Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks – Ten mile walk from County Gate to the Rockford Inn via the Glenthorne Estate & Watersmeet

This should top the list of walks on Exmoor to do before you die – or before you become too halt and lame at least. We parked in the County Gate car park, not one to receive rosettes for scenic beauty with its boxlike public convenience and boarded-up National Park Centre. On a glorious July day, however, this eyesore was immediately forgotten as we walked across the road and down to the coastal path with stunning views already over the sea. On the path someone was busily setting up a water station for a run from Countisbury to Minehead as we turned left down the track towards the Glenthorne nature reserve. We were soon in mixed woodland and then a pinery, with the sea blue beneath us through the trees. We came across a weird cistern with a cross on top and, after we had turned right into a driveway, two pillars topped with boars’ heads. Just past this impressive gateway, there was a fine lodge house with latticed windows but, within yards, the path left the driveway and led us high above what was presumably Glenthorne House. It would have done if the Reverend Halliday’s gothic country house was still standing but, like Ashley Combe House further north, apparently it had gone.

It was no matter as the views over the sea from the path were to die for, with numbers of small combes down which streams rushed towards the rocky beaches. A walker coming in the opposite direction warned us of “two coach loads” of runners heading towards us and, sure enough, soon they appeared in their singlets and flimsy shorts, puffing and sweating. They had twenty one miles to cover, and on a baking hot morning I earnestly hoped that they would not suffer the fate of the original marathon runner who brought the news to Athens of the great victory at the eponymous battle - after delivering his message he dropped dead on the spot. Feeling particularly smug, we continued on our even-paced way through shade and shadow, unaware that we all too soon would face a fate perhaps worse than death.

Just before Foreland Point we emerged into the full force of the blazing sun and, after following a service road to the lighthouse between steep gravel-patched hillocks, we turned left into a path which climbed steeply upwards towards Countisbury. To our right was a magnificent view of Lynmouth and its beach before the top of Countisbury church tower popped up over the skyline. We passed through the church yard and out between an avenue of yews to find the busy Blue Ball pub directly in front of us.

Like a good hound, however, we kept true to our line and passed by the tempting open door, keeping ever before us an image of our intended waterhole, the Rockford Inn. This mental picture had been much influenced by reading an often hilarious blog by a former licensee of the Rockford Inn on how he bought the pub and attempted to drag it screaming into the present century. His struggle to prevent passing coach parties from using his lavatories without buying a drink, and to keep his dipsomaniac customers under some form of control, is an epic of Homeric proportions. Curiously, the narrative stops abruptly. Perhaps, he threw himself into the East Lynn river.
The bridleway to Watersmeet could be clearly seen from the churchyard and, after turning left and then crossing the main road, we turned our back to the sea and set off over the ridge southwards. We passed through a grassy lane, down some pasture, and eventually into woodland. The path narrowed and then snaked downhill through a succession of hairpin bends. We ignored the first path to Rockford and Brendon, determined to reach the bottom of the gorge and to see Watersmeet itself. It was the first Sunday of the school holidays, hordes sunned themselves on the rocks, and the National Trust tearoom was in full swing. As usual with the National Trust, the institution which has allowed the middle classes to inherit the earth, the lavatories were immaculate. We took a picture of the two rivers and fled up the valley towards Brendon.

This river walk is one of stunning beauty – cascading waterfalls and churning rapids framed by the arched greenery of the trees. Sometimes the flow of the water pauses to form deep, still pools. On such a scorching day only the occasional appearance of other walkers dissuaded you from stripping off and sliding into the dark water. It was a magical experience.

The appearance of some cottages announced our arrival at Rockford. The pub was clearly visible on the far bank, and we found the footbridge and crossed into the sunlit lane where a sign confidently announced not just the Rockford Inn but that it had its own microbrewery as well.
Did it, hell! It was closed. A passer-by could tell us that the pub had been sold and that the new landlord was due to open the next day. This was not much consolation to two hot and very thirsty walkers. Somehow Slim Dusty’s wonderful ballad “A Pub With No Beer” came back to me, “There’s nothing so lonesome, so dull, or so drear, than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer.” We couldn’t even get inside. The best my internal rhyming dictionary could provide me with to sing as I stormed off up the lane to Brendon was, “There’s nothing to hit you so hard in the gut as to stand at the door of a pub that is shut!”

