Author Topic: A Multitudinous Display of Exmoor Gate Latches, and an overnight camp on Tarr Ba  (Read 2062 times)

legs-o-lead

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 A Multitudinous Display of Exmoor Gate Latches, and an overnight camp on Tarr Ball Hill
After two previous attempts to be out walking late enough to “have” to spend the night under the stars we decided a later start and longer route would be in order. We packed a plethora of pork pies, gallons of water and the Trangia, we headed off to Wheddon Cross for a walk on Exmoor.
Our route from Wheddon used bridle paths and the odd length of footpath to take us firstly past Raleigh Manor and into Cutcombe before climbing steeply onto Dunkery Hill. We then joined the Macmillan Way toward Brockwell and then shady paths on the edge of the woods overlooking Luccombe and Chapel Cross before emerging at Horner. From Horner, we nipped around Crawtor Hill and into Hawcombe, whose steep wooded sides we followed to Lucott Farm and onto the moor again at Tarr Ball Hill. We planned a wild camp on the open access land about the Nutscale Reservoir, and in the morning return to Wheddon by means of the 4000 year old stone cairns and barrows of Great Rowbarrow and Dunkery Beacon, and the upper part of Cutcombe that we’d missed on the outward leg.
I’ve only walked Exmoor twice before, but I can heartily recommend this route for its mix of upland, valley, riverside, and woodland walking. The views from the tops were superb, and from Dunkery Beacon, I could actually see Port Talbot, and on another day without the heat haze and a better pair of binos, I am sure I could have located my house. Seriously.
We parked at the free car park at the Rest and Be Thankful pub (where we didn’t, and weren’t), and walked the hundred metres or so along the B3224 to the lane heading to Steadway Farm (Caravan Club Site – NO TENTS!). The path passed the empty site along a narrow track between steep hedges and opened out to turn left into the drive to Raleigh Manor Hotel. We followed the tarmac over the cattle grid and just as the house came into view ahead, dived off to the right following a hedgerow to pass below the house. The path levels for a while and passes a small stand of tall bamboo before literally plunging into Little Quarme Wood. The hedgerows were high and gave us a cool start to what was to prove a very hot day indeed. After about 10 minutes, we crossed a road after which the path narrows and becomes overgrown with nettles, and with my bare be-shorted legs, I was glad to find some Dock Leaves close by for the stings!
 

 
At the bottom we crossed a small bridge and followed the river for 200m or so before coming to a finger post which directed us to cross. Going straight on here would take us to Dunkery Gate, but we’d be coming back that way tomorrow. The climb from the river up the northern flank of the valley was not for the faint hearted, and it continued to be so until we topped out at Dunkery Errish, where, to add insult to injury the wind dropped and left us to the mercy of the sun, now reaching 35degrees!
The path going out onto the open moor is indistinct for a while, but we followed an obvious track and then cut across the heather and gorse until we found it. Once there, the line was easy to follow. Coming toward us were the only others we’d seen all. We exchanged a few words and directions and continued to our lunch spot at the junction of the Macmillan Way. The views from here were amazing, and we could see hugely in each direction, which was confirmed on Sunday when we got back to Dunkery Beacon and found a steel plaque with directions and distances to landmarks on the horizon. Clearly visible were the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny (52 miles), Flat Holme island (37 miles), Porthcawl (22 miles) etc.
From here we descended steadily on the Macmillan Way West to Brockwell. The path was very stony and a constant steep grade, and it took all our concentration to keep our footing. At the end we came to a piece of woodland that was truly breathtaking. It sent a tingle down my spine when I walked in there. Ancient silver birches stood in staggered rows, their fine leaves casting a dappled shade which imbued a tangible sense of serenity in the place. It was cool after the heat of the open moor above, and we spent more than a few moments just standing and absorbing the atmosphere of it. It would be a remarkable place to camp. Note it for next time!
 

