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.