This was a real crisis. It was 1.45 pm. Could we reach the Staghunters Inn at Brendon before they called last orders? We made it in a hack canter by two o’clock. No closed door here… the blessed shade of the bar after the glare of the sun… a welcoming landlord… and on the pump – Cotleigh’s divine Barn Owl. Barn Owl is a sort of junior version of Buzzard. It’s a dark copper beer which drinks like a summer porter, and we didn’t need the recommendation of the two gentlemen playing pool to order up two pints. The world suddenly seemed a much better place as we sat at the bar opposite to the sepia photograph of an Edwardian meet of the Staghounds, and listened to the lady opposite complaining that her pool-playing husband’s lunch was spoiling. We sympathised with him; better a pint of Barn Owl than the roast beef of Old England. Apparently, the Rockford Inn had been opening only sporadically for some time. Let us hope that it may be about to enter on a period of new prosperity. We will give it a second chance – but we’ll check that it’s open first.

We walked on to Leeford Green, and turned left over the river. We ignored the sign that claimed that the road was closed and turned right to Hall Farm where we took the steep path which led us along the side of the valley. Where the valley swings right round towards Dooneland, we kept left past Ashton Farm and then climbed over the moorland, with views towards Badgworthy, until we suddenly we were looking down on County Gate.

Welsh coast from above Ashton Farm

Doone Valley from Ashton Farm

The good news is that the Rockford Inn is open again. Recently we returned to have lunch there. The top half of the stable-type door was open, leading into a pleasant, half-timbered room. The bar was stencilled with information about the pub, the river, and the fishing, and “Lorna Doone”, and you stepped up into a further room into which the bar extended to be served. To the side of this, through an archway decorated with a pleasant mural of fox, stag, and hare, was another room, and beyond that there was another available if the pub was packed. Each had its own fireplace or wood-burning stove. There’s also a small terrace on the other side of the road overlooking the river and the footbridge. Proper beers, served straight from the barrels racked up behind the bar, were Cotleigh 25 and our favourite Cotleigh Barn Owl. We had a cheap lunch off toasted sandwiches at little more than £3 each plus a bowl of chips for £1.50. Baguettes were a quid more than sandwiches. There’s every hope that the new team will prosper as it deserves. Several passing walkers came in on a Friday lunchtime. The pub is open every evening, and every lunchtime except Mondays.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks – Ten mile walk from Dry Bridge to the Staghunters at Brendon via the Doone Valley

“Lorna Doone”, a classic story which many know but few have read, is worth a fortune to the Exmoor tourist industry. It’s a pity that the novel, a beguiling mixture of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Cinderella”, with just a dash of the “Seven Samurai”, is finished by so few. The narration through the subjective consciousness of the lunkhead hero John Ridd may alienate many readers. Thousands flock each year to visit Oare church, where in the book Lorna was married, and Lorna Doone Farm, from which they can follow in the footsteps of the hero, John Ridd, and walk up through Badgworthy Wood as he would have done on his perilous way to the Doone encampment. Unlike John, they may stop at Cloud Farm on the way back and fortify themselves with a cream tea or an ice cream after their exertions.
Just to be awkward, our walk approached the “Doone Valley” from a much less popular direction, although it means that you see far more of the scenery which inspired RD Blackmore’s fictitious romance. We parked at one of the several car parks in the shadow of Shilstone Hill on the road from Simonsbath to Lynmouth. From the most southerly one, the bridleway to the Doone Valley leads away over Brendon Common until it is crossed by the path coming up from Tippacott ridge. Here we turned right and walked under Withycombe Ridge until there was a fine view down towards Hoccombe Combe, which was the valley which actually inspired Blackmore’s conception of the Doone’s “Hole in the Wall” fortress. Most people assume that the beautiful course of Badgworthy Water, which so many walk up each summer, is the Doone Valley, but in fact it’s the much wilder Hoccombe Combe.

