 'yer (pronounced 'reens'). It originates from the old English ryne. The willow stems are called withy's and the levels are the only place left in England where they are grown for basket making. Not far away from here is Westonzoyland (where I went to secondary school) and you will find Musgrove Willows who make and sell a multiplicity of withy products.
Westonzoyland is also where the last battle on English soil was fought in 1685. The Battle of Sedgemoor was between a bunch of ill equipped Dorset and Somerset yokels masquerading as the army of the Duke of Monmouth, James Scott, the bastard son of Charles II who met a collection of crack English Guards regiments who slaughtered most of them. Those that escaped were punished by being transported to Australia, gibbeting, hanging or drawn and quartered by Judge Jeffreys, James II's Lord Chief Justice, in what was known as the Bloody Assizes.
The King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge is a good stopping place for lunch. They sell Butcombe and Otter beers. The pub is named after King Alfred who was the King of Wessex and who lived at nearby Athelney when preparing for battle with the Danish army. In May 878AD Alfred led 3000 men into a battle against King Guthrum and his Viking army at Edington in Wiltshire, not the Edington on the nearby Polden Hills and after a fierce fight the Danes surrendered. On 15th June, Guthrum and 30 of his men were baptised at Aller a few miles East of Burrowbridge. At the ceremony Alfred stood as Guthrum's godfather. Afterwards a big feast to celebrate was held at the Saxon estate at Wedmore. Guthrum's surrender and subsequent baptism later became known as the Peace of Wedmore.
About a mile along the A361 road from Burrowbridge is the Levels Basket Centre where you will find a good selection of different Withy baskets made on the levels. Just past the Basket Centre you can turn left and follow the signs to Coates English Willow Visitor Centre at Stoke St Gregory for a huge selection of products, demonstrations of basket making and a museum.
We cross the river and continue along the left bank of the Parrett mostly on paved roads. A high chimney stack comes into view which is the Westonzoyland Pumping Station. It was built in 1830 and was the first pumping station on the Somerset Levels. It had a steam driven pump until 1947 when diesel driven pumps were installed in a new building.
We eventually reach Moorland or Northmoor Green as it is known these days where we turn left and leave the Parrett Trail. As you would expect there is a pub here known as the Thatchers Arms and I can only remember stopping here years ago half frozen to thaw out after watching North Petherton Carnival. It might have been a good place drivers to rendezvous except it looks as though it has died a death as North Petherton is a further 3 miles along mostly paved roads but if you finish your walk at Northmoor Green you would have walked 9 miles.
After crossing the Bridgwater and Taunton canal on a lift bridge you will pass Petherton Park Farm where the late 9th century Alfred Jewel was found in 1693 and is now in the Ashmolian Museum in Oxford. You then cross the busy M5 motorway before arriving in what is now the town of North Petherton. It has a nice pub called the Walnut Tree Hotel opposite the church and I used to live here when it was supposed to be the biggest village in England but it grew into a town. I went to the village school and sang in the church choir where the Bishop of Bath and Wells confirmed me into the Church of England, a faith now forgotten.
I learnt an ancient game at the village school the boys played at most breaks called High Jimmy Knacker. It involved one person standing against a wall and the rest of the team bending down in a long line in front of him joined together. The other team then ran and leapt as far along the line as they could, crushing their knackers when they landed on the backs of the opposing team in the process! When everyone was mounted they rocked side to side to try and collapse the line. If they succeeded the other team did the knackering but hopefully the bell went before serious knacker damage resulted.
Stage 4 - North Petherton to Lydeard Hill 13.7 km (8.5 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 22127 31949
The Macmillan Way goes right past the house where I lived and if you are with us on the day I will point out the house where I expect they will put a blue plaque on one day!
After passing the historic building where I lived as a boy you continue up Cliff Road as far as the speed limiting signs where you turn right to the bottom of the hill and through a gate on your left. This is a different path to the one marked on the OS map which seems to have disappeared. Over a stile at the end of the field you turn left and climb up to another stile emerging on a paved road where you turn right.
The paved road turns into a forestry track as you enter Kingscliff Wood which is a remnant of the old Royal forest consisting of mainly native trees like beech and sweet chestnut. Kingscliff is situated in a pretty valley with a large stream flowing down it. It was always full of rabbits and I used to catch the odd one for the pot until one day there were lots of dead and dying ones lying around. It was the disease deliberately introduced from Australia called Myxomatosis and I used to spend days coming here with a big club putting the poor bunny's out of their misery. They were certainly off the menu from then.