 
After Brockwell, we took another bridle path following the edge of the woods and contouring around to the small village of Horner, where we stopped in a tea shop for a short break. Finches flitted amongst the tables in the garden, and we shed our boots and stretched out on the picnic table benches to relieve our backs and legs. We left just as a coach trip arrived.
 

 
We found the path we needed to circumnavigate Crawtor Hill only after a close check on the map, as the sign was hidden behind an inconsiderately parked car. We crossed a small bridge and exchanged pleasantries with a couple sitting on the walls admiring the views. This path too soon became stony and hard going underfoot, and just before we emerged on the road, we were passed by a couple of mountain bikers who complained it was causing them numerous punctures. It was humid under the trees, and by now I’d been bitten half dozen times by horse flies, and had irritable itchy and bloody spots on my arms and legs, and one behind my right ear. The path emerges onto an incredibly steep section of C class road, and I was glad we were only crossing it on our approach to Porlock. A few hundred metres out of Porlock though, the road we were on also pitched downward steeply. After nearly 5 hours walking, and despite walking on tarmac, the gradient began to tug at my calves. I was relieved when we got to the bottom, though on the way there, we passed a family on their way back to the camp site, the children of which were hindered by having to drag their bottom lips up the climb!
Heading into Hawcombe, we met our cyclists from earlier, and stopped to chat for a while. Incredibly one of them asked me what part of the North East I was from. Anyone who knows me will be agog at this, as I am renowned (even amongst my fellow countrymen) for having an incredibly broad WELSH accent! We climbed steadily on the road on the southern slope of the combe, and found the path we wanted alongside the garage wall of the last house on the left before the road takes a sharp right bend. Immediately to the rear of the garage the path turns left, goes through a gate and over a small bridge before climbing steeply through thick overgrowth into woodland again. I tell you this, because if I don’t, you’ll make the same mistake as we did, and flounder about for a while getting needlessly stung by nettles and bitten by more flies until you work it out.
If you are following my route description with the interest of someone who might follow it, this is the point where you really need to brace yourself for the climb. From here to the top at Lucott Farm, it is a real hard slog. You will see a finger post for Lucott Farm, and when you make a short sharp descent to cross the equally steep path coming up from further along Hawcombe, you will need to look very very carefully on the right hand side for the cross path. We did, but couldn’t find it. Instead, we mistakenly continued climbing upward through an increasingly overgrown path to emerge in a field of cows at Buckethole Farm. The path does emerge here later, but unlike us, it skirts below the fence, neatly avoiding the bull, cows and calves in the field until the very last minute. It was late in the day for a covert dash across the field, so we walked quietly around the perimeter trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, lest the farmer, or one of his herd, pay us undue attention.
Checking the map soon had us on the right path, and we quickly found the gate to the lane to Lucott Farm. It was a gentle stroll to the farm, where a finger post on the left directed us down a restricted byway to Pool Cross. I think this particular byway was restricted by 8 foot high walls, overhanging branches, and a stony surface you could barely walk over let alone drive or ride down. It was obvious that nothing had come down here for a very long time!
The byway emerged at a river with a wobbly wooden footbridge and a cow. We needed to filter water for our evening meal, so I stopped on the nearest bank. Fiona crossed to the far side, but soon came back when said cow decided it wanted a drink. I’d sort of expected it to stand on the far bank and lap (?) from the water there, but no, this one had a penchant for a paddle, so waded about 50m upstream before stopping to drink mid-river. I waited for it to depart before I collected my own water as I was hoping to cook with Adam’s Ale rather than Daisy’s Doo-Doos.

