Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Backpackers Exmoor weekend

Quite a way to go but the forecast was good and, sometimes, you just have to get out. Starting from Porlock, I went up Doverhay, the lane next to a car park off the main street, through woodland and then across Doverhay Down to a lane which led west down to Pool Bridge campsite where I met up with my companions for the weekend. Most had already been backpacking for a couple of days.

My tarp is on the right of the photo above. There was no pub nearby so we all turned in quite early.

Next morning, a group of us set off along the track that goes west above the campsite, down to Lucott Cross, by Larkbarrow (where we stopped for lunch). We had been planning to camp overnight at Hoar Oak but it was thought to be boggy so we headed for Farley Water where we found a very nice pitch next to running water.

 Next morning, we joined the Two Moors Way up to Cheriton, then aiming for the cafe at Watersmeet for second breakfast. Following then the path by the East Lyn River, we stopped for refreshment at the Rockford Inn at Rockford. At Brendon, I parted company with the others and took the path through access land to County Gate, taking the bridleway across the road going east, shortly afterwards joining the inland South West Coast Path, passing by Culbone Church, eventually reaching Porlock Weir.

The Bottom Ship pub was open so I downed some excellent fish and chips and a pint of Exmoor bitter. I then headed off to find somewhere to spend the night. There was no-one about and I found a good pitch between Porlock Weir and Porlock.

Going out of Porlock, I was filling my water belt with water from a stream when a fellow passing by warned me off the water (although I would have filtered it). He lived nearby so invited me into his house for tap water  and also a glass of squash, which was very welcome. Trail magic like this is always welcome. He (Damien Crossland) showed me some of the items he makes as a wood turner so let's give him a plug at www.taxusturn.co.uk

A breakfast and coffee stop
From there I followed the Coleridge Way to Webbers Post and then the Dunster Path to Brockwell and Wootton Courtenay, stopping for lunch in a field where I was approached by a very tame pheasant of a type I'd not seen before. I later identified it as a Reeves's pheasant.

Through Timberscombe, I went through woodland to Dunster where I spent some time in a tearoom enjoying a cream tea, watching the world go by. Had a look round the Rohan outlet shop and then took the Macmillan Way West and then into Minehead via a bridleway, on the way coming to the rescue of a lady and her young son. They were staying at the nearby youth hostel and some time earlier had come out for a walk without a map or compass and hadn't a clue where they were. The light was fading and, to be honest, I struggled to find the YH, there being so many paths in the woods here. However, we eventually found the YH and I felt a great sense of relief!

Ortlieb water belt

I tend not to drink enough water when backpacking, mainly because I just fill a bottle and make it last between refills which may be few and far between. I suspect that dehydration is the cause of night time leg cramps which I tend to suffer from quite often when backpacking.  If only water wasn't so heavy. I recall a day on a Lakeland to Lindisfarne hike (remembered for three days and nights of non-stop rain) when there was a dry stretch from Wooler to St. Cuthbert's Cave where we intended to pitch that night. I carried two litres of water for the whole of the day. That was an extra 4.5 lbs on my back which was no joke. If only water wasn't so heavy. Well, now it isn't! A recently acquired piece of kit is a water belt made by Ortlieb. It holds two litres and straps round the waist with adjustable straps and a plastic buckle. On its own it is used just to carry water but an optional extra is a Source drinking tube so water can be drunk whilst on the move without having to stop to take a bottle out of a side pocket of a backpack. The tube is easily fitted by removing part of the valve fitting from the water belt and replacing it by a screw fitting at one end of the tube. At the other end of the tube is a lockable bite-valve. This is twisted a half turn to turn the flow on and off. There is a cap attached to a cord to cover the bite-valve.

I'm not sure whether the belt is supposed to be worn on the back or the front. I've tried both but have settled for the front. I tighten the belt buckles gradually as the belt empties. The 33 inch long water tube was actually longer than I needed and I have shortened it.

For the first few days of use, the water had a pronounced plastic/rubber taste but this has disappeared now. My first use of the belt was on the South Downs Way where water is scarce, with the exception of water taps every few miles which are invaluable. I filled up at each of these and, the weight of the water being round my waist, rather than my back, I never noticed the weight. I've often wished for dehydrated water to save weight. The Ortlieb water belt is better and is now an essential piece of kit for me. I tend to carry two litres now as a matter of course. I have used it with river water plus chlorine tablets. It was fine, apart from the chlorine taste, but it needed rinsing out several times to fully get rid of the taste. Latterly, I've filled it with, say, river or stream water, attached a Sawyer mini filter and drunk from it. As opposed to, say, carrying a filled roll-up water container, it's not so obvious that one is looking to discreetly wild camp somewhere.

I should say that I use a pack without a hip belt and so the Ortlieb water belt is comfortable. I've tried it with a pack with a hip belt and it's no problem. They don't clash but it may not be the same with all other packs. It depends very much on the individual.

Price – the best price I found (from Ghyllside Cycles of Ambleside) were for the water belt £16.65 and for the optional drinking tube £13.50. I bought these items with my own money.