The cliffs are old quarry workings and there are a maze of paths in the area, many of them taken over by mountain bikers. Indeed finding the path marked on the OS map that branches left to the top of the line of cliffs is difficult as it is not waymarked and there are scores of cycle tracks.
The answer is to ignore the diversion up the hill and continue along the valley as the latter eventually rejoins the lower path. "Ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road and I'll be in Broomfield afore ye!"
There is only one place where you might miss the correct path but just remember you must not cross the stream and if the path you are on does so then retrace your steps.
At the end of Kingscliff Woods you turn right with about an hour of walking left to get to Broomfield, through a kissing gate and then you do cross the stream on a footbridge and traverse the edge of Rooks Castle Wood following the steam until you emerge in open farmland, climbing to the top hedge then turning left and dropping back down to the stream which you cross, pass through two gates and climb steeply along a farm track which eventually levels out and contours along the side of the valley to a road junction.Here you turn sharp right up a steep incline for a few yards and then left up steep steps on a waymarked path. After crossing a field you drop back down to the stream, cross the grounds of a pretty house into the Boomfield Common wood after which you emerge onto the paved lane leading to Broomfield.
You will arrive at what is left of Fyne Court 5 miles from North Petherton, now owned by the National Trust. The original house burned down in 1894 and was never rebuilt but it had a famous occupant called Andrew Crosse who, after graduating from Oxford carried out early experiments with electricity. His experiments extended to researching cave life at Holwell Cavern nearby, which was the only known cave on the Quantocks and I explored and extended during my first attempts at caving. The main chamber in the cave is named after Andrew Crosse but the farmer who owns the land had filled in the entrances in 2013 and hates cavers so I don't know the latest.
A small tube at the base of an old quarry cliff face has since been discovered at Aisholt known as Aisholt Cave and has been extended to about 15 metres by Martin Grass (who will be participating on this walk) and others by prodigious use of explosives!
The going now gets a little strenuous after the path dips down into the Kingston St Mary valley and then climbs to the top of Cothelstone Hill before following the road up to the Lydeard Hill car park after a further walk of about 3.7 miles. For those who would like to cut out the strenuous bit we can arrange for you to be collected at the bottom of the valley before you start climbing and transported to the Travellers Rest Pub.
Another alternative would be to walk along the lane from Fyne Court about 1.5 miles to The Pines where there used to be the Pines Cafe but it has unfortunately burnt down, however, if you turn right at The Pines, the Travellers Rest pub is a few hundred yards along the road towards Bridgwater however it had closed when we were last there.
It would be a shame to miss the section between Broomfield and Lydeard Hill which is another 3.7 miles and the best bit scenically. The adjacent slide show gives some idea of the path but it was taken at the end of May so no bluebells by the time we walk it in August.
You turn right at the road junction after leaving Fyne Court and in a few yards will see the ancient path on the left heading steeply downhill. Old paths like these would have once been the only method of transport and have been in use for centuries. At the bottom of the valley you cross over a ford and soon cross the road between The Pines and Kingston St Mary so a better idea than walking along the lanes to The Pines from Fyne Court might be to arrange to be collected here.
You cross the road and walk up the track opposite to begin a strenuous steep climb towards Cothelstone Hill. After negotiating that you arrive at a lane and promptly lose much of the altitude you gained but you soon begin to climb again over farmland that it is not so steep as the previous climb.
When I was here one of the fields was planted with oil seed rape which was neck high and stinks to high heaven so don't do this part of the walk until the rape seed has finished.
After crossing a few more fields you arrive back into woodland then eventually emerge onto the open moorland of Cothelstone Hill. You head off West from the top but do take some time to sit on the wooden log seat and admire the view which is exceptional.
You then turn right and drop down the steep side of Cothelstone Hill to eventually join the road junction at Park End taking the uphill road which you follow to the Lydeard Hill car park. From the top of Cothlestone Hill the main route backtracks and then drops down through Badger Copse to Cothlestone village and along the base of the hills to Triscombe before climbing again to meet the alternative route at Triscombe Stone. I prefer the high level route which we followed however you will miss the delightful Rising Sun Inn at West Bagborough which sells Exmoor Gold which is a decent drop as does the Blue Ball at Triscombe.
