Section Two - Monksilver to Wheddon Cross - The Coleridge Way
12.5 miles Moderate Grade Walking - what this grade means
Leaving Monksilver, you now enter Exmoor National Park. It is well worth pausing to take the path through the churchyard of the beautiful little 12th century ‘Church of the All Saints’. Built in the local red sandstone and resplendent with its gargoyles, it sits below the first of today's climbs into the little visited Brendon Hills.
The ascent of Bird Hill is steep as you climb another medieval cart trail up through eerie badger and fox filled woods. The rewards at the top are some of the best views of the entire day at Colton Cross and the knowledge you have your first “Brendon” under your belt.
A sharp descent through a hidden hanging coombe brings you to The Roadwater Valley and a new land of dark conifer forested valleys below looming heathland heights.
The Coleridge Way sets a course through the middle of this, entering an exhilarating run on wide forest trails, through the huge dark pines and evergreens of Pitt Wood and then, as you descend further, a change to the leafy avenues of oaks and sycamore plantations now running alongside the route of the Old West Somerset Mineral Line.
The line was built in the 1860’s to run Iron Ore down the valley from the hills and the traces of its tracks and crossings accompany you on the descent into Roadwater Village.
It feels very remote here, and Roadwater itself is a delightful and secluded spot, sitting at the meeting point of two bubbling stream valleys. The Valiant Soldier Pub is on hand to cater for those staying here or provide a welcome rest spot for those continuing to Wheddon Cross.
There are still two more big climbs today between you and your moorland village destination at Wheddon Cross. The first sees you enter the gloomy and imposing Dunster Forest by an old bridleway that climbs from the river valley to the ridge. As well as looking out for deer, also keep an eye out for the spooky remains of the Bronze age 'Langridge Wood Cist' a boulder built burial chamber. Its’ stone slab “coffin lid” is still in place, a 4,000-year-old grave right here in the middle of this dark forest.
This was also the site of the grisly "Felons Oak" where petty thieves and horse rustlers were hung in the tree and left to die, a local deterrent in Coleridge's day to try and discourage the rising lawlessness in the area.
Above the tree line there's more climbing onto the middle Brendon Hills, navigating through upland sheep pasture. Bright yellow gorse flanks The Coleridge Way along rolling ridges that now start to give you the first views of Dunkery Beacon and the highest point on Exmoor National Park. Joining an ancient twisting bridleway, you descend from the hills to the tiny hamlet of Luxborough. Here you can pause at the Royal Oak Inn one of the last real Exmoor Village Inns. The tiny bar, slate floors and huge open fireplace can just about fit in the handful of shooters, gamekeepers and the odd poacher no doubt, sipping steaming mulled wine in respite from the hills. Michelin recommended for its food (not surprisingly featuring locally caught game and fish) this little treasure is very much a hidden secret of the Brendon’s.
It’s hard to leave the Oak, but one must push on, and another ascent is required. Fuelled by mulled wine you climb up on the long pull to Lype Hill and the highest point of The Coleridge Way at 418m. The trig point summit sits on a cluster of Burial Mounds (or Tumului), evidence of habitation up here from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
Lype Hill itself sits on an extensive open area of flat upland and the views are worthy of its height. A 360 degree panorama awaits, stretching from Dartmoor National Park in the far south, through Exmoor to the West, the sea and South West Coast Path ridge to the north and finally back to the Quantocks and Mendip ranges behind you. From here it’s all downhill to Wheddon Cross, through pleasant glades, sheep pastures and finally an ancient track off the moor so old that you follow the deeply rutted trail, the stones literally worn into tramways by centuries of toiling horse and cart traffic on its way to and from the high ground.