Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seven and a Half Mile Walk at Brendon Hill & the Raleigh’s Cross Inn

This was more of a ramble than a walk as we wandered about Brendon Hill, in pursuit variously of the Clatworthy Lake, the source of the River Tone, and the remains of the Raleigh’s Cross iron ore mine. Our quest to visit every pub on the Moor is nearing its end, and taking us to the very boundaries of the Exmoor National Park. Indeed, after parking our truck just down the road from the Raleigh’s Cross Inn, we walked into the track at the side of the pub towards Tripp Farm and out of the Park. The B3190 road here is the Park’s southern boundary. Raleigh’s Cross takes its name from the Rale(i)gh family of nearby Nettlecombe Court which included the well-known tobacco industry lobbyist. The metalled track took us away between the fields with far-reaching views over the hills towards Dartmoor.
Eventually, where the track turned left-handed towards the farm, we turned right through a gate into the fields and headed down towards the Stolford Woods. Sadly the contours of the hills and valleys denied us even a glimpse of the elusive Clatworthy Lake. If earlier we had turned to our left off the farm drive, we could have made a clockwise loop around Tripp Farm which would have brought us to the shore of the lake, but we would have missed what happened next. We kept to the left boundary and soon a hunting gate took us down a path into the trees. On a beautifully sunny autumn morning, after a hard frost, the beeches and sweet chestnuts were at their best. At the foot of the wood, we forded the River Tone, thankfully still no more than a stream. Fifty years ago this month it turned most of the county town of Taunton into a Somerset version of Venice. The bridleway began to climb again and soon we came to a farm where nothing stirred. In a neglected range of wooden loose boxes, resting on a half-door, an abandoned saddle was mouldering away. In the middle of the track lay a tan and white collie. I approach all dogs with caution on the reasonable assumption that, if it isn’t ready to savage intruders, there’s not much point in keeping it. The collie, curled in the warmth of the October sun, slept on, snoring gently as we passed it by.
As soon as you leave the National Park, the signing of rights of way becomes somewhat random. We failed to hit Syndercombe Lane in the exact spot, but a turn to the right quickly corrected matters. Then the bridleway to Beverton Pond, source of the Tone, somehow disappeared into thin air, but a muddy lane took us past a radio station to the main road, and a quick hike up it put us right again. Here lay the birth of that mighty waterway which gives the Clerk of the Course of Taunton Racecourse so many sleepless nights during the winter. First it feeds the stubbornly invisible Clatworthy Lake.Leaving Beverton Pond on our left, a track took us away through magnificent avenues of beeches in search of the Naked Boy’s Stone. Again we wandered off the path as shown on the map, but we reached the lane between Sminhays Cottages, the only surviving buildings of the nineteenth century village which housed some two hundred mine workers, and the Naked Boy’s Stone. There seems no reasonable explanation for the monument’s name, but it is obviously an ancient standing stone and coincidentally a boundary marker. Just past the stone a hump in the lane indicates that it is crossing the old railway which once served the mines. Here, at Naked Boy’s Bridge, we climbed over a stile on to the disused track way and walked westwards to the remains of the Burrow Farm Engine. This impressive ruin once housed a “Cornish Engine” to pump the water from the adjacent iron ore mine. This kind of engine, popular in mines of all kinds of the day, was probably more successful than the mine, which had an even shorter life than most Exmoor mining ventures. We walked back to Naked Boy’s Bridge and then scrambled down the other side under the barbed wire so that we could walk back to the site of the old Brendon Hill Station. Its location is plain enough, a wide expanse where once there would have been sidings and platforms, but a house and its boundary prevented us from reaching the road. We skirted it easily enough and, as we walked back towards Raleigh’s Cross, we passed the Beulah Chapel. The chapel, and a Church Of England tin tabernacle which once stood next to the old railway line, was built for the benefit of the miners. (The Chapel holds a service each Sunday to this day.) These guardians of Temperance were in direct competition for the allegiance of the miners, of course, with the inn at Raleigh’s Cross. Miners can be thirsty chaps, and my family’s fortunes, such as they are, were founded partly on running a pub and a small brewery in a North Somerset pit village. I quickened my step in sympathy, therefore, past the chapel and towards the pub, with marvellous views to our left over the Bristol Channel towards Wales. Raleigh’s Cross Inn says the sign. My wife reckoned that it was more of a “road house”, but that conjures up images of places on the Kingston Bypass in the 1930’s, full of characters from Peter Cheyney novels drinking cocktails with nightclub hostesses before returning to the Bentley or the Alvis in the gravelled car-park. To me it was a caff, a nosher, which also sold beer.

We fully realise, however, that, without another chimney pot in sight, no other business plan for the pub will do. We had two so-so pints of Cotleigh Tawney. Exmoor Ale also was on offer. I didn’t take the trouble to take notes on what food was available as you really could have just about anything. There was a carvery four days a week rather than just on Sundays as at most pubs in the area. I did note with satisfaction that on Wednesdays “seniors” received a free pudding. And what puddings! – blackberry and apple, rhubarb and ginger… in a schoolboy reverie I could see the thick, yellow waves of custard lapping at the edge of the crumble. Don’t miss the extensive collection of photographs of the mines and their railways in a corridor off the main room.
A new driveway and car park has been constructed off the road between the chapel and the pub for visitors to the “Incline”. A 1 in 4 gradient lay between Brendon Hill and Comberrow on the railway line to the coast at Watchet, and the Incline was an arrangement of two parallel tracks. Using a cable system, empty trucks were drawn up one while loaded ones were lowered down the other. Passengers who reached Comberrow from the coast in conventional rolling stock were permitted to ride for free in the empty trucks to Brendon Hill at their own risk. We walked down a new forest roadway through pines of a more than Teutonic gloom until we joined a narrow, wilder path which took us to the Incline. Even seen today, with the rails long gone and the banks of the cutting softened by nature, it is an awe-inspiring sight. Sadly, our photo makes it look absolutely level!
We climbed the Incline back to the top. Here still stand the ruins of the Winding House, which held the massive drums on which the cables were wound. From the road you can see how the track from the Incline to Brendon Hill Station ran right over the top of the Winding House. We walked past the Chapel again and back to the new car park to recover the truck. The time had come to find Clatworthy Lake at last. To reverse the usual order favoured by TV chefs, here’s something we prepared later.

1 comment:

John said...

A wonderful narrative as ever, Charlie, and Sheila continues to take spectacular photos. I hope the blog won't stop once you've visited all the pubs on the Moor !