Stage 5 - Lydeard Hill car park to Williton 15.2km (9.44 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 11001 39311
Please note that the halfway point grid ref is at Bicknoller which is actually at 6.6miles from Lydeard Hill which is actually 2/3rd's of the stage distance.
You are now on open moor land covered with heather and gorse as the path skirts round Lydeard Hill. They do say that when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion! You climb gently up to the summit of the highest hill on the Quantocks, Wills Neck at 386m (1266ft). The rest of this stage is mostly along the packway following the spine of the hills and you will have glorious views across the Bristol Channel to Wales and onwards to Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor.
You will see a lot of ponies on the hills. They are wild and left to roam but are all owned by somebody and every year are herded up and taken to Bridgwater Fair where they are sold. The foals may then be taken off the hill and used for riding and the rest put back on the hill for another year to produce more foals.
|Quotes 'wot I like:|
"Upon smooth Quantock's airy ridge we roved,
Unchecked, or loitered 'mid her sylvan coombs,"
William Wordsworth 1770 - 1850.
The above photograph was taken on the packway looking towards Beacon Hill which will be our final Quantock viewpoint as just before Bicknoller Post we turn West but the turn off is not waymarked. Look for a small triangular shaped upright stone rock at the junction of the tracks leaving the packway on your left. See the photo below of the junction.
We base ourselves at South Petherton for this first half of the walk and for the five regular walkers we used two cars positioning one at the finish point which for this stage was Williton. We then used Williton as our base for three days then Ilfracombe for the final two days.
Instead of Williton as your base there is the possibility of booking rooms at Nettlecombe Court. Failing that then Exford would be a good alternative where there are plenty of hotel choices. The wimps who only walked specific stages made their own accommodation arrangements but you should not miss stage 5 as far as Bicknoller which is not difficult and was where Sue and I walked the most together.
Those who continue to Williton will cross over the main A358 and then the West Somerset Railway line which is a heritage line running steam locomotives between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead and well worth an excursion. Williton is where you will find a thatched pub called the Masons Arms. If you are not staying at Nettleton Court then this might be a place to stay the night especially and is a further three miles walk from Bicknoller.
There is also the option of the White House Hotel which comes highly recommended. Their steak was voted the best ever.
The walkers who were attempting the full 102 miles can had a day off for rest and relaxation. Some of the walkers who were ex cavers travelled up to Priddy Village Hall of Mendip for a singers reunion which was videoed for posterity and will be kept on a caving internet archive so the unique songs do not get lost.
Stage 6 - Williton to Dunster 14.8km (9.2 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: ST 01539 41272
The halfway point grid ref is Withycombe where you could walk down to the A39 and catch a bus back to Williton.
The circular blue symbols on the detailed maps indicate the number of hotels or B&B's nearby, A hotel where you see a bed and a car park where you see a 'P'. Probably the most upmarket place to stay in Williton is the White House on Long St. If you chose to walk this stage of the walk there is a half hourly bus service back to Williton or you could even catch the steam train back from Dunster Station.
Williton marks the half way point of the Way and the next stage is a pretty walk through rolling hills with views of the sea accompanied by the tooting of steam trains along the West Somerset Railway Line although there may be a few detours due to farmers crops. Route finding is not easy and you will appreciate the OS app here.
|Quotes 'wot I like:|
" Beneath the wide wide Heaven - and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772 - 1834.
You are now traversing the Coleridge Way, another 50 mile long distance path running from Nether Stowey in Somerset where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived to Lynmouth in Devon.
The poet walked along here on his way to Culbone, up Porlock Hill. Sheltering from a storm in a farmhouse there he got himself stoned on opium which he took for medical (but more likely recreational) purposes and fell asleep. On waking he remembered a drug induced dream.
He was in the middle of writing the dream down when he was interrupted by a bloke from Porlock and then forgot the rest so it was never finished. The poem was called Kubla Kahn.
Leaving Williton you follow a fast flowing stream along a delightful shaded path until you reach the appropriately named hamlet of Stream. The way on over a hill to Roadwater may involve diversions due to crops planted over the footpath and may be difficult to follow. The OS app on your mobile becomes almost essential for navigation here.
