Barnstaple to Oxford, 27 June to 6 July 2004
At Barnstaple I left the South West Coast Path, and followed the Macmillan Way West inland. Away from the coast, accommodation was harder to find, and I had to change my planned route to be sure of a bed for the night. I made my way across fields to Bratton Fleming, then by lanes up onto Exmoor and into Somerset. That night I stayed in a hotel at Simonsbath.
Next day I crossed Exmoor, wild and high country with views across the Bristol Channel to Wales. I stayed at Minehead youth hostel, my first night in a YH for more than 30 years. Day 15 took me across the fields to Sampford Brett. The next day was a cracker, along the spine of the Quantocks, with views for miles and red deer and ponies for company. But I managed to get lost in a wood coming off the hills, and then had a long, long slog to a bed in a guest house on the A38 at North Petherton.
Day 17 was a complete contrast, across the Somerset levels - big skies and distant views of ancient church towers. It was good to have lunch with my sister and her husband, who live in that part of the world. The B&B that night was at Knole, near Long Sutton. Next day was one of those not so great days - badly signed footpaths kept disappearing into muddy fields, it was wet, and I could find nowhere to stay near Bruton, my target destination for the night (something to do with end of term at the local public school). Eventually a B&B at Charlton Musgrove came up trumps, which meant an extra long day, made longer by a detour to avoid a field with a bull in it, just when I was almost there.
Day 19 took me quite suddenly from the lush green meadows of Somerset to the wide open downs of Wiltshire, with Alfred's Tower to mark the boundary. I got a soaking on Long Knoll, recovered in the pub at Maiden Bradley, then had a fine afternoon past Longleat (no lions in sight, but plenty of other exotic animals). I met Susan that evening in Westbury.
Next morning I joined the Sunday kite-fliers at the Westbury White Horse, then made my way east along the Wessex Ridgeway. Dire warnings from the MoD promised death and destruction if I strayed off the path to the south. At Erlestoke I came down from Salisbury Plain and crossed the fields to Devizes. Three times in as many miles I was shown the proper path with great courtesy by local residents. I was always impressed by the friendliness of the farming community - never once in my trip did I find any animosity from them towards walkers.
I stayed that night in a B&B in Devizes. I had been to Devizes several times before, but never before explored it on foot. I was impressed - the town seems to have adapted itself to modern life without losing any of its old world charm.
Day 21, back on the Wessex Ridgeway, was a fine sunny morning, one of those days when you can see for miles. After tea at the Avebury stone circle the Ridgeway took me to a B&B at Chiseldon. Then one very long day home to Oxford - along the Ridgeway to Uffington Castle, across the Vale of White Horse and a few miles of the Thames Path. I walked up the field at the back of the house into our garden at 10.30 that night - a 31 mile day.