Walking Withypool to Cow Castle Loop

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Mel and I decided that we should take advantage of todays good weather, take a break from renovations, and get into the great outdoors. I decided that this was a good opportunity to take a partially loaded backpack, the first steps in preparing for some micro-adventures. I can’t actually remember ever doing any hiking with a backpack in my life – I’m sure there must have been occasions but as my childhood was spared D of E Awards or Outward Bound type activities, its something of a new experience. Today I broke out the backpack (which last saw service on a round-the-world trip via New Zealand and Australia in 2002/3) and stuffed in a few clothes. A rough weighing suggested that this was no more than about 6-8 kilos, so not really a challenge, but its good to start somewhere.

I picked out part of the Two Moors Way, a walking route that takes in both Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks in the South-West of the UK. In 2010 I did a on-road variation of the Two Moors Way with Alan on our touring bikes. I was interested at the time in doing an off-road version, but at that point didn’t have a mountain bike, and was also put off by the fact that once south of Exmoor, much of the route is on footpaths rather than bridleways. Today was a chance to survey part of the route on Exmoor to see if biking it would be practical.

We set off out of Withypool on a footpath leading to the picturesque Landacre Bridge. Fairly wet in places, but not really a problem on foot. Not somewhere for cycles though. At Landacre, we should have taken the road to join up with the Two Moors Way, our intention was to walk as far as Simonsbath if going was good enough. We foolishly decided to walk on the wrong side of the River Barle, hoping to be able to skip the roadwork, but unfortunately came across a gateway clearly marked as private, and some very boggy ground and a stream that was going to prevent further progress. Without a backtracking of a couple of miles, we weren’t going to reacquire the Two Moors Way easily.

So we change plan, and walked out in the direction of North Molton for a mile or so, then picked up a bridleway that led across Sherdon Water, and out over Horsen Hill, before dropping down to the Ford next to Cow Castle, thus rejoining the Two Moors Way. By this time it was about 3:30pm, and so the light was starting to fade, so we couldn’t contemplate walking any further out towards Simonsbath, and so turned back towards Withypool. This stretch of the Two Moors is bridleway, and perfectly navigable by Mountain Bike, as evidenced by the fresh tyre tracks. It would be pretty wet going at the best of times, and the long drag onto the hill above Landacre will certainly take it out of you if heading in the North to South direction. But I’m sure theres plenty of other places that will even things out. What goes up must come down as they say!

We finally got back to Withypool just as the light was failing, and a quick tot up of the route shows that we did about 12 miles, which wasn’t too bad going. I now have stiff shoulders from carrying the pack, so will need to practice more with that, but then I usually get stiff shoulders when walking longer distances anyway, so may not be entirely down to the pack. Must get myself some new walking boots as well, the current ones are starting to perish and have let a little water in from glouping through the mud. Not to mention the fact that they’ve squeaked all the time I’ve owned them (15 years), so its probably about time. Time to start writing to Santa to see if he can help out with new acquisitions!

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