Saturday, 12 May 2012

Watchet to Cannington

Taxi all arranged for my baggage to Cannington, and off on the road by 9:30. And at the beginning it had to be road: all the footpaths here seem to run North/South, and I want to go due East. It’s largely uphill, but a fairly easy 2½ miles to West Quantockhead, where I can join the
Coleridge Way
. Or at least that’s what it’s called on the map: the signs refer instead to the Somerset Coast Path (though we’re quite a way from the sea) or the Quantock Greenway.

Looking back over West Quantockshead to Watchet
It starts in woodland above the busy A39, which it follows for a couple of miles. Then it opens out into open moorland above fields fringed with trees. It’s undulating country, attractive, and since for most of the time I’m at 150 to 200m elevation there are great  views across the lower country between the Quantocks and the sea, with Hinkley Point nuclear power stations prominent on the near shore. Cattle in many fields, and lts of green fields, but this is now more arable country, and the acid yellow of rape in flower is evident everywhere.

Later the woods thin out, and the trees are in scattered copses. And cuckoos calling: two, as if in competition. I had only heard one in the preceding fortnight, whereas they used to be a widespread harbinger of Spring. The other birds included the usual warbling suspects, singing and flitting around everywhere. Astonishing numbers come here every year.

Despite it being a theoretically easy morning, the regular climbing, nothing too big, but plenty of minor ascents, takes its toll, and it’s after one when I reach Holford. No Post Office, despite what it says on the map. So nowhere to buy a package and return the key I’ve managed not to hand in. So it’s just a consoling pint, and a recharge for my phone.

After the break it’s back on the
Coleridge Way
, up a longish climb to a cairn at the top of an open hill. Mobile reception at last – and I get a message to the effect that they’ve found my binoculars at the Blue Anchor. I think they must just have been too idle to look properly the day before.

The climb from Holford - Holford Combe off to the right
So across to the East, first across open moorland, and then a couple of miles of forest – broadleafs first, and then mature conifers. Finally the compensating descent into Nether Stowey – a pretty village, where there’s the Coleridge Cottage. He stayed there for two years in the early 1800s, and they were apparently two of his most productive, before the drug-addicted period of his later life.

To the pub, for a cup of tea in one of the most charming beer gardens I’ve ever seen – and all to myself. And a brainwave: if there was a local taxi firm I could go back to get my binoculars. It’d take some time, but would solve the problem. There was: so Terry Buller agreed to do the job, though he wouldn’t be able to get to the pub for 30 to 40 minutes. More tea in the garden, and an opportunity to study every picture and every information panel in the pub. Did you know that there are more documented cases of dragons in Somerset than any other county? Look it up!

Nether Stowey, looking North to the Rose & Crown
Terry Buller duly appears with one of those country taxis with two rows of seats behind the driver. Mrs Buller has come along for the ride, and their one-year old is sitting in a rearward facing child seat immediately behind Terry. So I’d relegated to the back row, with a restricted view just like on the way to Hartland Point a week ago. But we get the job done. Or two jobs, really, because after what seemed a longer route on the way to Blue Anchor we go back through Watchet and I’m able to return the key I took in the morning. The landlord – another Terry – was of course somewhat surprised to see me.

Back in Nether Stowey I replenished my cash resources, and set off for the last few miles to Cannington. This is cross country stuff, a mix of crops, livestock, hayfields ready for cutting. At one stage I cam across the largest pheasant-rearing operation I’ve ever seen; a field or two later there was a vineyard.

Footpaths there are in plenty – at least on the map. In this part of rural Somerset signage is optional and intermittent, and any footpath that actually cuts across a field has to be tackled by dead-reckoning. Not quite compass stuff, but not far off. Fortunately the OS Explorer maps show fields boundaries which do actually correspond with what’s on the ground, so it is possible more or less to do as intended.

Cannington - at last! (Check the time.)
I finally reached Cannnington a little after 8:00. A fine church, and a few isolated grander buildings, but otherwise undistinguished. The Friendly Spirit was busy on a Saturday evening, but I was just in time to get an excellent steak. The room, however, was awful – the worst B&B so far. At some stage I’ll get round to reviewing them all. Watch this space!

Stunning! Sunshine from first light until the end of the day; hardly a cloud in the sky. 14 to 21C, warmer in direct sun. 31.76km; 717m ascent, 685m descent. Moderately easy, but muddy when crossing open fields.


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