Quantock Hills Walk – October 2016

Sunday 2nd October 2016

Barely two-months from the end of the year and I was keen to get another walk submitted to Brunel, so that I could reach another personal goal of having led five walks in 2016. A feat I had not achieved since 2014.

There were many locations I could’ve chosen and a few ‘difficult’ pre-walks along the way… Once again, I found myself returning to the familiar Quantock Hills.

Where I had led a walk to the south of the hills (where fewer walkers seem to go) a few months earlier, I decided to stick to the well-trodden north, this time.

In fact, I did lead a walk here in 2014… Pitched as a ‘3 Boot’ (the most challenging of three gradings), it was supposed to be sixteen miles long and covering a number of ascents… On the day, I got a bit over-confident towards the end; stowing my map away to depart the hills and return to the cars one hour and three miles ahead of schedule!

Of course, this was not a mistake I was willing to repeat. Still, being an hour’s drive from a meeting point in Bristol, I wanted this to be a worthwhile. With so many hills in such a close vicinity, it was always going to be graded as a ‘2 Boot’ and nothing less. Somewhere in the region of ten to fourteen miles would be ideal. Anything more and fewer members would be expected to appear.

It began at Holford Green, with a familiar ascent of Woodlands Hill, following the Quantock Greenway.

Usually, from here, I would continue to climb the next hill (Dowsborough or Danesborough – a hill fort). But, in the interests of adding freshness to this route – in the interests of myself and others – I decided to, this time, descend from Woodlands Hill to follow a route through Lady’s Combe.

Initially, I struggled to find the path leading down from the hill top. With so much bracken and gorse dying off for winter, there were many ‘alternative’ paths available… The first of which, I soon realised, was nothing more than an animal track, leading to a dead end.

Closer to the valley floor and, by the time I could hear running water, a blatant path emerged in front of me.

But, I would soon grow uncertain, heading deeper in to the woods, when another network of undesignated routes opened up and numerous junctions… I wanted to avoid climbing uphill but the route(s) I took did undulate more than expected. Suddenly, this ‘diversion from the norm’ seemed like less of a good idea.

I somehow reached the road further south than I had intended to – which wasn’t a bad thing, as I had hoped to pause at the Dead Woman’s Ditch car park for refreshment and I’d arrived without having to follow the tarmac.

It’s always good to see wild horses at this point.

Heading south from ‘The Ditch’ (not that I know precisely where the ditch is), I would head further downhill on a more familiar descent towards Rams Combe.

My longer walk takes you further east to Adscombe, following the dry, gravely tracks of Great Wood far further than I would on this outing. Then, from the grounds of Quantock Lodge, an elongated climb up Cockercombe precedes an heroic arrival at Triscombe. It is a lot of work!

It was probably around midday, when I reached Triscombe Stone. It’s from here, that the views west to the Brendon Hills begin; soon expanding to include the heights of Exmoor.

This was autumn and mushrooms were to be found across Marrow Hill, if only you were to pay attention and look for them.

Normally, I’d hug the fence line at the top of these hills; walking parallel to the MacMillan Way West, in pursuit of higher points further north. But next deviation took me slightly further west and to the summit of Great Hill.

It’s really not much of an effort to get there from the Triscombe Stone car park. With the sun shining and blue sky, I wasn’t the only heading up to admire the expansive cairn that rests on top.

A good place to stop for lunch, perhaps, with some of the finest views in this neck of the Quantocks. Unlike the peaks further north, you’re far and away from any mountain biking trails, up on Great Hill.

Continuing on, I was casually making my way towards Crowcombe Park Gate at the northern corner of these hills when I realised that my route was being interrupted by a herd of cattle.

There were Highlanders; the horns were apparent from half-a-mile away. Although I’ve never had any trouble with a Highland cow, I felt uneasy about navigating through their growing herd and sought and early escape route through the nearest gate to my right – beyond which, a small crowd of others were watching on with their cameras; afraid to cross over.

You may also be able to see that the black bull above was drooling!

They don’t strike me as the kind of breed to charge at you but they must eat something, after all…

From the trig point at Black Hill – which doesn’t feel like much of a hill, being only a few metres higher than the closest car park – you can, unfortunately, see the disaster-that-is-waiting-to-happen; Hinkely (no) Point.

So much water… These British Isles are frequently battered by wind… And yet, “we” are still investing in the ‘most expensive thing ever’; a growing eyesore that potentially poses a huge threat to this planet, its ecology and local inhabitants.

…If we’re prepared to waste that much money, couldn’t we at least attempt to build the machine that Carl Sagan dreamed up for his novel, Contact?…

I’ve not personally found any part of the Quantock Hills to be particularly boggy but, close to Hurley Beacon, I discovered this ‘soft’ peat-like surface just off from one of the paths. Not that I was ever in danger of sinking in. Unexpectedly falling in to a bog is a personal fear that prevents that arises each time I think of exploring a little more of  Exmoor or Dartmoor…

Maybe in the summer. In the midst of a drought with record temperatures.

Beyond Halsway Post and, close to Bicknoller Post, I encountered a herd of red ruby Devonshire cattle. I’m so used to seeing only sheep here, at best, that this took me by surprise.

With so many mountain bikers running through here – along with bipedal explorers – they must be comfortable and familiar enough with the human race as they didn’t cause me any bother.

Further on and I made it to the trig point on top of Beacon Hill. Not the highest points on the Quantocks – and again, not an overly exerting climb to get here, depending on where you’ve parked – but it offers the best views to the north and South Wales.

Over to the east, you can see where the Somerset Levels meets with North Somerset, beyond Brent Knoll Hill. But west of here, Minehead and North Hill have risen in to view.

From here, my route would descend steeply from a wooden post to follow Smith’s Combe towards the Coleridge Way. Also, rejoining the Quantock Greenway.

It is a very sharp drop – certainly, not the easiest way to climb up, either. But it remains beautiful.

Sadly, on the way down, I passed two sheep carcasses. Rather than dying of natural causes, it looked as though they’d been opened up and ’emptied’… It’s entirely possible that big cats – released in to the wild when laws of private ownership changed in the 1970s – still roam Somerset and beyond.

Or, it could be some kind of bacteria. I guess.

From here, the Coleridge Way guides you eastwards on a return to the car park. On a map, it looks like a lovely level walk but, it does in fact consist of three or four short and steep ascents… For which reason, I decided to erase it from my finalised route. It would’ve required far too much exertion at this point in any walk and having come so far.

I knew enough of alternative routes to be able to confidently submit my walk without having to attempted another pre-walk. I’ll tell you about that – more briefly – in my next post.

Total distance of this walk: 12 miles

Thanks for reading.

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