Exmoor and the Quantocks

Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
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Trip End Jul 31, 2010


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Monday, April 19, 2010

Just enjoyed three brilliant days in England's second-smallest national park. Exmoor is home to shaggy wild horses and England's last wild red deer, both of which we spotted in our time there - the deer only fleetingly, well above us on a forest slope. The high moor ridges we traversed were a mix of heather, peat bog, and pasture, looking out over steeply farmed vales. We approached and left the moor through beautiful forested ravines. It was a place we'd love to explore more in future.

Happily, it was also where our first friend joined us - L, whom many of you know as best man at our wedding. L and Joel arranged a rendezvous at the top of the Chains - an area notorious for getting people lost. Sure enough, it was four hours after the intended meeting time that we finally found each other and trudged the last few miles to the campsite.

The next morning we climbed up Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor's highest point, with wonderful views of the valleys all around (only slightly obscured by the post-volcanic haze that Iceland just coughed up). We descended to the town of Porlock, where we caught the local bus - open-topped, like a tourist bus - along the stunningly steep coast road to Lynmouth, where L had parked his car. We ended the day in Dunster, a little medieval village overlooked by a picturesque castle.

The next day, Dunster Castle seduced us into picking up a National Trust membership (a pretty good deal, given how many NT properties we'll be passing in the next few months - and how much of the coast we've already walked has been preserved by their good graces). We spent nearly the whole day exploring the castle, its lovely hillside gardens, and the town's tea rooms, medieval dovecote, and cobbled paths. Much, much later than intended, we hopped a bus to the town of Crowcombe, under the brow of the Quantock Hills, where we spent the night with Fi's aunt and uncle.

On Sunday, fortified by a long sleep and a delicious breakfast cooked by Fi's aunt, we hiked up the Quantock ridge, which was like a smaller, more manageable version of Exmoor. It would be a fantastic place for mountain biking. The haze was even thicker despite the continuing sunny weather, leaving the Somerset farm country on both sides almost invisible as we hiked along the heathery ridge.

We came down near the town of Nether Stowey and took advantage of our new NT membership to visit Coleridge Cottage, where the feckless Romantic poet and his unhappy wife lived for three years. The cottage retains almost nothing to connect it with Coleridge - e.g. no relics of the opium habit that inspired his best poems - but the NT has collected an awful lot of portraits and you can try your hand at writing with a quill pen, which we found tricky even when cold sober.

From Nether Stowey we caught the bus to Bridgwater, where we had tentatively planned to break the walk to visit our new nibling in Leeds... but the baby remains stubbornly enwombed, so we're extending our walk a bit til the weekend. On to Glastonbury, famous as a hippie preserve and burial site of King Arthur...
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