The track led us on downwards through sheep pasture until the stream which falls through Hoccombe Combe is on one’s right, a little further on flowing into Badgworthy Water itself. The map boldly marks this spot as “Medieval Village – site of”, which every commentator agrees was the spot where Blackmore set the Doone camp. Blackmore once admitted that if he had known that the book was going to prove such a bestseller and to stir up such interest in its setting, he might have tried to stick more closely to the actual topography of the place. As it was, and as writers do, he reshaped it through his imagination into something rather different. Indeed Blackmore, who supported himself by keeping a market garden in Surrey, has become the stuff of romance himself, as he is claimed severally to have written the book in all sorts of places on the moor, from Lorna Doone Farm to the Royal Oak at Withypool. I myself may claim a tenuous connection with the great man as he started his school days at my old alma mater, King’s School, Bruton. He didn’t like it and was moved to Blundells, Tiverton.
No one should become too excited by the ruins at the foot of Hoccombe Combe. They are neither the remains of the mediaeval village, nor of an outlaw’s hideaway, but of a nineteenth century shepherd’s cottage. Knowing, however, that the shepherd and his daughter perished in the snow walking back from Simonsbath is a sobering thought when you look back up the combe on a summer’s day.

A little further on we took the path to the left which leads you down Badgworthy Water, flanked by clustering rhododendrons, and into Badgworthy Wood with its crowd of old oaks. It was easy to be cynical about this popular valley, as we passed a horde of school children plunging into the icy water and collected up some shreds of old plastic bags, but it truly is a lovely spot.
Below is how hunting artist Lionel Edwardes saw Lorna's discovery of the unconscious John Ridd by Badgworth Water.

As you emerge from the wood and approach Cloud Farm, it is particularly beautiful as the water tumbles over stone ledges and through the rocks. Even so, the next photograph had to be framed carefully to exclude a tent pitched at the bottom of the Cloud Hill camping site. What a place, however, to fall asleep, and to wake, with the sound of the river rushing by. Opposite is a memorial to Blackmore.

From Cloud Farm the bridleway took us down to the lane which leads to Malsmead and Lorna Doone Farm, home of the fictional Ridd Family. With a willing suspension of disbelief, you may ignore the fact that now it is a gift shop, even airbrush out of your mind the fat man staring at it morosely while devouring a sandwich, and see it as the Doones did when they attacked, or just enjoy the little bridge over the river.

Following the lane towards Brendon, we went through a gate and took the steep path uphill into Southern Wood, a mixture of conifers and old oaks. When the track reaches the road again, you are in a different world. The valley which leads towards Brendon looks as if it might flow with milk and honey with its flat pastures either side of the river flanked by green hills. We walked along the narrow lane until we reached the edge of Brendon village at Leeford Green, a pleasant crossroads bordered by the East Lynn river. A short walk straight ahead soon takes you to the Staghunters Inn. On the right of the road is a narrow beer garden overlooking the river, while the pub proper is on the left.

The bar entrance takes you into the “public” with its pool table. You can sit on high wooden stools at the bar here or on an old settle under a fine old photograph of the Devon & Somerset Staghounds. On the left is a bigger room, nicely furnished and with all sorts of stag hunting memorabilia, including numbers of “slots” from deer killed locally and the most magnificent stag’s head I have ever seen in a pub. There are good hunting prints on the wall to go with it.

