So here’s a fun fact about sheep: Sheep cough like humans so obviously that’s great fun when you’re settling down for the night in your illegally pitched tent next to a field full of the fluffy little bastards. I slept on and off last night. I’d get to sleep no problem but then I’d wake up to think about how cold I was before shifting around a bit and going back to sleep. We know our gear is comfortable down to 4°C, that’s the coldest we’ve tested it to anyway and last night it got to 1.8°C but I had plenty more layers to add if needed so I wasn’t like I was going to die of hypothermia and they’d have to pry my journal detailing my last moments from my frozen hands. I was just too lazy to actually put any of them on.
We woke up early and packed away as the sun rose before plonking ourselves down on the frosty ground and enjoying noodles and frankfurter for breakfast. Breakfast of champions. And people who have no imagination when it comes to hiking food. We felt pretty safe and out of sight so we didn’t get going until 7am and eventually we shuffled into Wiveliscombe where I hoped their public bogs were open. They were. Yay, I wouldn’t have to shit in a hole! Obviously it’d be rude not to relieve the Co-op of a couple of Red Bulls whilst we were here. I put a face mask on and joined the queue of people waiting to get in.
A woman struck up a conversation with me about where we were headed and she knows the West Deane Way.
“Have you mostly come through fields?” she asked. I told her yes, we’d never seen so many farms before. “It gets much better from now on,” she assured us. Turns out by “much better” she meant something like “the vast rewards your eye holes reap today will be paid for dearly by your poor, poor legs.” The climb out of Wiveliscombe was utterly fucking brutal, followed by a more shallow ascent that didn’t seem to want to give up. It felt like if we climbed any further we’d start needing oxygen. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. So. Many. Hills. We spent a large portion of the day listening to our hearts making a break for freedom through our ribcage. You know when you can hear your heart pounding so loudly you’re convinced they can hear it in the next county? Yeah. That. I have no idea how we walked up so many bastard hills and didn’t end up in the clouds.
She wasn’t wrong though, after the endless fields and farms of yesterday the stunning views of the hills were a welcome relief. We descended into woodland and followed the River Tone for some way, sometimes by the river, sometimes hiking up hills so it was several metres below us. It was a lovely walk for many miles despite the relentless ups and downs. We didn’t walk through many villages, but huge houses were nestled in the woods, no neighbours for god knows how far. There’s money around these parts.
Despite the ups and downs of the terrain the woods were very enjoyable. We stopped halfway up a particularly horrific ascent to have some lunch next to these huge towers which used to carry a railway across the valley. They were amazing. We probably distracted the few others we saw from the towers with our gross feet though, we’re getting into the habit of airing them out at lunch. It’s nice to release the feet for half an hour, let the air get to them, the wind blowing through your toe hair. I’m finally happy with my current footwear setup too, I’ve ditched Gore-Tex in favour of Invo-8 trail runners with Drymax socks, and Sealskinz if it’s wet or boggy. It takes the stress out of trying to stop water getting inside your shoes, because it doesn’t matter if it does. In fact, it probably will, but this combo dries a lot quicker than Gore-Tex, especially the Drymax socks. I don’t know how they work so well, it’s clearly some manner of sorcery.
Eventually though we did end up back on a road, slogging our way upwards, no end in sight. It’s really hard on your feet, especially carrying weight. We’ve carried similar weight similar distances in the past but we’d not generally just come out of a long, cold, dark lockdown, drinking far too much beer whilst having humans on scooters deliver food to our door three times a week. We’re out of shape. I’ve got the benefit of being a postie but Tarrant pretty much did couch to a metric crap tonne of miles with 13.5kgs strapped to her back. We need to work out a way to shave weight, or get fitter, or probably both to be fair if we want to fulfil our Eastbourne to Lands End to John O Groats dream next year.
To add insult to injury, it started to piss it down. Wonderful. We weighed up the options of carrying on as it didn’t look like the sky was hell bent on drowning us, or stopping to get kitted up in waterproofs. We opted for the former, convinced it’d stop soon. It got worse. We sheltered under a tree by the side of the mercifully quiet road and gazed longingly at the blue sky over yonder. Thing is, it did ease off enough for us to get going again but it kept getting heavier as we walked. Were we just catching this shit up? We decided to stop for several minutes to give the weather a chance to get ahead of us before we continued our road slog upwards.
The hills didn’t really give up after that and when we weren’t stumbling up and down epic hills on the tarmac we were back on farmland, hoisting ourselves over those ridiculous stiles. Are Somerset folk all really fucking tall or something? We were tired, but we wanted a short walk tomorrow as we had to drive back to Brighton that afternoon too. We decided to start looking for somewhere after Runnington but the woods we were eyeing up were completely fenced off and even if they weren’t, they were too dense. I think by this point if my feet were sentient they’d be demanding a divorce.
We saw a few potential precarious in-a-pinch spots but it was way too early for that sort of shenanigans so we carried on through Tonedale to some woods. I had a good feeling about these woods, I left Tarrant with the bags and headed in. There were trails everywhere, and where there weren’t trails there were bluebells and bluebell trampling is a very firm no-no. I made my way to the back by the fence line away from the trail, and bingo! Someone obviously used this spot, they’d built a shelter from sticks and there was a fire pit but with the shit weather moving in our direction then surely we’d be fine, right? If this were Brighton it’d be strewn with beer cans and broken bottles and the occasional needle. I definitely prefer Somerset.
We weren’t far out of town so we figured we’d just chill and eat some dinner whilst waiting for the sun to set before we pitched, and you know what else was having a feast? Fucking midges. It’s not like we forgot to bring DEET, it’s just we never even had that conversation. It didn’t even occur to us that we might need it. All we could do was cover as much exposed flesh as possible until they got bored and wandered off, or it got late enough to get the tent up. Bitey little shits they are, bet they couldn’t believe their luck when two bags full of blood showed up.
Once the firey skyball did the sinking thing we pitched, a few metres away from our original site as it was more shielded from the trail, and we weren’t long out of bed. Probably should have stretched our poor, abused muscles out first though. In fact yeah, definitely should have stretched first.
Brompton Ralph to Wellington, Somerset, England
Stayed at: Wild camped in some woods just past Tonedale
Activity: Walking the West Deane Way.
Useful shit to know…
– Wiveliscombe isn’t far off the trail at all and has public toilets and a Co-op.
– I think there is a shop in Wellington too, which Tonedale appears to be a part of. We didn’t go there though.
– There are plenty of places to access the river for filtering water, including one which I’ve pin-dropped on the main map on the West Deane Way front page which would have been a really nice place to chill if we’d had time.