 

 
On the far bank, another finger post pointed to Tarr Ball Hill, which luckily, was where we were heading. The small cottage of Tarr Ball itself was absolutely idyllic, but would have been more perfect if it had had a thatched roof and hadn’t been painted pink. Once again, the climb out of the combe was insanely steep, and it was now after 7pm. The hazy cloud had cleared, and the sun was lowering toward the hills to the west. It was proving to be a beautiful evening.
Once we’d left the track from the cottage, we immediately lost the path over the moor. We headed across the horse-chewed grass toward the Nutscale Reservoir, but once at the high point we could see that the banks on the waterside were too steep to camp on. By now we were both very tired and aching, so finding a small hollow screened by a short gorse bush and some long reeds, we simply stayed where we were!
We pulled out our Bivvy Bags and spread them on the grass before kicking off our boots and laying back to admire the splendid surroundings. Lowing of cattle and bleating of sheep drifted up from the fields, and the twittering of larks fluttering high above us gave the place a peacefulness you just don’t get in towns. Timeless almost.

 

I fired up the Trangia for tea whilst Fiona tinkered with her stuff, and soon we were watching the shadows creeping up the hills as the valleys darkened with the sagging sun. The waters of the reservoir to our left were already a deep velvet black amongst the purple slopes and the sky turned from a bright azure to turquoise to grey as the sun finally dipped below the hills and the cooling air built billows of clouds that pushed down from the north east on the breeze. A bright moon lingered a while before tiring and hiding itself behind the clouds too. After the heat of the day, the evening was surprisingly cold, especially with sweat-sticky arms and legs, and no sleeping bag ! Fiona was too hot in her bivvy bag, but I was positively cold overnight, so sleep eluded us both.
The following morning was equally cool as the clouds were too thick for the sun to burn them away quickly. We packed up slowly, enjoying the stillness of the dawn, watching and listening as it woke up. We heard the sheep as they climbed back onto the high ground, the cattle heading down, and the morning chorus of crows, buzzards, larks and a hundred million buzzing things. I absolutely love being out on the hills in the evening and in the morning, in those small corners of time when most people are home doing “normal” things. Thankfully.
I used up the last of the meths heating coffee and we packed up. We headed south west across the heather, gorse and grass and found a footpath to Lang Combe Head and a small NT car park and a much wider path to Great Rowbarrow. These stone cairns have been dated at over 4000 years old, but looked as if they could have been built only yesterday. Dunkery Beacon came along a lot sooner than I’d expected, and from there, once again, the views were expansive. We descended to Dunkery Gate, and then down into Mansley Combe where our path was blocked by a herd of cows and calves. The one that caught my eye however was the one with the ring in its nose, and something that definitely wasn’t an udder! Fiona is quite nervous around large hairy animals, so I did my best farmer impression and shoo’d then out of the way with a few well chosen “Ha-way”s and a solid stance. They had their revenge though as they sent a cloud of horse-flies after me. Somehow Fiona was totally unaffected, but by now I had over a dozen red welts from the little bitey [censored].

We retraced our path alongside the River Avil, past Raleigh Manor and were back at the car by 10:30, which unfortunately was far too early to avail ourselves of Sunday lunch at the pub, even though we could smell it was already being cooked!
It was still overcast, but getting hotter by the minute, and I was glad to be heading home. We’d had a great time.
We also saw a whole range of different field gate latches.....

 

 

 

 
 
 
« Last Edit: 23:33:09, 07/08/14 by Chris »
Courage doesn't always roar like a lion. Sometimes courage is a small voice at the end of a long hard day saying "I'll try again tomorrow".

letmeoutofhere

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Excellent report, my hero  O0 , but you missed out my favourite gate latch  :( . Here it is

 
 

Mel

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That were a right good read wi' mi cuppa were that  O0
 
Thanks for posting it  :)
“I'm tired of people bein' ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head.” - John Coffey, The Green Mile

Annejacko

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Missed reading this earlier, an excellent TR, thanks. Sounds like you had a good mix of the different terrain Exmoor offers. Horner woods is a lovely spot.
Lucky you having such a good view from Dunkery Beacon. Last time I was up there with my daughters and their friends last summer it was cloudy and blowing a gale-there was some bottom lip dragging that day too!

 
It's a great area for a walk, I do like that tea room at Horner too!
Enjoy every sandwich