Proper beers were Cavalier, Exmoor Ale, and Cousin Jack. Attracted by the political sentiments, we ordered Cavalier from the Clearwater Brewery at Torrington. My wife rated it very highly, appreciating its dark colour and its sharp, hoppy flavour. For a beer of 4% it certainly punches its weight, and it grew on me every pull I took. We went back for seconds. Service here is very friendly, and the beer is served spot on, just on the right side of cool. For a Tuesday, there were quite a few people eating, and there was a wide choice of mains at the £7-8 mark. More expensive but very tempting were specials of venison stew and local trout. You only had to look at the walls of the bar, or at the East Lynn river rushing past the garden, to know that the ingredients of both dishes would not have had to travel very far. A few weeks later we were to return with our son in tow, and had lunch with some superb Cotleigh Barn Owl. My wife's exotic cream cheese with red pepper salsa sandwich at £4.60 was delicious. The male of the species had two excellent granary baguettes, one sausage and onion and one bacon and brie, for a few pennies more.
We walked back to Leeford Green, and took the road to the right. The lane is a steep pull up to Cross Gate, with good views back down to Brendon and over the ridge towards the sea. When we reached the moor again, we went straight across looking for a right hand path to lead us back to Dry Bridge. Taking a line from the field edge and bank on our right, we struck out across the moor and soon fell into the track back to Dry Bridge down which we had walked some hours earlier. There was no sign of the promised bridleway, but if faint hearts just follow the obvious track, they will not go very far out of their way when they are led over to the cross above Lankcombe Ford where we had turned right earlier for Hoccombe Combe.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks – Ten Mile Walk to the Black Venus, Challacombe, including The Chains and Mole’s Chamber

This was The Chains made easy. No range of hills on Exmoor has such an evil reputation as The Chains, the name itself as threatening as the lowering tops themselves. Even the staghunters, who are sometimes led across them in winter on a soaking, foggy day from a meet at Scob Hill, speak of them in awed tones. On a bright July morning, however, they were just pussycats, and a little skipping from tussock to tussock in the odd place or two was the worst the going had on offer, even after three inches of rain in recent days. Coming from Simonsbath, passing the concrete road to Acklands Farm on the left, just round the bend we parked in the big lay-by on the right. The bridleway which leads up on to the Chains starts at the near end. The climb is a nice, steady one but, after passing through two gates and with a mass of moor in front of you, you need to be careful to spot the shrivelled posts which mark the way. These will lead you safely up to the path which crosses the Chains from east to west. Behind you there is a wonderful view over the western moor to the sea.

If you go straight onwards thence, you will reach the Chains Barrow. We turned left and headed for Pinkery Pond. This is a desolate spot, and the source of the River Barle. No wonder that there have been two recorded suicides here. Just remember, if you fancy ending it all here, that the water is so black with peat that the divers will be unable to find you. The pond will have to be drained to recover your corpse, an inconvenience to all. The rather grubby buoy which I remembered from a visit thirty years previously is still there. What possible use might it have? One could hardly imagine some jolly little boat moored to it, in which one might scull to and fro over the evil waters.

Leaving Pinkery behind, you soon reach the track which runs from north to south at Woodbarrow Gate. Nearby we found the bog asphodel, a plant much more attractive than its name.

If you clamber round the flooded gateway, you are rewarded from the top of the tumulus with views of the sea both in front and behind. We renegotiated the gateway, and began the long descent back to the road. On our left was the huge wind turbine of the Pinkery Centre for Outdoor Education, itself concealed by a large plantation so that it doesn’t have to see or hear the monstrosity on its doorstep.

Challacombe is curious in that no footpaths lead into the village from this side. There was a little walker symbol on one gateway but no signpost to back it up, and there are no rights of way marked on the map. You are obliged to cross the main road and take the track towards the Mole’s Chamber. You will see a tree line above you and, when you reach it, there is the remnant of a signpost which, no doubt, at one time directed you to your right to Challacombe across South Regis Common. We turned here and, as you approach Challacombe, the track becomes more and more obvious until it becomes a hard farm lane. By some farm buildings you are obliged to turn right and then sharp left, and the bridleway enters the village by a narrow packhorse bridge over a crystal, rushing stream. We turned right and, keeping to our right at the ford, reached the road opposite to the “Black Venus”.

