It’s so rare that I have the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend off that we really wanted to do something with it, but what? Where could we go in a country full of people unable to go abroad for a holiday on account of it being literally illegal? We thought about Dartmoor but we figured every wild camper in the south would have the same idea, so we eventually settled on the most obscure circular three day walk we could find; the West Deane Way, starting and finishing in Taunton.
Right then. Saturday morning, we were on the road by 4am because we considered that less painful than doing battle with bank holiday Friday traffic. That meant getting up and out of the door as quickly as possible, no tea related brain fuel, no breakfast. We grabbed our shit and went. My stomach contemplated mutiny. We did, however, stop at services to finish off last night’s pizza. You can’t buy class like this, you just have to be born with it. We eventually rolled into Taunton which was still, quite rightly, a ghost town, found the car park we were aiming for and parked up. £16.40 for three days parking. Nice. You barely get three hours for that in Brighton.
We started walking not long after 8am and made our way to where we thought the start might be but there was literally nothing to indicate that the trail even existed. No fanfare, no monument, not even a little signpost. So we chose the bridge over the River Tone as the honorary start/end, took a selfie and off we went. Predictably, we were stomping through the suburbs of Taunton, through alleyways full of graffiti, and we were over a mile in when we found our first waymark. Okay, cool, we weren’t imagining shit, or hallucinating the GPX file I’d uploaded to Maps.Me. The West Deane Way is a real thing that exists.
This walk, it seems, manages to completely avoid civilisation. It’s amazing. There was quite a bit of road walking today, and we passed through tiny villages and hamlets that had maybe a church but nothing else, not even a pub which I think is actually heresy, and more farms than I knew could exist in one place. Maybe it’s a Somerset thing. In Sussex you’re more likely to find yourself wandering through a golf course, dodging tiny white balls belted across a vast waste of space by humans in very particular clothing. None of that here. Even the roads were quiet, and the drivers were considerate. We didn’t nearly get mown down by a Landrover once. The farms are largely arable too which is nice because crops don’t have a tendency to look at you funny whilst mooing aggressively.
Considering it was a bank holiday Saturday there were hardly any people about either, it was weird. A nice weird though, I mean, this is kind of why we went for a smaller trail but we did expect to see a lot of local dog walkers. We wondered if a zombie apocalypse had occurred but the few people we did meet were lovely and said hello and didn’t try to eat our brains so I guess this is just a quiet part of the country. I like this. I like this a lot. Everyone is so friendly and if I had a quid for everyone who cheerfully commented that we looked like we were going on a big adventure I’d have… yeah probably just two quid. I do like a friendly chat with complete strangers though.
So there were lots of roads, and lots of fields. At one point we had to walk through a field of literal shit. It was fucking awful, it felt like it took forever too. Like, we could see the out-hole but it was like we’d died and this was our hell-loop, doomed to walk through a shit-field for eternity. Of course there were cows. They’re very starey aren’t they. They all glare at you like you just walked into their local and asked for directions to the nearest steak house. Every hiker has their way of dealing with cows; some boldly walk through, some will add about seventeen miles onto their route just to get around them. My preferred technique is to vocally panic and push the mrs in front of me to deal with the demon-beef threat.
The stiles are epic in these parts too, I’m not even shitting you, they’re designed for tall people with long legs, not average sized lesbians carrying way too much weight who really need to reevaluate their kit and maybe their lives. There are a metric shit tonne of them too, today was definitely a leg day. Somerset is lovely though, I can’t get over how we walked 18 miles and basically remained in bum fuck nowhere the whole time. The views, when we had them, were incredible, but the road walking got quite tedious.
We sat down in a field for some lunch at around 11.30, and we’re experimenting with peanut butter wraps. I’m not sure how much peanut butter is considered appropriate but it probably wasn’t the half a jar I ate. I’ll be scraping that shit off the roof of my mouth for days. They seemed to do the job though, it just doesn’t feel like enough food to me, y’know? But then I’m a greedy bastard. You could present me with a King’s banquet and seriously wonder if there’d be enough food for seconds. I’m just not great at thinking of things to take for food whilst multi-day hiking though. I wish I was that person who could power on, fueled by cereal bars and grim determination. I can’t do it though, I’m a food-led human, and cereal bars are a snack, not a meal.
After lunch we packed up and carried on as the wind picked up a bit. Mind you, the weather wasn’t half as awful as we thought it’d be, we were expecting rain this weekend but we got off lightly today. At one point it did start so we got kitted up, walked maybe a mile before the sun came out and we had to strip off again because we were melting. After that we had blue skies and sunshine to one side and black clouds and rain to the other. Cold in the shade, hot in the sun, we were never going to get our layering right but at least the rain stayed away, taunting us from a distance.
So it’s not a particularly mind blowing trail, but it’s exactly what we were wanting; a countryside stroll without hoardes of humans. When it came to finding somewhere to camp though, we were a bit nervous. It’s all farmland and farmers don’t like wild campers, particularly right now with the scores of dickheads rampaging through the country, leaving shit everywhere and lighting fires. Plus it’s lambing season so we definitely didn’t want to upset the sheep. After Tolland we started looking. We knew there was some woodland just before Brompton Ralph so we earmarked that but if it wasn’t suitable then we’d have to commit to the extra two miles through the village.
I did not want to commit to two more miles. My feet did not want to commit to two more miles. My entire being would rather fight a badger than commit to another two miles. We really hoped we could find a place, and when we rocked up we were greeted with a sign saying people using the facilities did so at their own risk, with the owner accepting no liability. Okay… so… is this basically… permission? I left Tarrant with the bags and went for a recce. There was a lake and a couple of picnic tables, so we figured we’d have some food and decide what to do. I think better when I’ve applied edible objects to my facehole.
After I’d shovelled rehydrated carbs into my chops I took a wander right to the boundary of the property and there was a perfect, flat, grassy patch of land, just begging for a tent to be pitched. Amazing. Out of sight of everything, way off the trail, flanked by arable fields on two sides and sheep on the third. This would do. We’d be packed up by sunrise anyway, they wouldn’t even know we’d been here. We pitched up, chilled and sipped brandy from hip flasks because we’re of an age now where we consider neat brandy an acceptable bedtime tipple, before settling in for the night. A good start to the Bank Holiday weekend I reckon. At least it will be if we make it out tomorrow without being shot at by an angry landowner.
Taunton to Brompton Ralph, Somerset, England
Stayed at: Wild camped on some land just before Brompton Ralph
Activity: Walking the West Deane Way
Useful shit to know…
– Kilkenny Car Park is right by the train station, just over half a mile from the trail. You can use the Pay By Phone app to buy up to six days parking. Sundays are free though so we only paid £16.40 for Saturday and Monday. The location code is 801858.
– There are toilets in the train station on the platforms. When we arrived on Saturday morning the barriers were up so we let ourselves in through the entrance next to the car park. When we got back on Monday we walked around to the front and asked the staff if we could use the toilets and they kindly let us in.
– Once we were out of Taunton there was nowhere to buy water on day one. The one pub we passed in West Bagborough was closed. Unless you can time your journey for when the Rising Sun Inn is open you might want to carry some way of purifying or filtering water from the various streams you’ll cross. I believe there’s also a pub slightly off the trail in Kingston On Mary, called The Swan, but we didn’t look for it.