TWO MOORS WAY
Stage 5: Morchard Road to Witheridge
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
After a lazy day exploring the city of Exeter and its magnificent cathedral, I caught the train back to Morchard Road to rejoin the Two Moors Way. Ten minutes after alighting from the little train, I was back on the trail, crossing over the railway line on Shobrooke Bridge (picture 1).
Initially, the Way follows a farm track along the top of a large field with views across a shallow valley to Southcott Farm (picture 2). At a walkers' gate beside a cattle grate, a TMW signpost points downhill to the left and the route runs along two sides of another grassy field to a stepped stile over the field boundary in the far corner. In the following field, the Way once again heads for the opposite corner, officially by skirting around the left edge, though a line of trampled grass straight across the middle suggests that many walkers take the more direct route.
Either way, the Two Moors Way turns left through a wooden kissing gate to climb along the left edge of a field just outside a small copse and then follows the right edge of a large sheep pasture divided into two by a wire fence. At the end, the Way bears right along the driveway of Slade Farm but soon bears left at a waymarker post to pass between the farmhouse (picture 3) and a pond.
A short stretch of wire-fenced path takes the Way around the far side of the farmhouse, leading to a wooden gate from which a shady path runs just inside the edge of a wood before emerging into another large grassy field. The Way follows the left edge of the field to join a pleasant green lane (picture 4) that climbs gently to reach Down Hill at the hamlet of Weeke, turning right by Middle Weeke Bungalow.
Fifty metres along Down Hill, a signpost points left along a lane through Middle Weeke Farm (picture 5). The lane degenerates into a farm track before passing Woodgate (picture 6) and then becomes a narrow sunken footpath over the crest of a hill. A gap in the left bank reveals a view across fields to a large cluster of farm buildings at Middlecott (picture 7), but the Two Moors Way stays on the flower-lined footpath as it begins to descend (picture 8).
When the path ends at a gate, the Way bears slightly left down a field to pass through a waymarked gate before continuing in much the same direction, passing under two tall oak trees to reach a signposted left turn up a short track. At the end of the track, the Way bears right through a gate and begins to climb up the margin of a large field that had recently been cut for hay (picture 9).
From the top of the field there are good views back to the high peaks of Dartmoor (picture 10) before the Way joins a fenced path running beside The Parks (picture 11) and across a few small fields to join a driveway leading down to the end of Church Street in the village of Morchard Bishop, adjacent to the London Inn. A few paces off the trail to the left down Fore Street is the village's war memorial (picture 12).
The Two Moors Way continues ahead along Church Street, passing between the London Inn and the Church Street Stores & Cafe, where I called in for an early lunch as the inn was yet to open.
The church in Church Street, dedicated to St Mary (picture 13) is the last building on the right at far the end of the village. Opposite the tall church tower, the Way turns left to cross the carpark of the village pre-school, continuing through a gate and down the edge of a field, with the farm buildings of Wood Barton over to the right and Morchard Wood ahead (picture 14).
Through a kissing gate at the bottom of the field, the Way bears right to follow a line of trampled grass that cuts across the corner of a larger field to a second kissing gate where the path bears right once again to run along the edge of one more field. Nearing the end of the field, the path bears left to head through a gate onto a forestry track in Morchard Wood. The corner of the wood that is traversed by the track had been thinned out by recent forestry operations, with a couple of large piles of logs beside the path waiting to be transported away (picture 15).
Leaving the wood, the Way turns left along Cuckoo Hill, but turns off to the right after only fifty metres. A short track leads into a field, bending around the right edge and then downhill beside a wire fence to cross a wooded gully.
The path climbs up the left side of a rough field then turns through a gate and skirts around the buildings of Lower Brownstone Farm to join a sunken farm drive leading out to a quiet lane.
The Two Moors Way crosses the lane and continues along a shady track past the Orchard End Kennels and Cattery, up the right edge of a meadow and into a second meadow that was carpeted with tiny flowers (picture 17). Through a gate in the far right corner, the Way immediately turns right through another gate and descends diagonally across another meadow.
A footbridge at the bottom takes the walker only part of the way across a muddy gully before the Way climbs a steep slope covered in yellow, white and blue wildflowers. As the path climbs a little less steeply up two more meadows to a ridgetop barn, there are scenic views to the left towards Cann's Mill (picture 18). A gate beside the barn opens onto a track leading down the right edge of a field to a pair of gates on either side of a farm drive.
