Duncan’s Exmoor Weekend - October 2008

3 – 6 October 2008

Duncan’s association with Exmoor dates back to the early 1980s when he worked in Jakarta and joined the Indonesian Exmoor Harriers. Every October he and other members of the club would make the long trip to the Tarr Steps, stay at the nearby farmhouse at £85 a night, jog through the Doone Valley and fill themselves with cream teas as an antidote to nasi goreng. As the author’s aural acuity is not what it used to be, the accuracy of this report cannot be guaranteed but Indonesia certainly came into it somewhere. What is certain is that any Indonesian, sick of Java’s relentless sunshine, would have revelled in the soothing drizzle, the romantic mist and the soft squelching mud, which were the most endearing features of Duncan’s Exmoor weekend.

There were eight of us in the group staying in or near Minehead with Gerry joining us for just the first day. The social programme began on Friday night at Pinocchio’s restaurant, the liveliest spot in town, where Linda had booked a table as an aid to group bonding. Unfortunately it almost came to blows when Duncan gobbled most of Pat’s starter believing it was his, while the author scoffed a succulent slice of Steve’s pork filet before realising that it wasn’t the chicken dish he had ordered. Meanwhile Pat’s finances went from bad to worse as Ivan inadvertently ordered a double portion of Jumbo Pacific prawns at five quid a piece. Harmony was only restored when Linda launched us into a stimulating discussion concerning the pros and cons of pub stops on social walks.

On Saturday morning we met at Dulverton for a 17 mile walk around the south eastern corner of Exmoor. Although fairly dry in the morning, it turned to rain by midday but as compensation Duncan let us stop for a cream tea near the Tarr Steps, where we were offered the world’s largest scones at the world’s highest prices. Steve was outraged when he was charged over £4 for a single scone, but got a slight reduction when he threatened to appeal to the Exmoor Ombudsman.

On Sunday it rained pretty much all day long, though there was a slight lull when we visited England’s smallest church at Culbone for a brief rest amongst the tombs. A couple of hours later we arrived soaked and cold at the Cloud Farm cafe only to find that we had to eat in the open. Duncan immediately drenched himself in hot chocolate in a desperate attempt to avoid hypothermia, while others tried to get dry under the hot air hand-driers in the loos. After being enclosed by mist all day, we were rewarded by a view of the Bristol Channel and the dim outlines of the Welsh coast as we headed back to Porlock.

Monday was altogether a far better day with particularly good views in the morning as we strode along the Coastal Path, but by then we were reduced to almost half our original number, only Duncan, Pat, Linda, Tony and yours truly having stayed the course.

As there is less than a 50% probability of fine weather on Exmoor at this time of the year, we can hardly complain about the conditions and I am sure I speak for everyone in thanking Duncan for organising the weekend so well and for planning three excellent walks, even though it required a high degree of imagination to visualise the beauty of the surrounding scenery as we trudged through the mist. Four of us are also grateful to Tony for leading a three hour warm-up walk in the Quantocks on Friday afternoon.

Clive West (words and pictures)