You pass through a series of gates, which would be tiresome indeed if you were on a horse. They may have afforded a welcome degree of rest for the couple which came running towards us down the pasture below some farm buildings. They must have been in their sixties, greying bird-like creatures with arms and legs no thicker than twigs and little knapsacks bouncing on their backs. We watched them with awe and then passed through the farm buildings and crossed the lane, which would have led down to Lower Court Farm, into a field of sheep. In the next field there is a tricky turn where you pass through a gate on your left before some sheds and then turn sharp right. Away to your left there is a good view of Druids Combe leading back to Luxborough with a typical Brendon Hills landscape of conifers, old woodland, and pasture. As you climb further, you gain a marvellous panorama looking out over the sea with Flatholm and Steepholm in the distance.
We walked up over some crags before the path took us to the lane which leads to Treborough. Here in the bank we discovered Ladys Slippers flowering. Thanks to avoiding all science at school apart from physics, and to being born colour-blind, the discovery of wild flowers such as these is very much a latter-day pleasure.
In Treborough nothing stirred. The Black Death might have nudged it only yesterday. St Peters Church stood none too steadily under a wrap of protective sheeting and scaffolding around its unappealing grey rendering. It was the only sign of any progressive restoration work, and the door was locked. Rattling the door handle too vigorously might have brought the Victorian tower down on our heads.
We passed out of the hamlet without seeing a living soul and climbed up the lane towards the ridge of the Brendons until we turned left at the sign towards Leigh Barton. Beyond the livery stables there was a fox on the track before we inclined right down the restrictive byway. At first the going had been dirtied by horses but soon the track opened into a long and pleasant valley, wooded on the southern side and with an abandoned cottage in the bottom. This brought us to some modern farm buildings and, keeping straight ahead, we came round the side of Leigh Barton Farm, home of Brendon Hill Stoves, with its majestic courtyard of old barns, complete with a wheelhouse.
Gawping at these helped us miss our way for a moment. The sign to Leighland Church (sic) is opposite the wheelhouse and points to a narrow nettle-bordered path past a forgotten pond. Out in a field where the grass had been harvested, we climbed to the highest point to see that the path on to Leighland Chapel was below us to the left on the margin. The next gate was marked clearly “Bull In Field” but, with the cattle fortunately gathered at the bottom of the slope, we bravely marched on until the path tipped us out in the road by the church of St Giles at Leighland Chapel. St Giles is as plain as St Peters but a great deal more stable. The unassuming interior is dominated by an organ grand enough for the Phantom of the Opera to doodle a few melodies.
The footpath which leads straight through the churchyard soon forks, and a left turn took us downhill, past a cottage with a lovely stream and bridge in its garden, to the road down to Roadwater. This straight thoroughfare, which passes some attractive cottages and borders the fast-flowing stream, I fancy was part of course of the old mineral line which once ferried iron ore from the workings at Brendon Hill down to Watchet harbour. We could have taken a path through woodland if we had followed a sign to Woodavent Farm, but we kept to the lane through the sinisterly named Traphole.
Roadwater is an attractive village. The foothills of the Brendons may not be as beautiful as Exmoor proper but the cottages in the villages are more varied and interesting than those west of Wheddon Cross. We walked down a little street and, turning left, we could see the pub far down the Luxborough road on the edge of the village.
I can’t recall ever seeing a “Valiant Soldier” before, and I certainly haven’t had a drink in one. This one is a smart affair, with a long extension at the back which seems to house the skittle alley and accommodation, an extensive car park, and a children’s play area. The front of the pub has pleasant thatched porches and an unusual caricature of the eponymous soldier in relief on the wall. The bar is spacious, and we were greeted by an array of pumps offering Exmoor, Sharps, and Taunton. After our disappointment at the Culbone Stables the week before, Taunton was the obvious choice. This time the pint was spot on, a good colour with a sharp edge to its flavour. Snack food looked attractive, with ciabattas, shepherds pie, lasagne, and omelettes coming in at less than £5. The grander blackboard was rather unambitious and, for the area, in the higher price bracket. B&B, however, is a modest £25 a night. You win some, you lose some. The bar had been quietly active when we entered, but it was soon taken over by a funeral party. Funeral “party” in modern England is the exact word, and these “celebrations” of the deceased lives is a welcome change from the grim and grey rituals of my youth.
We set off up the road back to Luxborough, past a fish farm in the valley bottom, until we came to Langridge Wood. Here we took the second path on the left up into the pines, and climbed steeply through the dark conifers until we broke out into the light. Here our runners suddenly appeared again, jogging downwards without a puff between them. I hoped that they had lunched on two all-day breakfasts washed down with pints of Guinness, but I suspect that they had pecked on some mess of pottage, potent with protein and energy and sealed in plastic boxes, which had been secreted in their knapsacks. We recrossed our morning’s path again above Lower Court Farm but this time turned down into Druids Combe, pungent with the warm spicy scent of bracken and fir. The track took us painlessly back into Luxborough along a lane, stream-bordered with bridges leading into each cottage garden.