Day 1’s walk of 23.8 km with 871 mtrs of ascent and 573 mtrs of descent. (Click for a full sized image)
Day 1 was a very pleasant day in terms of weather, which in some ways was quite unexpected. The weather forecast was for showers and it was raining quite heavily as I travelled to Minehead. But by the time I got there the weather had cleared!
The walk went like clockwork. The only real issue was water. Unlike Dartmoor, I found that water was relatively difficult to access. This resulted in water rationing for most of the day.
In fact I think my total water consumption for the entire day was around 1.5 litres, which is not a lot when carrying nearly 15 kg over 23.8 km on a hot day!
As mentioned in the previous post, by far the biggest surprise of the day was just how different Exmoor is when compared with Dartmoor. The foliage is very different and Exmoor has no Granite Tors or at least none that I could see on this particular walk.
Although the heather produced a stunning purple coloration which brightened up the hillsides, it did mean that pitching a tent there is a lot more problematic for wild campers when compared to the grasses of Dartmoor.
In fact finding suitable pitching spots was identified as the biggest risk for the three days. As you will see in future posts I had to get a little creative in places…
But enough with that – I’ll let the pictures tell the story of day 1:
The walk starts in Minehead. Although I wasn’t sure precisely where I would get dropped off by the bus, I had practiced exiting Minehead using Google Street view. Luckily for me I get dropped off in a place that I had been practicing!
I have exited Minehead and crossed the A39. I’m now headed Southward on a road that should terminate at a trailhead in the Dunster Forest.
I get to the trail head which is a car park that terminates the tarmac road. From this carpark are numerous trails, so I’m taking my time to make sure I pick the right one!
The trails are well marked and defined – no danger of getting lost here!
The trail soon takes me to a fork, which although not sign posted is easy enough to follow from the map. Here I need to hang a left!
The trail starts to get a little muddy. It had been raining within the last hour or so, but the weather now seems clear. The primary objective for this part of the walk is to get to Wootton Courtenay a village on the way to Exmoor itself.
It’s a right here! The trail will now take me Westward toward Wootton Courtenay.
This major track is the Macmillan Way West track. I need to follow it upward and then divert off it on the 2nd left turning that I find.
To the North I’m getting great views to the coast!
Unbeknownst to me, the turn off toward Wootton Courtenay was just before a Trig point! It was marked on the map, but one has to bear in mind that these details are exceedingly small on a paper map and that I was concentrating on following the planned route. In retrospect, had I known, I would have gone to the Trig point and turned off at the next left turn. Ah well!
I find the turn off and follow the new trail Westward. This one should be downhill all the way and take me directly to Wootton Courtney.
The trail starts to close down a little, but it never becomes a problem. I do however find myself missing not having trekking poles for this descent. Have I really become that attached to them?
Wooot! The village of Wootton Courtenay. It’s a very quaint place and I just loved the architectural stylings of the old church tower.
After crossing the road from Wootton Courtenay I find that the field I have to cross is very restrictive and provides the very minimum of access.
In the next field I find the quintessential English village cricket ground!
As I approach the next field boundary I see a wind-sock – how odd…
When I get nearer I find what looks to be a runway for radio controlled aircraft!
I’m quite impressed by the access points to the fields. The farmers here have even managed to incorporate pet friendly slide-up openings to allow dogs and such like to easily pass through!
I’m now headed into the small wood by Higher Brockwell Quarry. Just on the other side should be the start of Exmoor!
Woot! I’m now on Exmoor! One thing that I do notice is how different the foliage is compared to Dartmoor, despite their close proximity to each other.
This is a look back toward the Dunster Forest that I had walked through earlier. I was transfixed by the circular wooded area in the centre of the picture and wondered why it was cut like that?
My first task is to get to the top of Luccombe Hill at 426 mtrs elevation. For some reason I’m really feeling the effects of the 15 kg pack, despite the fact that I train regularly every week. But on reflection, I realise that this is my first real long walk since June when I was in the Cairngorms….
I would need to follow the track for a bit then I would need to divert cross country to make it to the top of Luccombe hill.
I’m now headed cross country. The vegetation is a mixture of grass, thistles, heather and fern – kind of everything thrown in at once!
On my way up Luccombe Hill. The plant life keeps threatening to trip me up, so I’m having to watch my footing.
And there’s the top of Luccombe Hill marked by a large cairn. I just love the purple colouring of the heather, it really brightens the hill up. But on the flip side, it does mean that wild camping would be quite difficult to do here with a standard tent. I’m hoping the whole of Exmoor isn’t like this, otherwise finding a spot to pitch the tent at the end of today could prove to be interesting…
The view from Luccombe Hill at 426 mtrs elevation. The fact that this hill top can only be reached by travelling cross country meant that I had it all to myself! 🙂
To the West I spy the top of the highest hill on Exmoor – Dunkery Beacon at 519 mtrs elevation. That’s my next objective!
I soon pick up a trail and make my way there. I’m not using Macmillan Way West – the main trail – as there are far too many people on it. I guess that’s my anti-social tendencies showing through 🙂 Instead I elect to skirt around the side of the hill on a lesser used, but steeper path.
The view Northwards. I find the views stunning, but in a different way from the views that one gets from a mountain in the middle of a wilderness.
*Zoom On* Toward the coast my eyes are drawn to this rather steep hill called Bossington Hill. I know that I will be climbing this on my coastal walk on the way back on day 3…
I’m now on the final approach to the top of Dunkery Beacon. I note that it is swarming with visitors!
