In the summer of 2022 I will be organising a sponsored walk along the 102 mile length of the Macmillan Way West long distance trail. To give you a flavour of what to expect and perhaps to whet your appetite this page is devoted.
As a boy I lived in North Petherton which is on the trail although it was not in existence then. I also lived near Nether Stowey and know the Quantock hills like the back of my hand. The trail follows the old packway along the spine of the hills which was used to take cargo from ships in the Bristol Channel on pack horses to Bridgwater.
As a member of the Scouting Association camps were often held in one of the Quantock or Exmoor combes and later, on returning home from some years as a seagoing engineer and a Deep Sea Scout, I was asked by Skipper Green, my old scout master who by then was district commissioner, to take out a warrant as a Senior Scout Leader of a new troop of scouts called Quantock Seniors.
In later life I walked extensively in Somerset and Gloucestershire with my wife Sue when we lived in South Petherton including the Cotswold sections of the main Macmillan Way when we lived in Cheltenham. So the idea of walking this long distance trail to raise funds for Macmillan in memory of Sue where we had both spent such happy times seemed appropriate.
The trail starts at Castle Carey in Somerset which is where Douglas Macmillan, founded the Macmillan Cancer Support charity after his father died from cancer in 1911. In New Zealand where I am currently being treated for Myeloma, my local cancer centre in Tauranga provides information from Macmillan on every aspect of treatment I receive. Even though it is a charity based in the UK, the information service it provides is available and is used the world over.
In the UK specialist cancer Nurses are employed and funded for the first three years by Macmillan working for the NHS, the community or occasionally in a hospice. After this period the nurse continues to be employed by the same employer but are always known as Macmillan nurses. Specialist Support groups are provided on-line for carer's and cancer patients wherever they are in the world.
For our sponsored walk I envisage an average of about 10 miles a day so we would take about 10 days to complete the whole walk but participants would be able to join or leave the walk for the different sections and transport to your car or accommodation would be arranged at the start and finish of each day. Our friend Les Harper has already been appointed to drive the minibus and manage logistics.
Stage 1 - Castle Carey to Charlton Adam
The first few days on the trail are a fairly easy introduction there being very few gradients to negotiate. Castle Carey itself is a pleasant market town and the source of the River Carey.
The trail then follows the course of the River Carey, skirting the village of Keinton Mandeville. When we first started trading as Provender Deli I used to drive here from South Petherton every day to collect bread from the excellent baker here.
Charleton Adam is the next village and in the same parish. There is a pub there called the Fox and Hounds which is a Butcombe Brewery owned pub and is a very fine beer indeed, second only in my opinion to Otter. It would make a good meeting point for Logistical Les to collect you and transport you back to Carey or wherever you are staying the night.
Stage 2 - Charlton Adam to Langport
The next place of interest on the trail is Somerton. This an attractive town built of limestone and was formally the Somerset county town. In the 10th century is was the ancient capital of Wessex which was the Anglo Saxon kingdom of King Alfred but ceased to exist with the Norman conquest of 1066.
Just across the railway line and over the hill is Long Sutton and there is another fine pub here called The Devonshire Arms which claims to be a Gastro Pub. We have eaten here on many occasions and food and beer have always been of the highest quality. A good place to stop for lunch.
The trail now follows the River Yeo which eventually flows into the River Parrett at Langport. You are now on the Somerset Levels, a wetland area, most of it below sea level, that has been drained and farmed since the 13th century. As late as 1600 20 ton barges could navigate the Parrett as far as Langport. I worked for a time for the Somerset River Board maintaining their grab lines and diesel pumping stations.
You will see drainage ditches everywhere, often with willow trees on the bank but occasionally in a plantation. The ditches are called rhynes down 'yer (pronouced 'reens'). It originates from the old English ryne. The willow stems are called withy's and the levels are the only place left in England where they are grown for basket making. Not far away from here is Westonzoyland (where I went to secondary school) and you will find Musgrove Willows who make and sell a multiplicity of withy products.
Langport would be a good place to call a halt and you have a big selection of hostelries here for the night but if you really want a proper pub you must travel out of town 15 minutes walk on the A372 back towards Long Sutton at Huish Episcopi where you will find the Rose and Crown Inn known locally as 'Eli's', named after the former owner Eli Scott who took over the family pub in 1920 and the pub is still in the same family.
The pub is legendary in these parts and is an example of what an English country pub should be like. They even serve food now which is reported to be as good as their beer and cider. This seems to be turning into a Somerset pub guide but where else can you get food, drink, hospitality and to meet the locals, that is if you can understand them!
Language could become a problem as the Somerset dialect can be difficult for strangers to understand. I have therefore included a little section here" which includes some well used words and phrases often used in pub conversations which may come in handy. It is incomplete
Stage 3 - Langport to Northmoor Green.
