Hike along memory lane needs a pub at the end
Another week, another snowfall – at the time of writing my cottage is still bounded in the white stuff and I haven't been able to leave the valley for days.
However, all is not lost because this neck of the beautiful woods is arguably richer in walks than almost any other in the region. Moreover, a friend of mine called by and said he was going to the neighbouring village of Luxborough in his four-wheel drive truck – so a few of us grabbed our warmest walking gear and set off with him for the high hills.
Luxborough really does offer some of the best walking country in the South West. It also used to boast one of the best pubs in the region – and I know for a fact that a great many readers will be saddened to hear that it has closed. For how long, I don't know – but I cannot believe this classic, ancient, thatched pub can possibly be shut for good.
Anyway, when it comes to hiking at Luxborough you are spoilt for choice. The three-part community – consisting of Kingsbridge, Pooltown and Churchtown – is surrounded by forests and hills. But Kingsbridge (where the pub is) is as good a place as any to start and finish because there's a car park situated nearby just beside the impressively large village hall.
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In the snow I decided to go up through Chargot Wood so I could catch a glimpse of my old home. To do this I followed the lane due south from the hall to Pooltown and then swung right up the steep road that's marked Dunster. After about 400 metres, a track descends left off the road, just opposite Hall Farm. This leads down through some trees, over a stream, past an attractive cottage and then swings due west to ascend gently through some delightful meadows. On the map you'll see some small lakes marked, but you won't see much of them, they silted up years ago.
High above, to the north, on a shelf on the side of the hill, you'll see splendid old Chargot nestling beneath its giant cedar tree. That's the house where I was lucky enough to live for over a decade. I first resided in a flat there when it belonged to the late Sir Edward Malet – and he and I had a crazy plan to return the lakes to their former glory. He'd told me they had once been 12ft deep and contained the most glorious trout. But I went off the idea when he said he intended blasting the silt with explosives.
Dear old Ned had some funny ideas. He was a remarkable man and I recall long evenings when we'd sit over immense tumblers of whiskey and he'd tell me all manner of Boy's Own-type tale of things like taking off from the River Nile in a flying boat. He died eventually of old age, and then I lived in the main house. A decade of decadence, debauchery and fun.
Time passes, and we – the humble walkers – must also pass on, into the mighty hills that make up the high Brendon escarpment. The track continues on into the deep coombe marked on the map as Chargot Wood. The thing to do is take the first forestry track on the right which turns back on itself to climb the slope westwards toward Collyhill Wood.
We are now high up on Kennisham Hill, and it's worth mentioning that this entire area was riddled with iron mines a century or more ago. You may have managed to catch a glimpse of an old chimney stack high above Chargot Wood – it's more-or-less the only obvious evidence left that any of this huge industry ever existed.
Lype Common lies just to the west of Kennisham and you'll notice that this area is criss-crossed with public rights of way. Here we can either head west to eventually hit the Heath Poult Cross and Timberscombe road, or descend due north to find the track that crosses directly to Luxborough's Churchtown. If you do the former, you're in for a longer walk – a truly enjoyable one that takes you down to the road, right for a hundred metres, and then down the footpath to Old Stowey, before turning east along the bottom of the valley, past Throat Cottages – to Westcott Farm.
In the deep snow we took the latter route and followed the right of way, descending due north into the valley before making the short climb up to Churchtown. Once again, I found myself moved by memories as I entered the little graveyard that surrounds the St Mary's Church with its saddleback tower.
Three of my old friends lie here in this quiet, unspoilt, resting place – Sir Edward, a man called George who was something big in the world of clandestine intelligence – and an academic Mike who, years ago, left in his will £500 behind the bar of the Royal Oak to be spent on a party of a wake. He even instructed that a jazz-band was to be hired for the occasion. Very soon my recently deceased great aunt will be there too.
By turning left, or west, at the church, we walked a few hundred yards up the lane to find the footpath that heads north across three fields to eventually arrive at a wide track. If we turn right here we can make the gentle climb to yet more vast pinewoods – this time we enter the great plantations which crown massive Croydon Hill.
This is an exciting and fruitful walking zone in its own right – you could spend a week hiking in and around Croydon Hill and never really have to take the same route twice.
On this occasion we are merely skirting its south eastern edge by striding up the higher flanks of Perley Coombe. Keep to your right all the time and after half an hour's walking you will arrive at a crossroads of tracks on the edge of Withypool Common.
It's worth walking out on the higher track which bounds this common as you will be treated to a vast panorama of the Bristol Channel and the lower coastal zone of West Somerset, but our walk requires us to turn sharp right at the crossroads and begin our descent down the eastern edge of Perley Coombe.
Down, down, down we go – once again on the border between pine-forest and fields – to eventually arrive at what used to be the Forestry Commission's local headquarters. From here it's simply a matter of walking 100 yards down the lane and turning right to stroll the last quarter of a mile back to the Kingsbridge part of Luxborough and the sadly closed pub.
A quick glance at the map will show you how you could extend, shorten, or alter this walk in a hundred different ways – so rich is the area in footpaths and bridleways. But this circumnavigation of the village is beautiful enough – and it certainly provided me with enough sentiment to choke half-a-dozen Memory Lanes.
To be honest, I was more likely to choke with exhaustion having walked through all that snow – and I could have murdered a drink in what used to be my favourite pub.