And there it is! The top of Dunkery Beacon at 519 mtrs! This will be the highest hill that I will be climbing for this walk.
To the West I can see the trail I need to take. The intent is to get to Great Rowbarrow which is the hill directly ahead.
When I get to Great Rowbarrow, I find this very unique Cairn!
After Great Rowbarrow I hang a right and head Northwestward down the hill that should take me to a road.
I soon get to the end of that track which terminates at a small car-park by the road that I need. This is the National Trust plinth that is located there.
I’m now on the road tracking Southwestward. I need to keep going until I reach a road junction, then I need to hang a right. Luckily for me, traffic is extremely light on this road.
I get to the road junction and take the turn off. After around 100 mtrs on the new road, I leave it to go cross country to climb Bendel’s Barrows to the West. Once again I notice how different the vegetation is from Dartmoor.
The whole of Bendel’s Barrow is extremely boggy and wet – the first boggy area I have encountered on this walk…
Eventually I make it to the road on the other side of Bendel’s Barrow. Up ahead is a signposted gate with the way I have to go!
Here I’m hand railing the boundary and heading Southwestward. The feel of this walk reminds me of my very early walks in and around Bristol where a fair bit of the navigation was by field boundary and track.
I have now reached the boundary at the other end of the field and I’m now headed North West. I’m looking for an exit on my left to take me onto a track bounded on both sides by artificial barriers.
I find the gate and end up on the track that I need. It is here that I run into a small group of what looked to be cadets. They were lost and asking me for help. I tried to show them on my map, but their map was not from the same series and at a different scale. In the end I gave up with this approach, especially as I couldn’t see the Northings and Eastings on my map due to the way it was folded. In the end I just pulled the coordinates out of my GPS and showed them precisely where they were on their map. They seemed very grateful 🙂
The track I was on takes me onto Almsworthy Common where I’m now headed Northwestward. The cows and bulls on this common are of a breed that I don’t think I have seen before. I note there are some young calves in the group, that plus the bull’s sharp pointy horns persuade me to give them all a wide berth.
I soon re-intercept the Macmillan Way West track which should take me onto the last road of today’s walk.
I soon get to the road. On the other side is the clearly marked trail that I need to follow! From here on in I will be heading into the centre of Exmoor to enable me to camp well away from most tourists.
There are many field boundaries – even here on the moor. This makes navigation very simple. On the downside, I have found water to be quite hard to come by. As a result I’m rationing how much I drink. I guess I’m too used to Dartmoor where water is always abundant and easily accessible.
Here I’m headed toward Larkbarrow where I’m hoping to find some water…
Larkbarrow proves to be disappointing with regard to water. Still, I’m in high spirits as according to my map this trail will cross directly across a stream! Perfect!
But my hopes are dashed once more. The streambed has dried out. Water is now critical. On the plus side, I know I’m within 2 km of my planned camp spot at Tom’s Hill Barrow. If the map is to be believed the size of the streams there should mean that there will be water, so I only need to hang on for 2 more km!!!
As I head up Tom’s Hill I note that I can hear water down in the valley to the South. Rather than expend energy going across country through dense foilage to get there, I elect to hold out and continue on to the planned camp spot.
This is the final climb of the day up Tom’s Hill. The weather is quite hot which seems to exacerbate the water situation.
On many of the gate posts that I walk past I find notices like this one. These seem to be almost contradictory. It’s almost like the land owners are having to put them up to comply with the public footpath on their land, but to also make it clear that they are the ultimate decision makers.
I am now descending Tom’s Hill down to Tom’s Hill Barrow. To my left is a large stream, but I note that it is bounded by fencing. I’m not to concerned though, as my map tells me that this track will cross a stream directly ahead in the dip. If there is water there I elect to fill up all the bottles and make camp here – assuming I can find a spot to pitch the tent.
On the way down the track to the streamlet I spot the only bit of flat grass for miles around! I decide to drop the rucksack there to mark the camp spot. It’s now a case of getting back on the track to the streamlet crossing point.
There is the crossing point and finally I get to see some water! Before filling the camp bottles, I top up the Water-To-Go drinking bottle and drink my fill. From the amount that I drunk, I suspect that I was a little dehydrated.
I then start filling up the Platypus collapsable bottles ready for camp. The good thing about the Water-To-Go bottle is that the filter is located in the lid. This means that it can be held vertically to fill the drinking bottles. This is so much easier than with the Travel Tap which has to be held close to upright position to do this.
A zoomed in shot of the small oasis of grass where I left my rucksack. I couldn’t believe my luck! To have such a great camp spot amongst all the ferns. I really do think that someone is watching over me sometimes!
High above me I see a majestic bird of prey doing it’s thing. I would see many of these during my Exmoor walk – a lot more than I see on Dartmoor. I guess the environment here is more suited to them.
The tent is up! This photo shows quite nicely what a perfect fit the small area of grass was!
Here I am at the camp site. Just behind my tent in the background is the track leading to the water crossing. I can now chill out, read and enjoy the sun!
The view out of the tent – this was one of the most blissful camp sites that I have pitched at!
Day 1’s food was a Chicken Korma Curry courtesy of Mountain House. Once again, an excellent meal!
After my supper I settle down to read the ebook reader.
I don’t know about other backpackers, but I only get to use my eReader when I’m backpacking. This results in relatively infrequent visits to the same book as I continue reading through the chapters.
In this case the novel is called ‘Rama The Omnibus’ by Aurthur C Clarke and I find that the chapters that I read get intrinsically intertwined with memories of the camp spot where I read them. Odd!
Anyways, tune in next week for Day 2!