The origin of its splendidly non-pc name is simply a breed of local sheep. Forty years ago it was known more prosaically as the “Ring O’Bells”. The pub is a long, low whitewashed building with the windows and sills picked out in black. You bump up against the varnished bar as you sail through the front door. There are tables and chairs right and left here for drinkers, and away to your right most of the pub is given over to a spacious eating area. The room is heavily timbered with original beams, and through to the left is a games room with a good darts board and a pool table. There were three proper beers – the Quantock Brewery’s White Hind, Cotleigh’s Golden Seahawk, and Cousin Jack.
Always ready for new thrills, we ordered the White Hind. I regret that I have no way of knowing the merits, or demerits, of this particular brew. The beer was served at a temperature better appreciated in the Australian outback than in deepest Devon. We sat staring at our glasses, fogged and trickling with condensation, as if characters in that legendary war film, “Ice Cold In Challacombe.” Someone of whom I have very fond drinking memories, the late Colonel Royston “Blotto” Boulter of the Penguin Bar, Praia da Rocha, decreed that all beer, even Portuguese piss, should be served “chambré”. I sympathise with him, although I would prefer to say “cellar temperature.” What did White Hind taste of? I have no idea. We moved on to Golden Seahawk for our next pint and, by the time I was finishing it, it had thawed sufficiently into a respectable beer of the pale, lemony variety. Perhaps the cooling equipment in the cellar was having a brainstorm. I can’t believe that this was the norm in a pub which enjoys a considerable reputation.
Three blackboards list the food and wine. One fresh fish option was marlin, something which I had thought once was only caught by Hemingway characters off Cuba. So-called global warming clearly has brought the game fisher’s fish of choice closer to home. More conventional choices included a tempting mixed grill which featured the pub’s homemade sausages. Prices are on a par with the nearby Exmoor Forest Inn. It was a Sunday morning, and one couple didn’t pause even to look left or right as they came through the door. “Two roast beefs,” they said without more ado, and at £7 each I am sure that they were right.
We retraced our steps up South Regis Common. The sign by the little bridge in Challacombe pointed to both the Mole’s Chamber and to Woodbarrow, confirming that this was the only way out of the village heading east. We swung right up over the hills to reach the Mole’s Chamber. You will know when you have reached this eerie sounding spot because it is adjacent to a lane which connects Kinsford Gate with Five Cross Way. Don’t expect, however, a man selling tickets, or the entrance to some fascinating cavern or grotto. The Mole’s Chamber is a bog, nothing more and nothing less, and is much like any other bog on the moor.

There is an almost illegible memorial stone to a Lord Of The Manor of nearby High Bray.

There are several stories about its name, all concerning a Farmer Mole. He perished in it, variously, by riding into it when returning from market, (no doubt worse for wear,) when hunting, or when rather recklessly attempting to prove that it wasn’t dangerous. A less romantic, and no more convincing, theory is that the name relates to the River Mole, (the stream there flows the wrong way, northwards towards the Barle.) No matter, the Mole’s Chamber is a delightful spot on a sunny day, with a fine view down Great Vintcombe with its sinuous line of beech trees and clattering stream.

The path follows it down the valley and in no time you are back at the Acklands drive.

Exmoor Pubs & Walks – Nine Mile Walk up the Barle Valley to the Exmoor Forest Inn, Simonsbath

This is the classic river valley walk on Exmoor. The path in the opposite direction from Withypool to Tarr Steps will have its enthusiasts, as will the Exe valley between Winsford and Exford. Neither of them, however, have the haunting and lonely beauty of the stretch of water upstream from Withypool past Cow Castle to Simonsbath. We started at Bradymoor Gate, the stretch of moorland above Landacre Bridge, where it is easy to park. Quixotically, you won’t find Bradymoor named on any map, just on the meet cards of the local hunts. If you can find a space in the car park at Withypool, however, you would enjoy the walk up the river to Landacre, and you can celebrate the addition of three miles to your journey when you return by having a cream tea in the excellent tearoom opposite the shop. On your outward journey you would walk up the steep hill from Landacre Bridge past Lanacre Farm, which is spelled without the consonant that no one ever bothers to pronounce, and at the top turn left into the track which we followed ourselves.
The track is easy to follow. Where it divides at a broken signpost, we veered left and then downhill towards the river. On our left we could look down towards the bridge, the sun glinting silver on the water before it glided through the ancient stone arches. In front of us stretched the deep combe of Sherdon Water running down to meet the Barle at Sherdon Hutch.

