Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

My First Night on Exmoor

Friday 19th June 2015

I arrived at Westermill Farm at about 17.30. It had taken me almost two-hours to get there from home and but for a series of cleaning tasks and last-minute packing, I’d have like to have been there a little earlier, following a half-day at work. In fear of what the southbound traffic could be like on a sunny Friday afternoon, I took the A38 south as far as Bridgwater (J23), by which time I could glance over the railings to see the M5 was running quite smoothly.

It was then that I joined the motorway as far as Junction 25, before following A-roads and B-roads past the Brendon Hills and in to the heart of Exmoor.

One of my favourite experiences from the whole weekend was driving in this part of the country. Roads in the heart of Exmoor go up and down and then around both tight and sweeping bends. But you can often drive for several minutes at a time without seeing another car. The only bit I didn’t particularly enjoy was the narrow crossroads at Wheddon Cross. But then, I only had to negotiate them one time over the weekend.

I’ll write more thoroughly on my experience of Westermill Farm as a campsite in a future post. But my first impressions were  very good. Reception was clearly marked and I was soon payed up and ready to pitch. I was at first surprised to have to pay an extra £5 for my car (over a two-night stay) but that’s only because I hadn’t read the information on their website properly, where the extra charge is clearly stated.

With my pitch set (I seem to be getting better at erecting my tent), I wanted to try and relax a bit but, after a quick cup of tea, I knew that dinner time was soon to fade away behind me and that I’d need something filling in preparation for a big walk the next day… So, I went with my old faithful of pasta and took a friend’s advice to try a stir-in sauce (which worked well; I just probably need a bigger bowl).

It was now about 19.30 and with my stomach silenced, I decided I wanted to head out for a short local walk to stretch my legs and settle my mind a bit. There are routes available locally from the entrance to the farm but I could distinctly recall passing a sign for Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor’s highest point, about twenty-minutes prior to my arrival.

It was good to be able to drive there and back again without needing to call upon my SatNav, which I usually operate in silent mode anyway, as more of a visual guide.

It must’ve been just after 20.00 by the time I reach the big pile of stones at the very top. Dunkery Beacon, at 520m, trumps the highest point on the Quantocks (Wills Neck) and I think I’m also right in saying it’s also higher than any point on the Mendips.

These clouds appeared to be ‘vibrating’. It was quite strange.

This was possibly the only time over the whole weekend where I was able to get a phone signal (Vodafone), both for calls, texts and for 3G. It allowed me to share the moment through social media and to respond to a couple of texts.

View to the south.

I’d not been to this high point on my one previous visit to Exmoor. Given the fact that the Perambulation’s route goes nowhere near, I felt it would’ve been a missed opportunity, had I not made even this small effort to greet it during my three-day stay.

It was good to see some familiar names on top of a nearby stone:

I’ve no idea what you call these things? A topograph?

It was pretty windy on the top though and more chilly on the east side, which was sheltered from the breeze but also the setting sun. I didn’t hang around for too long after taking these photos and sending a few texts.

I really didn’t feel too far from home at all and yet, this was still a new adventure in itself.

Can you see my car?

The car park, here, works on a donation basis, where they suggest you give £1 towards the maintenance of footpaths and the land:

Feeling a little generous and wary that I was the only visitor here that evening, I gave an extra 25%, which also helped me to shed some spare change that I never seem to use.

Back at the camp site, I had time for another cup of tea before thinking about settling in to my sleeping bag. I had a wander around a nearby lake and then sat outside for a while; during which time, I noticed a lone bat constantly circling overhead…

I waited until about 22.30 before finally heading in. I could spot the odd twinkle in the sky to the south but there was still too much light emanating from the north to allow me to see anything more.

Exmoor, if I remember correctly, was the UK’s first designated Dark Sky Nature Reserve… It’s certainly one of the few we do have. I woke up about 1.30 in the morning and popped my head outside to have another look. This time, it was more like what I had hoped for. Sadly, it only came out as blackness on my camera. Plus, it was cold and I’d need to be up again in four hours.

At some point during that night, I was kept awake by a small band of hooting owls… There must’ve been four of them. One directly overhead; calling out to others who would respond in formation. I’m sure that first owl even swooped down on to my tent at one point! It was kind of spooky but really interesting. An experience I don’t get living along a village high street. 🙂

Thanks for reading.


3 responses to “My First Night on Exmoor

  1. Bob Pendleton 24/06/2015 at 19:51

    “It must’ve been just after 20.00 by the time I reach the big pile of stones at the very top. Dunkery Beacon, at 520m, trumps the highest point on the Quantocks (Wills Neck) and I think I’m also right in saying it’s also higher than any point on the Mendips”.

    Hi, Olly. I believe it is true that due East from Dunkery summit there is nothing higher until you reach the Urals.

    Wheddon Cross can be awkward. Yesterday I approached it from Dunster/Timberscombe to turn left onto the Brendons. You don’t want to meet anybody coming down at that point! I know now that it would have been better to take a short cut from Timberscombe to Heath Poult Cross.

    Should you find yourself that way again you may be interested in checking the history of mining in the area and the railway down to Watchet which used an inclined plane (near the Beulah Chapel). The incline is still there but no railway!

    Best wishes, Bob

    • Olly Parry-Jones 24/06/2015 at 20:43

      Hi Bob, it’s good to hear from you.

      Ah, Wheddon Cross… How glad I was to be tight behind another vehicle heading west and prior to my arrival on Friday afternoon! I also negotiated the crossroads on the way back, where I instead had to turn left and up to Timberscombe. Fortunately, it wasn’t very busy but it’s taught me that SatNavs don’t always know best.

      I’ve heard of the mining in the area. Did there used to be something like that, or perhaps a tinworks, up near Porlock? Or Minehead? (That’s probably where its name comes from.) I remember once going up that ridiculously steep hill as a passenger, many years ago.

      I’m sure I’ll be back one day and I hope you’re well.

I welcome your thoughts.

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