Enough of the humour, it’s time I got down to the serious job of recounting my Exmoor tale.
The guests were, I’m afraid, disappointing. As annoying as the Lamb Shankers had been, they had inspired so many words and entertained my evenings during my last visit.
I always take a book with me when I dine. It’s not to hide behind, nor even to read. I use it to disguise my nosiness. I’ve perfected the technique of pretending to read when I’m actually listening in on chat. This time I read.
I’d taken an Anita Shreve anthology - a few weeks ago I decided I’d re-read her novels in the order they were published. I was disappointed to find the first one was Eden Close - until I began reading it. Maybe it was Karma, allowing me the chance to read instead of listen?
For the first day of my break, I’d decided to visit the village of Parracombe. I’d driven past the turning several times and today I was going to ‘mirror, signal and manouvre’ my way to its epicentre. Or was I? I missed the turning and ended up at Combe Martin.
I’d briefly visited Combe Martin a few years ago, so perhaps it was time to do it justice? The town looked closed and even the sea was having a break as the tide was out. But this was a great chance to walk on the normally tiny beach and explore the rocks and the pools left by the vacationing tide. I didn’t spot any crabs, but shell things were stuck to the rocks like limpets. A quick check on google reveals them to be just that. You can surely tell I’m not into slimy things at the beach.
The rocks that frame the small cove are very dark and to a geologist, fascinating. The strata is almost vertical, evidence of some heavy movement in Devon’s past. You can surely also tell that I’m not into rocky things either.
But it was a lovely hour or so, just wandering around, prodding things with sticks and then moving on.
Back at the car I checked the map, realised my error and set off back towards Parracombe.
A narrowing lane led into an even narrower main street. I passed a pub and some houses before climbing out of the village. My visit was almost over before it had begun.
Luckily a small car park beckoned me to stay, so I was able to explore on foot. I walked along a narrow main street, passed a pub and some houses before almost climbing out of the village. Parracombe isn’t a tourist hot spot.
A diversion to the pretty church informed me via the information board that I was looking towards Holwell Castle - an ancient fortification that is now no more than a couple of well executed mounds.
So where to now? I could head back to Exford, but my eye was caught by a sign for Exmoor Zoo. A zoo? On Exmoor? I had to go. I wasn’t sure what to expect - animals, probably.
I wasn’t the only visitor, the car park wasn’t full, but it was busy. Clasping my information sheet I set off, ready to explore. Monkeys first. They were housed in monkey houses, joined by overhead passages - allowing them to walk over the visitors, pooping as they went. After a near miss I decided that was taking monkey business too far.
Meerkats did what they’re supposed to and I came away with an excellent insurance deal.
A highlight was the Lemurs. A small group sat in the sun looking very sociable. It was soon clear why - one was nursing two youngsters. Lemurs could be the new Meerkat.
Wolves, panthers, otters and owls - the zoo seemed to have it covered. As far as I could tell the animals seemed happy. Presumably Gibbons scratching their bums is a sign of happiness?
Back at base and it was time to get down to the serious business of a cream tea. You’ve already seen the photographic evidence - what words could possibly top that image?
I love holidaying alone, but one has to be sensible. Walking alone isn’t without peril. For instance there’s no one to check the coast is clear if you need a comfort break.
The hotel have taken this on board and one of their waiters now takes guests for a walk, one day a week. The blurb clearly states that it’s an all day affair and proper kit is needed. Now I know Vince likes to explore Exmoor and I know he goes for adventurous walks, so I’m not sure I’d want to join that gang.
He began taking the groups back in February. The first one wasn’t a success. During the walk a man revealed he was recovering from a nasty ankle injury. He managed to get back to the hotel, but not without pain and not without causing a lot of worry.
On another walk, two ladies had said they were keen walkers and walked regularly on Exmoor. They started the walk kitted out in the best designer gear - including animal print ear muffs.
Within minutes one of the ladies had snagged her expensive coat on a bramble and I doubt either were able to wear their fur-lined boots again.
The waitress backed all this up with tales of leaping over rivers. Maybe if there’s a drought between now and when I return I could have a go?
So on my final day I decided I should play it safe and walk up to Dunkery Beacon. It’s an 8 miler and a steady climb.
Perhaps I was inspired by Vince’s tales, I don’t know. Rather than just walk back down the hill, I decided to take a detour to Prescott Down - a walk I know well.
But then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to go somewhere new’. So I took another diversion towards Combe Farm. Now you can almost see the hotel from that point, not that seeing it was much good to me.
My map indicated where the path was and a yellow splodge confirmed the route, so I clambered down the steep hill, the Combe (defined by me as cliff). Then I climbed back up and tried the next field, and the next.
Eventually I climbed two gates and picked up what I thought was the correct path. But that took me through a field of very young lambs, perhaps only hours old. I climbed another gate and dropped down to the farm. At the bottom of the track was a sign - I was where I should be, although I’d undoubtedly done it the hard way.
Another steep climb to a track led me back to the hotel and to a very welcome pint of Exmoor’s finest. Maybe I could show Vince a thing or two after all!