The track passes down a longish stretch of sheep-grazed moor before eventually falling into a sunken road which leads into a large block of conifers. The way through the regimented pines is necessarily gloomy but the river is always visible to your left and the monotony is constantly broken by streams breaking across the path. You emerge from the trees at Horsen Ford with its footbridge, on which you can stand and watch the dark and silent water rush towards Landacre between banks crowded with montbretia. The path itself, however, continues through the plantation until it leads across some marshy ground towards the two mounds of the Calf and Cow Castle. The bridleway passes behind the hillocks, but it’s not difficult to follow the bank of the river if you prefer, with just a few rocky places to scramble round past the deep and still pools in the elbow of the river.

This is the best of the moor as the dark river flows through the high and rounded slopes of the hills. The path runs on until just before the mass of Flexbarrow rises above the river there are the ruins of the buildings of the Wheal Eliza. It is one of the many testaments on Exmoor to industrial vanity. “Wheal” derives in Cornish from “huel”, and simply means a mine working. The Wheal Eliza was opened to extract iron ore but the quantities were never viable. The spot was also notorious as the place in 1858 where one John Burgess buried his daughter, Anna, after murdering her as the girl disliked his mistress. Thankfully, only a last few crumbling signs of the mine remain, and the spot remains as isolated and beautiful as ever.
Nearby were patches of wild cornflowers.
Just beyond Flexbarrow we encountered a large group of primary schoolchildren sitting on the grass and receiving a local history lesson. It is an easy hike from here on into Simonsbath, finally through woodland which leads to the road just below the Exmoor Forest Inn. It’s not an inn, of course, it’s quite plainly a hotel, but none the less pleasant for all that. It’s made very clear to you at the entrance that you should take your boots off, but you will not feel in the least out of place padding about in your socks. There is even a large cupboard just inside the door with towels to clean off your dog. The bar is very much a hotel bar, but even so there are enough stuffed animals and hunting prints on the walls to create that essential Exmoor drinking ambience of sudden death.

There are also three real beers on tap. On that morning you could choose between Otter, Cousin Jack, and, its pump marked by a handwritten card, a mystery tipple named as “Honey Buzzard”. The very pleasant chap behind the bar explained that it was a Cotleigh porter, difficult to move in summer, and on offer at £2 a pint. If there is one thing in this world which I cannot resist, it’s a pint of porter. It came up with a creamy, frothy head which we were invited to slurp off so that the glasses could be topped up to a full measure. That beats waiting for ten minutes for a pint of Dublin Guinness to be drawn and have its twee shamrock dribbled on the top. The Buzzard was a dream of a pint and, of course, we had two each. Given half a chance, I would have made off with the whole cask. Presumably, the “Honey Buzzard” is the same bird usually called by the Cotleigh brewery plain, simple “Buzzard” and, thankfully, generally available in bottles if a rare sighting on draught.
We are beginning to be able to grade Exmoor grub by price. At the top end of the market in the premier league there are a few establishments with the pretensions, and pretentiousness, of keeping a starred chef. You will leave them with a much lighter wallet and an empty tummy. Then there are places like the Exmoor Forest Inn in the “championship” league where you can spend a bit if you wish – fresh fish and seafood will always cost – but you can get a good plateful for less than a tenner if that’s more your mark. In the autumn we went back for supper. We enjoyed two excellent starters; a cheese pastry basket filled with waldorf salad, and wild field mushrooms in garlic, each with tasty brown bread and a dish of butter, at £5.50. We both had panfried fillets of local trout with a big dollop of dill mayonnaise at £12.95, which came with a side serving of vegetables including new potatoes, butternut squash, leeks, and calabrese.
We walked back the way we had come. We could have taken for the sake of variety the high route via Winstitchen and Picked Stones, but it would have been an anti-climax after the river. After all, even when it’s a there and back again walk, you enjoy two ways of seeing the same thing. As we climbed back from the river up on to Bradymoor, the herd of ponies which is always on these heights came straight at us down the lane, veering off into the heather only at the last moment.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Exmoor Pubs & Walks - Five Mile Walk from the London Inn, Molland

