Walking in Exmoor: Wildlife, Wales and welcoming inns
PUBLISHED: 12:58 01 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:29 01 July 2019
Two delightful villages on the edge of Exmoor offer a warm welcome to walkers, as Simone Stanbrook-Byrne discovers
Footpaths linking villages always make for an enjoyable walk. Add in a couple of inns, fabulous views, wildlife and the possibility of open gardens and you're all set for a great day out.
Both Stogumber and Monksilver are deeply historic villages with a wealth of fine old houses at their hearts, as well as their churches.
Look out for the ancient stone mounting block near the High Street junction in Stogumber, a relic of the pre-car era.
At the furthest point the walk arrives in Monksilver, meaning 'Monks' Wood, where the church boasts many notable features. Its majestic yew tree is thought to have been planted in the late 18th century. The church also has water available for thirsty walkers!
Grab your boots, pick a clear day to make the most of the views and off you go.
1. With your back to the church, and the pub and shop in front, turn left downhill, passing the Old Vicarage and Seven Crosses House on your left. At the junction turn right on the road for Bicknoller and Williton (note mounting block). Within 100m look for the lane on the left, The Orchard, along which a fingerpost points the way to Monksilver and Williton. Take this track, walking downhill past houses, then continue along a narrow, hedged footpath, still downhill. The path bends and reaches a slithery stile near a weeping willow; cross this, swiftly followed by another as the path crosses a stream. After the second stile keep ahead beside the left-hand fence, heading towards another stile tucked into the opposite hedge about 50m away. Ascend steps to this rather chewed-up stile and once in the next field walk straight across as indicated by the yellow arrow, climbing to a gate in 200m. Pause to look around: the Quantock Hills are behind you.
2. When you reach the gate you find three arrows. (Remember this gate, you will be back here later.) Go through and bear right, following the line of the right-hand boundary with a copse to the right. As the boundary bends slightly right in just over 100m, go right with it, still walking with the hedge on your right (the OS maps shows the path on the other side of the hedge but that isn't what happens on the ground). The buildings of Escott Farm and its pond are below.
Pass through a muddy gateway and continue downhill in the same direction, crossing a small stream then walking uphill to a gate out of the field.
Cross the lane and join the signed footpath opposite, ascending steps to cross another stile. Bear left after the stile and follow the left-hand field boundary (don't go through the gap on the left into the adjacent field, stay in the field you entered from the stile).
The path climbs gently, the Quantocks still behind you.
3. At the end of the field a stile leads beneath trees. Yellow arrows direct through the woodland; you may spot a small pond to the right. Cross another stile, go round a corner then turn right, as the arrows direct, slithering down to a hoppable stream. Scramble up the opposite bank then bear slightly left through the trees to a stile. Amongst these trees we had a lovely view of roe deer.
Cross the stile and follow the right-hand arrow, walking along the line of an overgrown fence. The trees end as the path enters a large field with arrows on the gatepost. Walk across the field; the buildings of Rowdon Farm can be seen over to the right and ahead you will glimpse a house with solar panels on its roof.
At the far side of the field pass through an arrowed gateway then follow the path through the field (the path was flanked by temporary fencing when we were here). Keep going; there is a lake to the right, well-populated with water birds - we spotted a little grebe.
You reach a surfaced farm drive in front of the house with the solar panels. Turn right, heading towards Rowdon Farm. Pass the farmhouse on your left; there is a beautiful view along the lake to your right, towards the Quantocks.
Keep going between stone barns and about 50m from the farmhouse a yellow-arrowed post directs very slightly left (it's almost straight ahead), between corrugated barns. Attached to the far barn on the left, another yellow arrow points sharp left. Follow this, keeping the barn to your left. Follow the grassy path through a boundary, beyond which you see a tennis court on the left.
4. The path bends right and another arrow directs ahead, hedge to your left as you walk uphill through the field, reaching an arrowed stile in just over 100m. Admire the view behind, cross the stile then go left through the hedge into another field where there is an old cob barn on the left.
