Alarming times...

So here I am again, back on Exmoor and back to Exford.

As I drove along the road towards Wheddon Cross I spotted banks of snowdrops. They clung to the verge, battling for a glimpse of sky through snow. Yes, there was snow. The fields were clear of it, but where the sun couldn’t reach, by the hedges, the fields were framed in white.

It might be good to visit new areas, but my local knowledge reminded me that a short walk from the hotel would find a small copse, full of snowdrops and that’s where I headed on my first walk.

Exford is one of the lowest villages on the moor, so any walk from the hotel is going to involve a climb. But this stroll is a short, sharp climb and well worth the effort. A few years ago a nearby field had been planted with saplings, of varying types. I try to take a photo of the same view on each visit - it won’t be long before the distant hills are hidden.

Before I wax too lyrical about the views, let me rewind the tape an hour or so. Lunch was enjoyed outside, by the river and of course I accompanied my delicious ham sandwich with a pint of Exmoor’s finest.  From my vantage point I could spy the small garage, offering MOTs and servicing. Oh yes, I thought, no erroneous apostrophes in Exford!


As I returned from that walk I passed the garage. Can you imagine my disappointment as I spotted the sign the garage was displaying from the other side?



Having not walked any good distance recently, I was keen to stretch my legs with a climb towards Dunkery Beacon - the highest point on Exmoor. It was a good climb and as I neared the top I diverted down the road to Porlock before retracing my steps.

The second evening, the restaurant was more like a reunion that a room full of strangers. A couple I’d met at least twice before were excited to see me - who wouldn’t be? Another couple recognised me, despite the false moustache and wig.

Despite high hopes and local assurances that the weather would be good, Wednesday was a very damp and drizzly morning. In the hope that the day might improve, I retreated to the hotel’s lounge and played sardines. A large group of competitive friends monopolised the room, but I managed to divide and conquer.  Why competitive?  Every comment was volleyed back with another, supposedly to amuse but in truth, I cringed.

It was still early, but already one of the party was having a nap. I thought it unlikely he would last the day.

.

My bedroom overlooked the river and the terrace of cottages on the far side of the road. New people had moved into the end house and a lad in another cottage had learned to drive and had his own car. For a nosey-parker-people-watcher the room was almost perfect. Next door was empty but a previous resident had set the radio alarm. From 8 am onwards it bleeped - a visit to reception restored harmony with alarming speed.

Even though the hotel serves the best of everything, I still bring a few home comforts with me, particularly camomile tea. I stuff a few sachets into a Tesco freezer bag and I’m sorted. Not so one of my fellow residents.

At breakfast a wooden suitcase was placed on a table. Etched on the lid was ‘Twinings’ - who could drink a whole suitcase of tea, I wondered.

A young couple appeared at the eleventh hour, just as the buffet was closing. What fine things do you think that case contained? Tea bags. They had brought a wooden case full of teabags. I thought of my Tesco bag and decided that in my case, every little did indeed help. With a suitcase of clothes, a bag of books, magazines, lappy and Kindle to carry, a wooden suitcase for my camomile would certainly be the final straw for my humpless camel’s back.

Having free wi-fi is great, but the moment I clicked on the hotel's Facebook status and 'liked' the idea of a carvery dinner that evening, I knew it was time for a walk.

I set off, creating my own route.  The second half took me on a path that was new to me and I returned to the hotel just as the rain became heavy and my stomach began to rumble.

Larry and Laura
A couple of residents were already installed by the bar, studying the Budget Mime on TV.  It seemed far more entertaining to guess the Chancellor's muted comments.  Pretty soon talk turned to the more important matter of dinner.

The carvery, we were told, would consist of pork and lamb. As we pondered the delight of choosing, the hotel's proprietor shared some shocking news.  Later that day he was to receive training to use a defibrillator. All declined to be guinea pigs and it was suggested that a shot of Grouse to the heart would revive the pair.

As they supped on their liquid lunch my mind was already feasting on dinner...

Fortunately for Larry and Laura, I was drawn to the pork. Sadly Pinky will never know Perky again. By the third and final night, guests have relaxed a little and there was jovial banter and a few indiscretions. I revealed that I lived near the market town of Blandford Forum.  This was pounced upon by one of the Grouse supping chaps from lunch. Not only did he know my town, he lived five minutes away. We both agreed not to sell our stories to the tabloids.

And finally? A journey home, a tin of baked beans and a prayer to the Patron Saint of Stretchy Trousers.