You now join another long distance trail known as the Parrett Trail. We now follow along the bank of the River Parrett for several miles until a strange looking mound appears ahead at a bridge across the river called Burrowbridge. The mound is called Burrow Mump and has a ruin of a church on the top. In 1946 it became a war memorial and is well worth climbing for the splendid view across Kings Sedgemoor to the Quantock Hills where you are heading.
We cross the river and continue along the left bank of the Parrett until we reach Moorland or Northmoor Green as it is known these days. As you would expect there is a pub here known as the Thatchers Arms and I can only remember stopping here years ago half frozen to thaw out after watching North Petherton Carnival. It might be a good place for logistical Les to rendezvous as North Petherton is a fair hike further.
Stage 4 - Northmoor Green to Broomfield.
After crossing the Bridgwater and Taunton canal you will arrive in what is now the town of North Petherton. I used to live here when it was supposed to be the biggest village in England but it grew. I went to the village school and sang in the church choir where the Bishop of Bath and Wells confirmed me into the Church of England, a faith now forgotten.
The Macmillan Way goes right past the house where I lived and if you are with us on the day I will point out this historic building. I expect they will put a blue plaque on it one day!
I learnt an ancient game at the village school the boys played at most breaks called High Jimmy Knacker. It involved one person standing against a wall and the rest of the team bending down in a long line in front of him joined together. The other team then ran and leapt as far along the line as they could, crushing their knackers when they landed on the backs of the opposing team in the process! When everyone was mounted they rocked side to side to try and collapse the line. If they succeeded the other team did the knackering but hopefully the bell went before serious knacker damage resulted.
After passing the historic building where I lived as a boy you come to Kingscliff which is an old quarry situated in a pretty wooded valley with a large stream flowing down it. It was always full of rabbits and I used to catch the odd one for the pot until one day there were lots of dead and dying ones lying around. It was the disease deliberately introduced from Australia called Myxomatosis and I used to spend days coming here with a big club putting the poor bunny's out of their misery. They were certainly off the menu from then.
The trail follows the valley almost to Broomfield where you will find what is left of Fyne Court, now owned by the National Trust. The original house burned down in 1894 and was never rebuilt but it had a famous occupant called Andrew Crosse who, after graduating from Oxford carried out early experiments with electricity. His experiments extended to researching cave life at Holwell Cavern nearby, the only known cave on the Quantocks, which I explored and extended during my first attempts at caving. The main chamber in the cave is named after Andrew Crosse but the farmer who owns the land had filled in the entrances in 2013 and hates cavers so I don't know the latest.
The nearest pub is the Travellers Rest which is about 1.5 miles away but you will first come to the Pines Cafe which is a good place to wait for transport and the start of your next days walk, one of the most picturesque stages so don't miss it. The pub is a few hundred yards up the road towards Bridgwater and you can't miss that either. It serves Otter, Butcombe and does meals so can't be bad.
Stage 5 - Broomfield to Bicknoller.
You continue a long gentle climb up towards Cothelstone Hill where you emerge onto the open moor and a big car park. The rest of this stage is mostly along the packway following the spine of the hills and you will have glorious views across the Bristol Channel to Wales and onwards to Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor. After you have climbed Cothelstone you will traverse Lydeard Hill and finally Wills Neck the highest on the Quantocks at 386m (1266ft).
You will see a lot of wild hill ponies on the hills. They are wild and left to roam but are all owned by somebody and every year are herded up and taken to Bridgwater Fair where they are sold. The foals may then be taken off the hill and used for riding and the rest put back on the hill for another year. I once participated in the round up. You start at Cothelstone and follow the packway to Bicknoller Post before herding them down Hodders Combe to Holford where they are corralled for the night before being herded down the main A39 road to Bridgwater, at least that was how they did it in my younger day but they might transport them in trucks nowadays. I remember having the sorest arse ever after a day in the saddle!
The above photograph was taken on the packway looking towards Beacon Hill which will be our final Quantock viewpoint as at Bicknoller Post we turn West and follow the combe down to the little village of Bicknoller and its Inn of the same name. This is a Palmers pub, a Dorset brew which is usually a good drop and Palmers do keep their pubs well with an extensive menu of pub grub.
Stage 6 - Bicknoller to Dunster.
You cross over the main A39 and then the West Somerset Railway line which is a heritage line running steam locomotives between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead and well worth an excursion. The first village of note you come to is Williton which has plenty of shops but little else of interest. You are now traversing the Coleridge Way, another 50 mile long distance path running from Nether Stowey where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived to Lynmouth in Devon.