At the village of Roadwater you are only a couple of miles as the crow flies from Nettlecombe Court. I mention this because it might be a place to base yourself for the second half of the walk. It has 120 beds in 18 rooms of varying size, many ensuite and can now be booked for singles, couples, groups of adults or families. They have a variety of twin and single rooms, many en suite. If enough are interested we could arrange a group booking.
Withycombe is the next village and from here you must tackle the hard slog up over Withycombe hill. You cross the stream on a bridge next to a ford, turn right then fork left past the church until you see a finger post saying it's 2¾ miles more to Dunster. You will be amply rewarded after the climb by the views back to the Quantocks, out across the Bristol Channel and ahead to Dunkery Beacon which will be your next target.
The scenery changes to open moorland once you reach the top of the hill. Ignore the finger post to Dunster and continue along the top of the hill to Bats Castle, an iron age fort and a lovely vantage point.
Descending to the tree line you turn right and then immediately take the left fork down a green path which leads you to the valley bottom past a pretty row of thatched cottages and across the little packhorse bridge called Gallox Bridge over the River Avill into Dunster. Probably one of Somerset's prettiest villages with it's unique Yarn Market, thatched cottages and romantic castle although nearby Selworthy would probably beat it to the draw.
If you want somewhere really nice to eat, drink and sleep then the Lutterell Arms Hotel opposite the Yarn Market is the place for you and you need to eat well as the going gets tough the next day when we climb the highest hill on Exmoor.
Stage 7 - Dunster to Exford Common 15km (9.3 miles)
Halfway Point: OS Grid Ref: SS 93824 43381
I must have been in my early teens when I went to the summer camp of the Cannington Scout Troop in the Avill valley. Our scoutmaster was rushed off to hospital for some reason and his place was taken by the County Commissioner who lived nearby. He set a 24 hour hike for three of us for, I think, our backwsoodsmans badge and the troop leader was given the instructions to be opened at the summit of Dunkery Beacon 519m (1703ft).
I remember the troop leader was not very wildlife conscious as he killed an Adder we found on the way up. It was just getting dark when he opened the hike instructions which was to take a compass bearing on one of three hills from the OS map and follow it in a straight line without deviation.
We set off towards our first hill which was Withypool Common 428m (1404ft) and soon found ourselves having to wade chest deep over the River Exe in the dark.
Next was Winsford Hill also 428m (1404ft) and I remember falling asleep on the green at Exford knackered. The final hill was Lype Hill 423m (1388ft) before returning to camp where we collapsed exhausted. It later transpired that the Dick of a troop leader had not read the instructions properly and we were only supposed to select two hills to walk between in a straight line. Not all of them!
Leaving Dunster the first place of interest you come across is the 12th/14th century Buttercross. It aquired its name when it was situated in the main village street where butter was sold. It was moved to its present position sometime during the 18th century and has long since lost its cross.
The trail climbs steadily up through wooded country round the side of Grabbist Hill out on to the open moorland with fine views along the coast and down to Minehead. You continue climbing steadily along the ridge for about 3 miles before dropping down through woodland with a view over the trees of Dunkery Beacon and the path to the summit, your next challenge. You must lose most of the altitude gained from Dunster when you drop down to the pretty village of Wootton Courtney. We used to frequent the Dunkery Beacon Country House Hotel here which served a good lunch before you tackled the steep climb up Dunkery from where you have an unsurpassed view of West Somerset.
Soon after leaving the village you follow a well worn path across a field, down steps across an ancient deep track then through a recreation field before meeting a paved road when you turn left and immediately right over more open moorland. A brief walk through a very attractive birch wood emerges on to the open moorland slopes of Dunkery Hill and an unrelenting climb over a rough stoney path for over a mile. It does level out a bit before meeting the Luccombe to Dunkery Gate road over the flank of the hill where you will find a car park where the idle rich walk from to the beacon which is still just short of a mile away.
Descending from Dunkery you soon arrive at Exford Common and Porlock Post, about a 2 mile downhill walk and a distance walked of just over 9.5 miles from Dunster and about 2 miles from Exford itself. One of our volunteer drivers will transport you there where you have the choice of the rather swanky White Horse Inn or the Crown Hotel.
