Thursday, May 15, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks - Nine Mile Walk Around Wimbleball Lake

Walking the Wimbleball Lake would hardly appear much of a challenge, either athletically or aesthetically. The reservoir was created in the 1970's, and this artificial tongue of water would seem almost out of place in an area where natural streams and their valleys are so much part of the landscape. On the penultimate day of the May "heatwave", however, it provided a very pleasant and easy walk, and allowed us to discover the delights of "The George" at Brompton Regis. We parked at an unsigned carpark at Bessom Bridge, mainly used by anglers. The signs will try to seduce you into parking at the main park on the western shore of the lake, where there are such delights as boat hire, camping, and cream teas.

We walked clockwise around the lakeshore circular path. You can't miss your way, of course, and you could do it in sandals if you wished. In mid May, however, there is much to enjoy. There are waves of bluebells in the woodland, and I saw the back of a rapidly disappearing fox in West Hill Wood. When the path climbs away from the shore, there are lovely views through the trees down to the water.

When we came to the dam, a grey and sinister construction as dams often are, we left the lakeshore and followed the concrete roadway to Hartford. Reaching the lane, we turned right and walked up through the pleasant cottages and farms at Venn and thus into Brompton Regis. On a hot and sunny morning, not even a dog stirred in the village.

We took a path to the side of the church past the restored parish lockup and came out by the pub. On its sign is the much and unfairly maligned George III. A long, white, plain building, the pub has a very attractive timbered bar for drinking or eating, with a further dining area attached. A low french window leads out into the garden which has attractive views to Haddon Hill.

As usual we had a liquid lunch out of a glass. From the array of pumps, you could have the usual Exmoor or St Austell, but we chose Sharps from Cornwall for the sake of change. Sharps is not for every taste - sharp by name and sharp by nature some people feel - but the very well-kept pint at the "George" showed its tangy, bitter flavour at its best.

For those who like their lunch on a plate, and there were quite a few even on a Tuesday, there is plenty to choose from. There were two blackboards of specials as well as a lunchtime snacks menu. Starters were a fiver, mains came in at less than a tenner, and a pudding was four quid. Like Dracula, we only eat after dark, but what we saw encouraged us to plan to come back for supper in the near future. We were not disappointed when we did. We both enjoyed the game paté, and the salmon hollondaise and the scampi which followed. Vegetables were good and plentiful, and the prices were reasonable.

We walked back through the village and over Bryants Hill to Bessom Bridge, passing Pulhams Mill with its craftshop and tearoom on the way.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks - Seven Mile Walk From Winsford to Bridgetown and Back

Our objective is to walk to every pub on Exmoor in which we have never had a drink. This is quite a tall order despite the number that we have been in over the past thirty years. We had never been in the Badgers Holt at Bridgetown and, as my wife, Sheila, was looking to break in her feet and boots after a winter's hunting, a short sprint from Winsford seemed ideal. Even on a Tuesday in May the car park at Winsford was almost full by 11 o' clock. We set off past the Royal Oak with its thatchers hard at work and past the Karslake Hotel. The latter when we first knew Exmoor was a tearoom, in which no table nor chair matched, nor had four legs on the ground at any one time. The cream teas then were to die for, but now it is a smart restaurant with rooms, and an AA rosette for its restaurant and with prices to match.

We climbed up Halse Lane until it turns sharp right, and there took the track known as Yellowcombe Lane. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and Yellowcombe Lane is a pleasant climb up a mainly dry track with views of Winsford behind you and then through woodland with patches of bluebells and a valley view to the left. There are wild flowers everywhere now - violets and wild garlic, and thick patches of comfrey and white deadnettle. Eventually you come to Yellowcombe Cottage on the right of the track, seemingly marooned in the middle of nowhere. How did they get their furniture up there? Here we crossed a stream and continued up through the woodland with the stream to our right. Eventually the path becomes a steep pull before it emerges through a gate into a grassy meadow with views of moorland at Winsford Hill away to your right. A turn to the left quickly takes you to Leigh Lane at Summerway but, after turning right, its only a short distance before you turn left into the fields again, following a tractor-rutted track with views away to Dunkery on your left.