At the village of Roadwater you are only a couple of miles as the crow flies from Nettlecombe Court. I mention this because it might be an excellent place to base yourself for the second half of the walk. It has 120 beds in 18 rooms of varying size, many ensuite and is only open for groups but if enough are interested we could arrange a group booking.
Withycombe is the next village and a couple of miles further you cross the little packhorse bridge called Gallox Bridge over the River Avill into Dunster. Probably one of Somerset's prettiest villages with it's unique Yarn Market and romantic castle although nearby Selworthy would probably beat it to the draw.
If you want somewhere really nice to eat, drink and sleep then the Lutterell Arms Hotel opposite the Yarn Market is the place for you and you need to eat well as the going gets tough the next day when we climb the highest hill on Exmoor.
Stage 7 - Dunster to Exford Common.
I must have been in my early teens when I went to the summer camp of the Cannington Scout Troop in the Avill valley. Our scoutmaster was rushed off to hospital for some reason and his place was taken by the County Commissioner who lived nearby. He set a 24 hour hike for three of us for, I think, our backwsoodsmans badge and the troop leader was given the instructions to be opened at the summit of Dunkery Beacon 519m (1703ft).
I remember the troop leader was not very wildlife conscious as he killed an Adder we found on the way up. It was just getting dark when he opened the hike instructions which was to take a compass bearing on one of three hills from the OS map and follow it in a straight line without deviation.
We set off towards our first hill which was Withypool Common 428m (1404ft) and soon found ourselves having to wade chest deep over the River Exe in the dark.
Next was Winsford Hill also 428m (1404ft) and I remember falling asleep on the green at Exford knackered. The final hill was Lype Hill 423m (1388ft) before returning to camp where we collapsed exhausted. It later transpired that the Dick of a troop leader had not read the instructions properly and we were only supposed to select two hills to walk between in a straight line not all of them!
Leaving Dunster the trail passes through gentle wooded country until reaching the pretty village of Wootton Courtney. We used to frequent the Dunkery Beacon Country House Hotel here which served a good lunch before you tackled the steep climb up Dunkery from where you have an unsurpassed view of West Somerset.
Descending from Dunkery you soon arrive at Exford Common which is about 2 miles from Exford itself. Logistical Leslie will transport you there where you have the choice of the rather swanky White Horse Inn or the Crown Hotel.
Stage 8 - Exford Common to Great Vintcombe.
From Exford Common we follow the course of the Exe Valley traversing the moor until it crosses the river on a bridge then following the river to it's source before dropping down to the B3358 road at Great Vintcombe beyond Simondsbath. A lonely spot this and you have a few choices for rest and recreation. Simondsbath is the about 3 miles down the road towards Exford where you have the Exmoor Forest Hotel and the Simondsbath House Hotel or Challacombe is about 2.5 miles the other way where you will find the Black Venus Inn.
If Challacombe be your choice then you be in Deben (Devon) my 'andsome and they do speak different down 'yer.
Stage 9 - Great Vintcombe to West Buckland.
This is a nice easy stage after your exertions across the moor and it is mostly downhill following the Tarka Trail, the 180 mile route travelled by Tarka the Otter in the famous novel by Henry Williamson.
We eventually descend into a tributary river valley of the River Bray and then the Bray itself until we arrive in East Buckland where there is nothing remotely of interest and no pubs within a reasonable distance. It's like a desert and a chap could die of thirst in these parts! My suggestion is that you spend the night in Barnstaple or even South Molton, returning the next day to walk the final 9 miles of stage 10 into town.
Even if you haven't managed to do the whole walk you should try to be here at the finish as Barnstaple is the biggest place we will get to. We will need lots of willing hands with collecting tins to relieve as many grockles of their hard earned cash as we can for Macmillan. If you are not walking you can be collecting.
I used to spend a good time in these parts as at the mouth of the estuary of the River Taw which flows through Barnstaple is Appledore. When I worked for Lister Blackstone Marine and later for Ulstein UK Ltd I did good business with Appledore Shipbuilders. Visitors can take a trip out to Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel if the weather is nice or trot round to Westward Ho, Saunton Sands or Woolacombe Beach. They are all lovely my 'andsome.
Useful Links to external web pages:
Wikipedia on Macmillan Way West giving useful OS map references.
The Long Distance Walkers Association web site Macmillan Way West.
Walking pages description of Macmillan Way West route.
Somerset Life magazine artcle on walking the Macmillan Way West.
The Macmillan Way web site picture gallery of the West Way.
Fund raising in memory of Sue 4 different ways:
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I will be placing the above invitation to donate at the bottom each new page of this web site until the sponsored walk has been completed. My own cancer treatment is unlikely to be finished before the Spring of next year (2021) so the summer of 2022 is the most likely time for the sponsored walk to take place. If you would like to be included in the walk and receive email updates you can register your interest here.
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