Follow the left-hand hedge through this field, passing the barn - there is also a weathered stone barn over the left-hedge.
At the end of the field leave through a gate and turn left on the lane. Keep ahead at the junction in 160m; Monksilver is ¼ mile away. At the T-junction go left heading down into the village and the welcoming embrace of The Notley Arms where we had a delicious lunch. At the far end of its car park a gate accesses the church which is worth exploring: look for the carving on the outside wall depicting an early sufferer of toothache.
5. From the pub continue through the village to the junction in about 100m. Here, by a three-way fingerpost, go left along the road towards Nether Stowey - this direction is signed with a quill denoting the Coleridge Way, a long-distance path dedicated to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who once lived hereabouts.
Follow the road until, in 130m and just after a house on the left called The Grange, the main road bends right. Keep straight ahead here along the road for Stogumber and the EMN Community Hall. A few swift metres from the junction go left off the road heading up to a yellow-arrowed footpath gate, still on the Coleridge Way. Enter the field and go right, uphill along the right-hand boundary.
In the field corner pass through the gate and continue as before through the next field. In the top corner glance behind for a farewell view of Monksilver then pass into a third field. The Quantocks are now in front; to the left you can see the old barns that you passed earlier and South Wales is across the sea in the far distance.
At the end of the field leave through a gate and drop down to the ancient sunken Combecross Lane. Turn right, leaving the Coleridge Way, and follow this track for 400m until you pass barns on the right. Combecross Lane emerges at farm tracks; keep ahead to find a footpath on the left within 50m.
6. Go through the arrowed gate and walk through the field, following the right-hand hedge. At the bottom, with a copse ahead, bear left for a few metres to find an arrowed track leading out of the field.
Keep ahead on the track through the trees - the footpath actually follows the left hedge but this way is overgrown and the track soon swings left to meet the hedge. Follow it, walking towards a big view and emerging into a field where lots of young trees are flourishing. Keep ahead to the obvious gate, beyond which is a well-placed bench. Keep going along the left-hand hedge, down through a very long field; the chimneys of Catford Cottage (spellings vary!) down to the right.
Leave the field and turn right along the road, soon passing Catford Cottage and keeping right at the junction towards Stogumber. Follow the road for 350m, where you reach a yellow-arrowed gate on the left. Go through and walk diagonally right across it towards a gateway - which you will recognise.
From the gate you are now retracing, but a walk reversed is a different walk and this is more pastoral than walking along the road.
Go through the gate, crossing the field you traversed earlier, aiming towards the pointed gable of a cream-painted house. The church tower beckons. This leads to the tricky style. Cross here, then back across to the stiles beneath the weeping willow. Follow the path beyond back into the village and your car.
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne is the author, with James Clancy, of 'A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Somerset' and other walking guides for the West Country.
Directions to start: Stogumber is about 15 miles north-west of Taunton and can be accessed along minor roads from the A358
Start point and parking: Park on-road in Stogumber near shop, church and pub (please exercise consideration for residents). Nearby postcode: TA4 3TA. Grid ref: ST098373
Distance: 4.5 miles / 7km
Map: OS Explorer OL9 Exmoor 1:25 000
Exertion: Moderate: some ups and downs although nothing horribly strenuous
Terrain: Field and woodland paths/tracks - potentially muddy and an easy scramble across a stream at one point. Some lane walking. When wet the stiles can be extremely treacherous - please be careful
Dog friendliness: Stiles not always easy so your canine will need to be agile (or easy to lift). Animals grazing. The Notley Arms in Monksilver welcomes dogs.
Facilities and refreshments: The Notley Arms, Monksilver, TA4 4JB (01984 656095); The White Horse Inn, Stogumber, TA4 3TA (01984 656277). Village shop in Stogumber for chocolate supplies.