A notice posted on the signpost here and dated five days before this walk, stated that the route of the Two Moors Way from this point to the next road was to be permanently changed, effective from six days after this walk. The route, which used to go across a gully and then up through the middle of Cobscombe Farm (picture 19), would now turn away on the far side of the gully and skirt around the left side of the farm.
The new route was already signposted, so I followed it. While adding about 250 metres to the old route, this is not a bad change, as the new route has gained a nice view north toward Hele Barton (picture 20). (At the time of writing the Ordnance Survey map has caught up with this change, though users of old guidebooks should beware.)
Through a metal kissing gate, the path descends a steep bank at an angle and turns right along Copstone Hill. A little too enthusiastically, I tried to shortcut straight down the bank and slipped a metre or so, jarring my right knee, which would remain a little sore for the next couple of days. Suitably chastened about taking even small shortcuts, I regathered my dignity after a few minutes and headed a little gingerly along the road toward the village of Black Dog.
Copstone Hill soon heads through Lower Black Dog, where a large building looks like it should be a pub, but isn't (picture 21). Before the lane reaches the main part of the village, where there is a real pub, the Two Moors Way takes a sharp left turn into the driveway of Pyne Farm (picture 22), heading downhill to ford a small stream before climbing past a long stone barn and bearing right along a grassy path through trees to emerge in a field.
The Way is signposted ahead over a ridge and down to a gate below Wonham Farm (picture 23), climbing up the right edge of the next field. Through another gate, the Way aims just to the right of the farm buildings to find a gate beside a barn. Behind the barn, the path goes through a metal gate then turns right to follow a long fence-line towards Washford Wood (picture 24).
When the fence eventually turns away, a waymarker points ahead down a slope to a gate under the edge of Washford Wood, from which a shady path climbs gently through the trees (picture 25) to join a green lane leading out to a road. To the left, the tarmac leads around a bend to the hamlet of Washford Pyne, where the Way turns up a track beside the little Church of St Peter (picture 26). Most of the church, including it's diminutive wooden spire, is Victorian, rebuilt in the 1880s after an earlier medieval structure was destroyed by fire.
Beyond a gate, the path was quite overgrown as it headed through a narrow strip of woodland and down to a footbridge over the infant River Dalch. A steep climb across two paddocks takes the Way up to Stourton Barton (picture 27), where the long farm driveway is followed downhill between ponds (picture 28) and then gently uphill to a lane at a junction beside a row of four large industrial sheds in which unseen machinery hummed loudly.
The Two Moors Way crosses straight over the lane to cross diagonally over two large sheep pastures, aiming for a gate to the left of the farmhouse of Millmoor Farm (picture 29). The short driveway leads to the B3042, where a lane just to the right heads for Woodford Farm. When the lane bends left, the Way goes through a gate on the right to follow a farm track along the edge of a large field where a mature crop of golden wheat was swaying gently in the breeze.
The track continues up the edge of a meadow and through a gate in a stone wall running along the crest of a ridge. Briefly turning right alongside the wall, the Way goes through another gate and turns left down the edge of yet another grassy meadow. In the distance ahead are the hills of Exmoor (picture 30), while the small rural town of Witheridge, my destination for the day, lies over to the right (picture 31).
Two-thirds of the way down the edge of the large field, a waymarker post points half-right and a trail of trampled grass leads down to a small plank bridge. The path of trampled grass then climbs straight up the next three fields to reach a gate at the end of Wiriga Way, a quiet residential street on the edge of Witheridge.
At the far end of the street, a narrow alleyway goes ahead between houses, enclosed by high fences and walls for two hundred metres until it emerges back into the light next to the Witheridge Post Office and Stores on the edge of The Square (picture 32). I left the Two Moors Way here, having covered a modest 15.8 kilometres, and headed over to the Mitre Inn on Church Street for dinner and a pint. I wasn't quite finished walking for the day, however, as I still needed to walk another three kilometres south then east along the B3137 to reach the campsite at West Middlewick Farm.
The knee that I had injured earlier in the day was still slowing me down and I was a little worried that it would get worse once I stopped moving and let it cool. Fortunately I was able to get some ice at the farmhouse and that dulled the throbbing for a while. I also had a compression bandage in my first aid kit, so after pitching my tent in a sheltered corner of the grassy camping field I bandaged my knee and settled in to watch the sunset, hoping that I would heal enough to be able to walk a full day tomorrow.