The bridleway soons turns sharp right and takes you straight downhill, eventually into a sunken track. It levels out as you approach a stream where there is a clamorous pumping station for no obvious purpose and, above you on your left, a ruined cottage. The plan was to walk to Broford Farm Buildings before circling to our left into Redcleeve Plantation, but we missed our gate to the right and were in the forestry before we realised our mistake. When we retraced our steps, the bridleway sign was plain enough, pointing up a huge grass field with no discernible path. Enclosures of agri-industry proportions are rare in this part of the world but the way was obvious, keeping a new fence on our left as we climbed up over the steep hill, and through gates down to the farm buildings at Broford.

Here we turned left and, where the farm lane turned right down to Broford Farmhouse, we went straight on through a horse paddock and on across a field with cattle in it to the gate into Redcleeve Plantation. The aim was to walk through the forestry and follow the way to Hollam Farm, which in turn would lead us to Bridgetown. As all walkers know, the ways through forestry are always changing as new access tracks are cut for machinery, but all seemed well until we reached a valley floor where there was ford and a footbridge near some forestry buildings. Here we made a fatal mistake. After crossing the stream, we turned left and followed the bank of the stream up an attractive, grassy valley which we assumed would lead to Hollam Farm. It was now after 1 o'clock and, just as we were becoming a little anxious, a building appeared above a ridge. Hollam Farm? It was our ruined cottage again, and the realisation that we had walked round in a circle was accompanied by the mocking clatter of the pumping station.

We hurriedly retraced our steps. In future, the path back down the valley would make an ideal alternative to the rather unappealing way round Broford, but our only concern now was whether we would make the Badgers Holt before closing time. Just after our fatal left turn there was a sign for Hollam Farm, and we followed a metalled road up a steep hill until it led straight up to the farm. Cautiously we took a track to the left, but this only led us into the farm buildings where we set kennels of spaniels barking, their owner confirming that the footpath proper followed the metalled road straight up to the farmhouse.

The lane away from the farm took us to a gate which led straight to Bridgetown Plantation, with the eponymous village and the Badgers Holt clearly visible below us. We missed the official way to the edge of the village, and had to clamber over some sheep netting to make the lane which led to the bridge over the Exe and to the main road.

It was five minutes past two. The door, however, to the pub was firmly locked. Just inside it a customer sat at a table tucking into his lunch but our rattling the lock brought no response from anyone within. We stood in the road, hot, thirsty, and vengeful. Suddenly mine host appeared. Person or persons unknown had tripped the Yale lock. The pub was still open.

We leaned on the bar, looking for all the world like John Mills and co in the climactic scene of "Ice Cold In Alex". Like so many pubs on Exmoor, the Badgers Holt features beers from the Exmoor Brewery at Wiveliscombe. Of the three on offer, we ordered a pint of "Stag" each. "Stag" is over 5% in strength, and hardly a lunchtime beer for walkers with a few more miles still to go, but only a minority of pubs stock it and we were in the mood for a treat. It was perfectly kept and served cellar cool. We are not great lunchers, and last food orders were by 2 o'clock, but the Badgers Holt has plenty to keep midday eaters happy. Sandwiches, baguettes, and baked potatoes with the usual variety of fillings are less than a fiver. Starters are in the same range and most mains are less than a tenner. There's a blackboard for daily specials and puds come in at a little more than £3. The Badgers Holt doesn't have the rustic charm of, say, the "Royal Oak" at Withypool, but the beer's good, there's a wide choice of food at reasonable prices, and it's the village pub for Bridgetown and Exton with quizzes and a darts board. Keith, the affable landlord, is a refugee from science teaching in Hornchurch. Good luck to him!

We recrossed the bridge and turned right into the bridleway which leads to Coppleham Cross with the Exe flowing on your right. You need to stay in the fields as long as they allow, as the track becomes pretty mucky eventually. When we reached the road that leads back into Winsford, we crossed it and, taking the footpath between the houses, climbed up a steep hill and down the other side to enter Winsford via West Howetown.