It could not have started better. We managed to find the obscure car park at the end of a single track lane at Lyddons, strategically above Wimbleball Lake. As it is shown on the map simply as “Car Pk.” in the smallest possible letters, one suspects a conspiracy to ensure that as few people as possible use it. We set off for the lake along the footpath with a light heart, the sun glinting on the water below us. When we started to walk clockwise around the eastern shoreline, Wimbleball Lake looked more like Wimbleball Puddle, even though it has not been the driest of summers. No one appears to be panicking about the low water level in the reservoir, least of all a lonely heron on the edge of the water, and so no doubt the torrential winter rain on Exmoor and the flight of the tourists at the end of autumn is expected to put matters right. “Rugged” is the favourite word of the sign writers here. We were warned against a “rugged path” towards the dam at the south-western corner of the lake, but took it all the same. It was entirely straightforward, even a mite tedious as it ploughed straight through the woodland above the shrunken waters of the lake. Eventually, when the grey mass of the dam was staring us in the face, we found a small hunting gate and took a broad track leading upwards over Haddon Hill. At a T junction we turned left on to a concrete road which led us to the top of the hill, where there were ponies and commanding views. If we came here again – which we won’t – we would keep to the north of the plantation on the crest of the hill, but somehow we found ourselves stranded on a major road. It mattered little as traffic was negligible, even though the road is probably the only straight one in West Somerset. I was so impressed that I stood in the middle of the carriageway to record it for posterity. I expect that the local boy racers come up here at night and drag their John Deeres and silage bale wrappers. We had intended to walk through the woodland known as Britannia’s Shield, planted and divided in imitation of the eponymous patriotic piece of armour. Sadly, there was no obvious access and appropriately, on a day on which a defence cuts scandal broke, half of the shield appeared to have been chopped down.
We plodded on along the highway, past the odd dead pigeon or squirrel, the verge decorated with bits of the “Daily Star”. Each piece was separate, as if a white van man had jettisoned his reading matter carefully sheet by sheet as he drove along, assassinating the odd small animal as he went. The dog racing page, written by my old chum Jim Austin, fluttered in the strengthening wind.
Morale now had perceptibly declined, rather as when Captain Scott discovered that the primus stove had run out of juice a few miles short of One Ton Camp. Through Bridge End and Upton we tramped, the sky darkening all the time as an odd sprinkle of rain brushed our faces, past bungalows, cottages and the plain Victorian church, onwards towards Lowtrow Cross and its famous inn, ready to welcome us with a tawny pint of ale.
At last we turned a corner and there it was. Reader, you knew it all the time, didn’t you? And so did we, if we tell the truth. It was just one of those Tuesdays. A bloke was up a ladder, painting the window frames. “It’s closed,” he announced, and so it was, the door firmly shut. The Lowtrow Cross Inn doesn’t open on Monday and Tuesday mornings. We are becoming used to public houses turning out to be semi-public houses. The internet later informed me, not only of the opening hours, but also that for a hundred grand I could buy the lease. I only wanted a pint. We could only shrug our shoulders and study the map for a way back to the truck.
This proved easier than we might have expected. Footpaths through farms and farmland can turn out to be the proverbial minefield, but some officer of West Somerset Council must have spent a happy day spattering the countryside with myriads of signs. We whizzed from Moorhouse Farm to Hayne Farm and along the lane towards St James Church (remains of), which was probably a good thing as the rain was now falling in earnest. Only the tower of the fourteenth century church remains. The rest was pulled down in the middle of the nineteenth century when they built the nondescript edifice which is now the local place of worship. Presumably the worshippers had tired of walking up the hill once a week.
A quick dash up a lane brought us back to the secret car park and shelter.