Stage 8 - Exford Common to Great Vintcombe 16.9km (10.5 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: SS 79046 40672
The Macmillan Way shown on the OS map does not exist. Instead you should follow the road right downhill towards Porlock until you meet a well defined track on your left. You eventually meet another road where you turn left and quickly regain the line shown on the map where a well marked track heads off West across the moor.
From Exford Common we follow parallel to the course of the Exe Valley traversing the moor where at Warren Farm the official route descends into the vally and crosses the river on a bridge then climbs steeply up Three Combe Hill before descending again to follow the river to it's source. You can avoid this steep climb by taking the track on the right just before the bridge but you will then have to ford the river and the going is rough uphill therafter so no gain. At the source of the River Exe you join the Tarka Trail before dropping down to the B3358 road beside the River Barle at Great Vintcombe beyond Simondsbath, a walk of about 10 miles.
You are still in Somerset at this point as is most of Exmoor but the next day you cross the border. They are rumoured to eat their young down here so keep a close eye on the kids!
If Challacombe be your choice then you be in Deben (Devon) my 'andsome and they do speak different down 'yer.
Stage 9 - Great Vintcombe to Gunn 21.87km (13.6 miles)
Halfway point: OS Grid Ref: SS 69995 34957
This is a long days walk including a total ascent of 485m following the Tarka Trail, a 180 mile route travelled by Tarka the Otter in the famous novel by Henry Williamson. You climb uo through Vintcombe to the summit, turn left and walk along the lane a couple of miles crossing the Somerset/Devon border until you turn off right on a farm track across a field and commence a long downhill walk across Whitefield Down. Navigation is tricky here and look out for an unmarked turn off the farm track left across fields with no clear path. Lovely views across the Devon countryside all the way down.
We eventually descend into a tributary river valley of the River Bray through pleasant wooded vallys and then the Bray itself until we arrive in East Buckland where there is nothing remotely of interest and no pubs within a reasonable distance. West Buckland is no better but Gunn is only another 2.8 miles making a total days walking of 13.6 miles and there are no pubs there either!
It's like a desert and a chap could die of thirst in these parts! If you are not staying with those doing the whole walk then my suggestion is that you spend the night in Barnstaple or even South Molton, returning the next day to meet up with the walkers at Gunn for a walk of about 8.5 miles to Barnstaple on Sunday 7th August.
Most of this final section is downhill through attractive farming country and woodland generally well shaded but on the approach to the village of Bishops's Tawton is a bloody great steep hill after which you meet the road and then descend down again through the village. Once you emerge on the main road there is another uphill section along the main road before you descend to the River Taw valley so there is a sting in the tail.
Arriving on the right bank of the River Taw you pass under the A39 before crossing to the left bank of the river on the old railway bridge, currently under repair so you have to continue along the right bank into the centre of Barnstaple. You can't miss the Golden Lion Tap in the square just across the bridge as a good base for fund raising but on the opposite direction is a Weatherspoons pub which is even better. The clock tower if the official end to the walk next to the tourist information centre which is closed on a Sunday and there were not many tourists about there on the day we were there.
A short distance from the clock tower is The Watergate which is a Weatherspoons pub and so the ales are numerous and cheap as is the food. For the record the IPA was £1.75 on the day we finished the walk.
I used to spend a good time in these parts as at the mouth of the estuary of the River Taw which flows through Barnstaple is Appledore. When I worked for Lister Blackstone Marine and later for Ulstein UK Ltd I did good business with Appledore Shipbuilders. Visitors can take a trip out to Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel if the weather is nice or trot round to Westward Ho, Saunton Sands or Woolacombe Beach. They'm all lovely my 'andsome.
The observant among you may have noticed that if you add up the mileages given of the individual stages the total distance only comes to 99.92 miles. It may be that the stated length of the walk has been over estimated or the error is in the method I used to calculate the stages which was using the OS route creating app giving an incorrect result due to differences in altitude which I suspect. Climbing Dunkery from Wootton Courtney for example involves an ascent of over 400 metres and the app calculates a distance of 3.1 miles but when the difference in altitude is taken into account the distance is actually 3.23 miles. The few times we checked a stage mileage using GPS phone apps it was usually more than the mileage calculated by the OS route creating app. The total ascent of the walk is 3238 metres.
The other difference will be that my calculations are using the alternative high level route across the Quantocks which is 1.56 miles shorter than the low level route.
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