Olly Writes

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Part 2: Dunkery Beacon to Horner – Exmoor

Sunday 28th August 2016

From Dunkery Beacon, you gain some of the best panoramic views in all of the Westcountry. It’s quite natural, considering it is Somerset’s highest point.

I’m not familiar with Dartmoor but a nearby topograph suggests that you can see all the way south to Yes Tor. Better still, you cannot see the eyesore of Hinkley Point or its hugely controversial ‘C’ addendum.

As you tend to find in high places, other visitors had formed messages using a collection of rocks.

Of course, you also need to find the perfect angle before you can clearly read some of them.

I’m not sure how I feel about people climbing up on cairns. I know it happens and I’m also aware that this one on Dunkery Hill probably isn’t the original… But, it would’ve been a place of rest for at least one soul.

Following my lunch stop, my walk would continue in a westerly direction – still following the MacMillan Way West – with only a very gradual and subdued descent.

…Well, I thought I was following the MacMillan Way. But, when I arrived at this large cairn, I realised I’d wondered off a few metres to the north! As I was informed yesterday; this is the site of both Great Rowbarrow and Little Rowbarrow.

Continuing along the wrong path, I spotted this, moments before reaching another narrow road. There was no information sign and no warnings of ‘private’ or to ‘keep out’. There’s a solar panel on top of a box that was padlocked and I couldn’t make any sense of the rest. It must be used for surveying, of some form. Maybe the weather? There was no lock on the kissing gate and so, the public are free to examine.

Joining the road near Lang Combe Head, I followed the tarmac south-westerly, uphill and to the point at which I had intended to join it, close to this boundary stone. I retraced the route I’d passed, briefly, in case I might have missed something…

Poking my head over a wooden field gate to the south of the path, I saw the tops of animals moving beyond grass in front of me. At the time, I believed they were deer, based on their movements. Now, I can analyse this photograph and suspect they were cattle and possibly of the Highland variety.

From here, according to my map; the MacMillan Way West looked easy to follow…

Follow the road towards Porlock Post [again, no boundary post to be seen] but turn right at the junction; soon keeping an eye out for a path on your left… A path I could not find. There wasn’t even an animal track to be seen.

How strange, considering this is a long-distance trail of just over one-hundred miles.

Instead, I walked slightly further north up this road and turned west to follow a black dashed line above Ember Combe. This would be my guide across Exford Common – with the appropriate timid ponies to admire.

Having arrived at yet another road, I was now looking to cross Almsworthy Common. I’m not sure why but, I chose to follow a dotted line that runs close to the northern boundary…

Fortunately, so much of this area is Open Access Land and so, you’re not really in danger of breaking any law. Where I thought I was following a clear path, it soon dissipated on the approach to these Highland Cattle.

I’m grateful that they were so passive and willing to let me take these photos. At the same time, I found myself squelching on bog-like territory before reaching yet another road. Do cattle ever get stuck in the peat?

Next time, I would avoid all of that I hug the southern boundary fence!

I’d arrived at Alderman’s Barrow – a familiar named from my partial-completion of the Exmoor Perambulation in 2015.

I couldn’t recall the star but it was a welcome sight, to see this sign in the kind of weather I’d hoped for in June last year! Interestingly, I’d parked my car close to one edge of the Holnicote Estate down in Horner. It does cover a great expanse of land. I might even have seen signs for it on the other side of the A39, near Selworthy.

I like to think I’ll attempt the Exmoor Perambulation again in 2017 – signing up for the whole thing, if only to complete the half-distance walk again (fingers crossed for decent weather). I felt too intimidated to attempt it this year (I think it rained on the actual day, again, anyway). Next time, I’d look for local accommodation with less of the camping-and-having-to-cook-your-own-breakfast, considering the 7am start.

To find myself walking in a familiar part of Exmoor – a national park that I have not explored too greatly – was a reassuring feeling. As if nothing could go wrong, from here.

From Alderman’s Barrow, I followed the road up to a T-junction with Lucott Cross.

Taking a chance on the bridleway ahead, I came face-to-face with a red cow over a stile. A Western-style stand-off; the two of us divided only by a pool of water…

He was the first to pick up his tail and run. Soon followed by the rest of the herd; creating a welcome and clear route for me to follow ahead. I can’t imagine many people walking through here and yet, they weren’t as overly-curious as some ‘isolated’ cows can be.

In the next field, there were sheep. A little more tenacious but they didn’t stand in my way for long.

Passing above Blackford Combe, I notice several gates with these same warnings, engraved in to the head rail – not that I even saw a danger bull in any of these fields.

From here, the path descends to pass in front of Lucott Farm – where I witnessed a man (possibly the farmer) barking at his sheep as they scurried up in to the trailer. I followed the road briefly before turning left to head north and down in to Hawkcombe Woods and National Nature Reserve, with Buckethole Farm [what a great name – almost as good as Cheddar Head Farm!] over to my right.

Shade. Trees. Green.

I found a refreshing change, after miles of moorland walking that had become almost bleak and too isolating, at times. That’s something I did find difficult – walking without a view. I imagine Dartmoor must be similar, but for its many tors.

Beyond the less-informative finger-post, I followed a series of fairly obvious woodland paths before descending down towards the water, where I could’ve otherwise maintained height on my return to the car.

A ford crossing was necessary at one point – although, it’s nothing compared to the ford at Tarr Steps, further south of this location. In the event of heavy rain and winter weather, a footbridge is available for safe and drier passage to the opposite bank.

My return journey continued past Peep-out and a series of dispersed houses close to a weir.

From the quaint village of Hawkcombe, I didn’t have far left to go.

But, I had mis-anticipated the gradient that was about to follow, as I climbed up one road from Higher Doverhay before joining the Coleridge Way on a part-circumnavigation of Crawter Hill.

My return to the road in Horner was marked by the crossing of this Packhorse Bridge. Exmoor – along with Dartmoor, in fact – is known for housing several of these across its land. There’s possibly the occasional Clapper Bridge to be found, as well.

exmoor.png

A good sixteen-miles later and my walk was complete.

This was the first walk that I had created here since a coastal expedition back in December. I feel more confident about exploring other parts of Exmoor, when the time is right. As I’ve mentioned its name several times in this post alone, I also hope that I can begin to explore Dartmoor as well.

Total distance of this walk: 16 miles

Thanks for reading.

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5 responses to “Part 2: Dunkery Beacon to Horner – Exmoor

  1. Lois 23/10/2016 at 10:07

    Wonderful! stunning views! Too strenuous and too much ‘up’ for me in places, but will certainly have a look at the gentler stretches!

    • Olly Parry-Jones 23/10/2016 at 10:11

      Hi Lois and thank you! You could certainly park quite close to the higher points and not have to endure much climbing to gain the very best of views.

      Google throws up lots of results for shorter and less intensive Exmoor outings.

  2. Ruth Livingstone 23/10/2016 at 13:02

    Sounds like a good walk, Olly. I’m not sure how I would cope with trackless moorland, and this puts me off exploring some of the remoter areas of our national parks. Well done for a longish walk safely completed.

    • Olly Parry-Jones 23/10/2016 at 13:17

      Thanks, Ruth. Yes, that was something I hadn’t expected and I was ready to believe a long-distance path like the MacMillan Way would be clear and easy to follow… My biggest fear about moorland is getting lost or stepping in to a bog! I mean, without being able to test each square foot with our own boots… How are we to know?!

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