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Day 15: Wet

Wheddon Cross to Williton. 14 miles. Miles to date: 220.8

I didn’t sleep well.

There were three different things going bang in the night. The first was a constant low-level motorised hum related, I think, to the B&B’s air conditioner. The second, louder, was the kitchen’s extraction fan, directly outside my window, which came on at regular intervals from dusk 'til dawn. Whether it was faulty or someone was having a fry up at 3.48am I never found out, but it was persistent. The third was a louder-still mechanical choking sound that emanated from the bathroom for a few minutes on the hour. When all three sounds played together there were moments of co-ordinated rhythmic interplay: mmm VVVVVV crack VVVVV mmm VVVVV and so on (and on). I’ve heard less structured avant-garde German techno.

Given I didn’t need to wake up for breakfast as I’d not really been to sleep, I was first down to the dining room, which gave me a chance to thank the landlord for making me that cheese sandwich yesterday. It was a pleasure, he said, I had walked a long way. Sorry it caused such a problem, I said. And then the full tale came out…

It was all down, as such stories often are, to the landlord’s dear ol’ mum.

Turns out mum’s Sunday routine is to take a seat in the same table at the same time each week, read the papers, have a few G&Ts and enjoy the carvery. Only this time, when she popped out to have a cigarette (“Ah she likes a smoke does mum. 95 years old and still going strong ...”), the unfortunate threesome who I first encountered when they pointed out I’d been offered a sandwich outside serving hours, took mum’s seat - even when it was obvious there was a paper and half a drink there. It was to be the start of a series of misunderstandings for the threesome. Not only did they upset both mum - and therefore the landlord, and most of the regulars - but when sandwichgate kicked off there was a level of bad feeling on all sides I could not have guessed at. “It’ll be on Trip Adviser,” the landlord told me. “Guaranteed 1 star review.” He said it with a twinkle in his eye and a tone that hinted not at frustration but pride.

Today’s walk began in the clouds and spent most of the day in them. Upland mist persisted - sun attempting an early morning breakthrough before giving up for the day - as I did what I’ve been doing for the past two days now - made my way through age-old sunken lanes, along field edges, down quiet country lanes. And once again I met almost no one. A couple out walking at mile four who warned me of cows ahead, and then a woman in front of a thatched cottage who completely ignored my cheerful Good morning.

With the dew, mizzle and mist, it felt almost autumnal.

I love these sunken lanes. This one had gnarled old beech hedges either side.

"I'll put the off-road, oil barrel, gutters and pallets in that field. I'm sure I'll find a use for them one day..."

..."And we might as well hang onto a few old tyres. You never know when we'll need them."

The views were occasionally extensive - but always with mist on the horizon.

These sheep were really ugly.

Who you callin' ugly?

The fact of the matter is that there’s barely anyone here. The reason there are so few walkers is because there are so few people, full stop. Even when the clouds cleared for a few moments, all there was to see were the same miles of hedge-crossed fields and woodlands that I’ve grown used to - mile upon mile of them. Occasionally a farm. Even more occasionally a village. Passing through the pretty hamlet of Kingsbridge I saw a headline for the local newspaper: “250 new homes for village”, it read. 250? It didn’t feel like there were as many as 250 residents in every village I’d walked through over the past two days.

It was all very lovely though, in a damp, misty kind of way, trees emerging from the clouds, field edges fading to white, pheasants in flapping panic, red kite overhead, fox slinking into dew-wet undergrowth.

Roadwater loveliness.

Roadwater. This is the Somerset village you were looking for...

At some point on Lype Hill I caught a farmer's attention. The wide discrepancy between the OS plotted paths and the ones that actually ran over his land - coupled with the acres of new fencing - suggested he'd recently done some self-serve alterations to the rights of way. He watched from a distance as I grappled with the new layout. He was out herding sheep and gave me a friendly enough hello when he passed. But then watched me from a distance until I was off his land.


Lype Hill Barrows. A pair of bronze age bowl barrows apparently. The barbed wire fencing (and no gate) suggested archaeologists aren't welcome.

For most of today I was following the Coleridge Way. a 51 mile path from Lynmouth to Nether Stowey. It links sites associated with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s a nice idea, but from the ageing state of the waymarks and the lack of established paths I’d say it’s a minority interest trail.

Coleridge was a prodigious walker. Romantic poet, philosopher, theologian, and opium addict, yes, but walking was his lifelong passion. He thought nothing of a 30 mile day out.

My favourite Coleridge walking anecdote relates to his 1802 descent of Broad Stand on Scafell. It remains an accident blackspot to this day, and Coleridge, descending without a rope or much awareness of what lay below ended up having some kind of religious experience on the descent, “I lay in a state of almost prophetic Trance & Delight,” he subsequently wrote. When he returned home Mrs C wasn't remotely interested in his divine misadventure. Instead she reprimanded him for trashing his clothes.

The Coleridge Way sign is the faded white feather.

After a quick cup of tea in Roadwater’s lovely Valiant Soldier Inn, I set off on the day’s final leg, to Williton in the shadow of the Quantocks. The mist had grown thicker as I climbed again, air heavy. And then the rain came - by the bucketload. A proper English bank holiday Monday soaking.

I can’t complain. I’ve been blessed with great weather pretty much from Day 1 of my walk, but within ten minutes I was soaked - boots, socks, shorts - each step on the road a watery squelch. Before long drains were overflowing and the roadsides were rivers stained with muddy red field runoff. The last three miles were spent cradling my iPhone from the downpour, wondering why I’d packed my waterproof phone holder deep inside a waterproof pack inside my waterproof backpack. Doh.

Shortly after lunch I arrived at the Masons Arms, my stopping point for the night. I’ve got a lovely big room, and a bath, and - best of all - there are no hums, grinds or whirrs to take me through the night.

Just blissful quiet.

And I barely feel like I’ve done any walking.

Happy days.

The bank holiday queues weren't... huge.

Home, for tonight.


Previous: Day 14 – Warren Farm to Wheddon Cross.

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