Walk: Winsford Hill and The Punchbowl, Exmoor
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:41 19 February 2015
A walk of beautiful, contrasting and sometimes mysterious terrain
Terrain: Varied; open moorland to river valleys. Chance of mud! Clear weather conditions needed, map and compass useful
Map: OS Explorer OL9 Exmoor 1:25 000
Dog friendly: Minimal road walking. Refreshment stops welcome dogs
Start point & parking: Village centre. Post code TA24 7JE. Grid ref SS905348
Distance: 5¼ miles / 8½km
Exertion: One long ascent but otherwise moderate
Refreshment & comfort stops: The Royal Oak: 01643 851455; Bridge Cottage Tea Gardens: 01643 851362. Both in Winsford. Public toilets near village centre
Directions to start: Winsford is signed off the A396 Minehead to Tiverton road
Picturesque Winsford sits at the confluence of the young River Exe and Winn Brook and has eight bridges spanning these rivers plus a ford. It also has a rather dramatic neighbour lurking to the west: the Punchbowl. This geological feature was, according to legend, created long, long ago when the devil needed to scoop out a well; he removed the soil and threw it over his shoulder, giving rise to Dunkery Hill. A less fanciful, and possibly more likely, explanation is that it was formed by glacial action during the last ice age. A walk of beautiful, contrasting and sometimes mysterious terrain, savour its secrets.
1. Leave the village centre along the lane towards Withypool and South Molton. At the war memorial go right through the ford (or over the bridge); you’ve passed Bridge Cottage Tea Gardens on your right. Continue ahead on this lane, passing a turning on the right for the church and a couple of footpaths on the right, both of which you ignore. Climb gently with the lane and as the houses lessen you find a footpath going left, about ¼ mile from the village centre. This path is signed to Winsford Hill via Punchbowl, follow it.
A few metres along here you find access on the right to a narrower path. Take this, gardens to your right and a boundary on the left with good views beyond. The path leads into a field; head across, keeping in the same direction with the valley of Winn Brook sloping down to your left. Yellow waymarkers reassure that you’re on the right line. Enter a second field, heading for the more right-hand of two gates and continue to follow yellow arrows through successive fields in a fairly constant direction. In the fifth field you’ll pass a small stone ruin on your left and in the next field you’ll find a clear track winding ahead. Veer very slightly right off this track to go through the more right-hand of two gates. Soon you’ll reach a surfaced farm drive. Here go left to join a blue-waymarked bridleway which runs along this drive heading for Winsford Hill, ¾ mile away.
2. Follow the drive, passing the buildings of Withycombe Farm on your left. Just before a very large barn ahead look out for the clear path markers and turn 90° left to pass between a stone barn and the large barn. The track crosses the brook on a small bridge, beyond which you’ll see a blue arrow on a tree trunk directing you to bear right uphill along a track. Follow this, hedge to your left and the final farm buildings now down to your right. Within 100m of the bridge the track bends left to pass through another gate. Immediately after this turn right and head uphill through the field, fence on your right (although the OS map tells you otherwise!). There’s a good view here into the Punchbowl.
Near the top of the field you pass an old treed boundary heading left down the slope. Just after this go through a gate on the right then turn left to continue uphill, now with the fence on your left; a fingerpost shows you’re still heading for Winsford Hill. You reach a gate onto open moorland and a well-trodden, grassy path continues ahead. Follow it, climbing gently and more views of the Punchbowl will open up to the left. As you get higher spare a glance behind; the vista is thirst-quenching and Dunkery Beacon with its cairn, the highest point on Exmoor, is visible. On a clear day the coast of Wales beyond the Bristol Channel is also in sight.
Stay on this lovely path as it bears left round the head of the Punchbowl. It gets quite close to the edge – please be cautious. As the path rounds the Punchbowl occasional moorland paths come in from the right, continue ahead on the now stony path with the plummeting slope down to your left.
3. Just as you start to go down the far side of the Punchbowl you’ll see a fork in the path near some small trees (grid ref SS881341) the left hand option hugging the rim of the ‘bowl’ and the right hand option heading across the moorland of Winsford Hill. Take the right hand fork, a broad grassy path with occasional rough patches. Eventually the path becomes very worn and earthy and about 650m from the fork it widens into a distinct meeting of ways (grid ref SS887342). Two paths lead on, more or less ahead, a third goes to the right (south east) and a fourth goes right back on yourself. Take the third, south easterly path heading right. Within 400m this leads to a lane with a house called Folly ahead of you. Turn right on the lane for just over 100m to wooden bridleway sign pointing left off the lane. Take this, you’re heading for Winsford via Yellowcombe in 2½ miles. Within 100m of this sign you see a gate on the left where you’re now told that Winsford via Yellowcombe is 1½ miles – the shortest mile on Exmoor you’ll ever walk!
4. Go through the gate and walk ahead on the footpath indicated by the fingerpost, not the bridleway. Within 100m fork left, dropping down towards the stream beneath trees. This is a delightful stretch of walking through ancient mossy woodland. After almost ½ mile the buildings of Halse Farm appear across the stream. Stay with the path, very occasional footpath markers show you’re on the right track through the woods.
5. About ¼ mile from Halse Farm a three-way fingerpost shows a bridleway coming in from the right; the distance on the sign is of dubious accuracy but keep ahead in the same direction, now on the bridleway.
After another 300m you cross the stream and continue with it on your right, soon reaching the astonishingly isolated Yellowcombe Cottage. Beyond the cottage the bridleway splits. Don’t go right over the stile and stream but continue ahead through a gate to join a clear path, leaving the cottage behind you, valley down to your right. Ignore any side paths and eventually you see Winsford ahead in the valley. The path bends left, becoming stony and potentially slippery. When you reach the road turn right to return to the village and well-earned refreshment.
From ‘A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset’ (Stanbrook-Byrne/Clancy)