This was something of a bye day from our programme of walking to pubs which we previously hadn’t visited. The London Inn at Molland is an old haunt, but we were looking for a short walk with our son before having a couple of pints and some lunch, again a rarity for us. It also seemed an ideal opportunity to see how the pub had changed, if at all, since the departure of its previous, long-serving, licensee.
The walk did not go to plan. We parked below the church, and walked out of the village towards Smallacombe. We passed the old chapel on our right, and at Latchgate Cross turned left towards Smallacombe Farm. It should have been a route all too familiar after chasing the Dulverton West hounds up this lane in March, but we took the wrong turn towards Luckworthy and found ourselves on the west side of Triss Combe. My intention had been to pass Smallacombe Farm itself and head out on to Molland Common towards Anstey Gate before turning leftwards towards Ridgeway Cross. We were stuck, however, on the wrong side of the combe but were compensated by a view of a herd of hinds and, later, of ponies on the far horizon. We were soon at Ridgeway Cross with its fine view southwards down the combe. Hunted stags disturbed in Combe Wood, or on the lower reaches of West Anstey Common, often run up Triss Combe before crossing the road and setting sail for the valley of the Danes Brook.

We walked over to Cussacombe Gate, or Cuzzicombe Gate, according to taste. Cuzzicombe Post, which stands just beyond the Gate, is a testament to the rigours of the weather here when you consider that the present one is but thirty years old.

The original plan had been to walk downwards from the post to the bridle path which runs round the cross-country course, but it would have meant arriving at the pub indecently early. Instead we walked on towards Twitchen until we took a track on our left optimistically rated as “unsuitable for motors.” We knew it from hunting but, where we normally turned left into a field back towards the top of the course, we plunged on downwards through some gates along the track which rapidly became unsuitable for human beings, leave alone “motors.” The nadir of this rugged and rather unwise improvisation was when we spilled out at the bottom into another bridle way next to a decomposing sheep.
We turned left and climbed back up on to the cross-country course. Pausing only to admire a frightening log pile jumped in late winter by our field master, Desperate Dan, while the remainder of the DW wisely unlatched an adjacent gate, we at last gained the safety of the bridle way above the course and eventually the lane back into Molland.
My stock as a pathfinder had never been lower, but we reached the London Inn at a respectable 12.30. This is one of Exmoor’s best watering holes, and the main bar, always with a blazing fire in winter, is a very pleasant place to sit with its homely tables, benches and chairs. On the mantle there are photographs of the tame deer which was kept by the landlady of many years, who is now our near neighbour. In the narrower room in front of the bar there is a large blackboard naming all sorts of tempting dishes. Beyond is another pleasant room, and the restaurant is attractive as well.
The new and cheery landlord sticks to the old regime of either Exmoor or Cotleigh straight from the barrel and, as a self-declared beer enthusiast himself, he keeps it very well. We are not normally people who do lunch, but we enjoyed a real treat. The son had a home-made burger and the wife a brie and bacon sandwich, both given ten out of ten. As a recipient of a limitless and free supply of statins from the National Health Service, I had a mouth-watering warm salad of black pudding and bacon with croutons. I also had spotted on the right of the bar a small slate with home-made bar snacks listed, and could not resist a side-serving of beef dripping on toast. That was one in the eye for the cholesterol police, and its flavour brought back all sorts of memories of childhood Sunday lunches. The landlord apologised that he had run out of his home-baked pork crackling but a fresh supply would soon be available. I can’t think of a nicer place to sit and have a stroke or a heart attack. It wasn't long before we were back at the London Inn for supper to do real justice to that blackboard. Food prices are pitched sensibly in the mid-division. My fish in beer batter with chips and home-mushed peas was less than £8, and my wife's smoked chicken with tarragon sauce was only a little more. Son's rump steak was £10.95, and I had no trouble in convincing him of the joys of dripping on toast. The pub was busy on a Saturday evening, and it deserves to be.