Exmoor

Present: Steve (organiser), Joanne, Sue, Alan, Claire, Paula, Rhoda, Georgie, Keyna, Simon H

Location: Exmoor Base Camp, Countisbury

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There are a number of recognised combination sports – the biathlon featuring skiing and shooting, climbing combined with base jumping and even the bizarre chess-boxing. This trip to Exmoor may be the birth of a whole new genre.

Friday was a gloomy day with rain falling on the moor as the group made their way to the bunkhouse just outside of Lynmouth. Everyone made good time on their journeys and all had arrived safely by 9pm, settling in for a night of chat, drink and planning the weekend events.

On the Saturday morning we woke to clear blue skies and a good outlook for the day. Keyna was preparing to lead the day’s walk when Alan fortunately spotted that she was using a map of the Lake District! Navigation disaster averted, everyone was mustered for a 9 o’clock start and we left Joanne at the bunkhouse only five minutes behind the scheduled departure time.

The first part of the walk headed eastward along the coastal path with clear views across the Bristol Channel to Wales. Taking in the lighthouse at Foreland Point the path hugs the coastal path through open gorse and woodland. After five miles it was time to head inland and the steep ascent to County Gate, where the teashop threatened to split the group. With Keyna and Alan ignoring the lure of home-made cakes the rest of the group reluctantly followed, only to have Keyna call a rest stop after a further five minutes. Fortunately a potential mutiny was quickly squashed and when the walk restarted we passed another four tea-shops in quick succession.

Then we encountered the biggest hazard of the walk and Keyna disappeared into the void of the Lorna Doone gift shop. Having lost the walk leader, the group reluctantly carried on without her heading up the Badgeworthy Valley. A short while later we stopped to see Keyna, moving at speed to catch us up – burdened by a very large carrier bag. The tears of joy (sorry disbelieving laughter) at Keyna’s safe escape from the clutches of the gift shop were not stemmed when she said she had bought a china chicken!

After brushing aside the disbelieving comments from a group of mountain bikers at the sight of a walker on a shopping spree, we pressed onwards following the river up the valley, past the memorial for Richard Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone, to the site of a medieval village where we broke for lunch, sitting in the autumn sunshine and taking in the moorland views.

After our lunch we turned westward and headed onto the open moorland. This presented a new danger with the constant splash of water from the boggy, wet undergrowth threatening the integrity of the carrier bag, the bottom becoming stained with mud and getting very soggy. A good lesson for future trips is that the gift shop had provided a safety harness on the box inside the carrier so Keyna had a firm grip on the chicken.

Further on our encounter with a horse and rider, in full hunting regalia inspired the conversation:

Rider – “I didn’t know they had opened an M&S around here.”
Keyna – “No, it’s from the Lorna Doone gift shop.”
Rider with knowing look to the rest of us – “Of course!”

The rider then rode into a river shallow and the horse stamped its foot in amusement for several minutes.

Before we started our descent from the moor we were rewarded with the sight of a herd of deer, including two stags, running at speed. The route down followed a river valley, although the first part of the path was obscured by a thick carpet of leaves, and turned into a stream at one point. While several people slipped nobody fell and the shopping bag remained safe. The path back to Watersmeet was uneventful, but there were spectacular views of the river in full flow. Finally the steepest climb of the day took us back up the side of the valley to the bunkhouse with the sun setting and the barest minimum of daylight remaining.

At the bunkhouse Joanne was waiting to greet us with homemade carrot cake (celebrating Sue’s birthday) and after working all day in the kitchen she had the evening meal prepared and ready – starting with Cauliflower and Roquefort Soup, followed by Moussaka and finally Chilled Lemon Flan. With Georgie, Rhoda and Keyna soon asleep on the settee and floor, the evening passed with the sound of snoring accompanying Claire, Alan, Paula and Steve playing Scrabble late into the night.

On the Sunday morning, Claire led a walk descending the hill from the Bunkhouse to Watersmeet, around the outskirts of Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks. Rainy conditions throughout, including hailstones at one point, meant tough conditions underfoot but the highlight of boxing alpacas and a cream tea in Lynmouth brought the weekend trip to its close.

Oh, one final thing: the answer to the question in your minds, “did the chicken make it back in one piece?” remains unresolved. Back at the bunkhouse Keyna would not open the box to show us, so she has to be disqualified from this round of the Mountain Trek-Shopping challenge.

Steve Lane

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