Day 4: Witheridge to Simonsbath (50 km) Back to the Barle in search of Boris

We are human beings first and last. Our religion is faith in Humanity – and there can be no religion greater than that.

Satish Kumar – No Destination – Autobiography of an Earth Pilgrim

According to the Cicerone guide to The Two Moors Way, a long day lay ahead. From my campsite near Witheridge to Simonsbath was the small matter of 50km or 32 miles in old money. According to the guidebook, this would take something in the region of 15 hours! An early start seemed a prudent option.

Campsite near Witheridge.

The morning passed uneventfully. I passed a naturist holiday campsite called ‘Acorns’ that was in the middle of nowhere.”The place to be, when you have nothing on” it proclaimed. Their website sounded enticing: “Wander round the farm through three fields which have been left to grow naturally and provide an abundance of wild flowers and grasses to attract a variety of wildlife from field voles, and rabbits to foxes and deer.” My mind boggles at the thought of it all.

I walked through a lovely shaded avenue of beech trees and met a chap exercising his dogs. He had the grizzled look of a gamekeeper out for an early Sunday stroll.

At the curiously named Owlaborough Farm I came across an old roundhouse that was originally constructed in 1333. Not many remain nowadays but in the past many would have been used to thresh the grain from the chaff by horsepower – the horse would have been harnessed to a central beam and walked around the inside of the building thus driving the machinery within. The roundhouse at Owlaborough would have been used as a cider press.

Owlaborough roundhouse.

Shortly before I reached the hamlet of West Anstey, I saw a man picking blackberries from the hedgerow beside his house. We got chatting. He had moved there from Bristol for a quite life but told me with some exasperation ” there’s simply too much going on locally. I never have a moment’s spare time”. It turned out that he was also the local churchwarden.

John Morgan picking blackberries

When I got to West Anstey Common I was accosted by an aged American lady. We got chatting. She was on holiday visiting relatives in the area and hailed from a small town near Boston called Amesbury. “My ancestors emigrated from England with the Pilgrim Fathers in 1637” she informed me.

In 1637, the first English settler in the Salisbury-Amesbury region, John Bayly, crossed the Merrimack River, built a log cabin, and began to clear the land for cultivation. He intended to send for his wife and children in England, but they never joined him. The original settlers all came from Salisbury and Amesbury and were fleeing persecution by Royalist forces during the English Civil War!

Tarr Steps was heaving with Bank Holiday weekend holiday makers. Dogs were playing in the shallow waters of the River Barle. Small children with fishing nets were trying to catch trout. I grabbed a quick drink at The Tarr Steps Hotel and beat a hasty course for Withypool.

Clapper Bridge at Tarr Steps

I stopped briefly at Withypool for a cup of coffee. The cafe was located next to an old Shell petrol station from the 1950s. I noticed one of the pumps advertising petrol at 34p a gallon!

Cheapest petrol in the UK?

As I walked along the wooded banks of the River Barle, I reflected on the life of Satish Kumar, a Jain monk, who now lives near Exmoor in Devon on the Hartland Peninsula.

Satish became a Jain monk at nine. At 18, he left that way of life and walked 8,000 miles from Delhi to London – for peace. Now 86, Satish, a soul of the soil, delivers one of the most stinging indictments of modern man’s addiction to a lifestyle of making and amassing “things,” and his criminal acts of raping, using and abusing the earth to support his habit. I’m not for a minute claiming that sitting in the Hartland Peninsula, Satish has all the solutions to the problems currently facing humanity, but he certainly has some interesting insights gleaned from nearly 80 years of ‘earth pilgrimage’.

Satish Kumar

Satish believes that Mankind is a threat to nature! He was ahead of his time in focussing on environmentalism and warning of the damage that humanity is wreaking on planet earth through globalisation. 32 years ago he warned the world: “The way we live in our industrial, scientific, technological civilization is a threat. The amount of waste we create is so much this earth cannot sustain it. We go on grabbing, grabbing, grabbing for more economic growth. This is where the Hindu tradition of the Upanishads comes in; it is fundamentally a philosophy of ecology. Environmentalism is enshrined in Hindu thinking.”

Hartland Peninsula

Satish isn’t happy just castigating his fellow man for numb ecological stupor. He also wields a clear vision of what has to be done if man is to live on our blue-green earth without despoiling it. First, the trend toward multi-conglomerate corporations must end. These modern-day monsters are so big they hardly see, or feel, the life forms they crush in their pursuit of profit. But when business is small, it is responsive to its environment. Consequences of actions are visible. “Small is beautiful!” Satish proclaims is the enlightened way of the future – small towns, small decentralized economies and local governing systems with a return to fine craftsmanship as the work ethic and deeper friendships as the social norm.

Satish Kumar on Dartmoor

Over the years Satish has been vocal in his criticism of modern society and his support for sustainability. Small is beautiful is very much his mantra.

On Agriculture: “Since we have lost contact with the soil, our souls are starved.” He feels more and more people need to farm, employing three rules: 1) his methods must bring him satisfaction; 2) farming must not cause disturbance to one’s neighbor and community; 3) do nothing that will harm the soil.

On Peace: “Peace is not an absence of war. It is a positive way of life on three levels: 1) peace with yourself; 2) peace with your neighbor, community and other nations; and 3) peace with nature – returning to way of life that is in tune with nature.”

On Economics: “We must not try to save labour, we must save resources. Human labour is infinite; resources are finite. There will be jobs with things that will take longer to make. Instead of making things quickly that don’t last, make things well that will last. That is good economic growth. Everything should be a pleasure to make, use and enjoy.”

On Ecology: “We must think in terms of ‘sustainability.’ Our activities should be able to go on and on without bringing damage to the environment. Also restraint, samyama. Then ‘replenishment.’ What we take we replenish. Not replacement than you found it. Also we need to plan our cities and towns so that we can go to temple, school, shopping or work within walking distances so we don’t waste vast amounts of energy in unnecessary mobility.”

On Oneness: “My greatest inspiration comes from the Isha Vasyopanishad. It says we should see the whole universe is the body of Isha, the Creator. In every leaf, drop of water or ant, there is God.”

On walking: “Only by moving can things change and transform. And walking is movement of the body. When you’re walking, you’re transformed. Your mindset, your health, your ideas. You get new, fresh thinking.”

The River Barle above Simonsbath isn’t the largest or the longest river in the UK. You won’t catch many trout above 1/2 lb. But it is, in my eyes at least, one of the prettiest rivers in this country. The last time I ventured out fishing on the Barle was on a holiday in the early 1980s with my father. We stayed at a hotel near Dulverton which owned a stretch of the river and promised the opportunity to catch a Devon salmon. But it was early in the year, just past Easter, and my father and I had no luck. On our last day, my father suggested that we spend a day trout fishing on the River Barle above Simonsbath. The weather had taken a turn for the better, the icy wind had dropped and the skies had cleared. The day was magical, wet fly fishing in the fast flowing water tumbling off Exmoor. It was as if the first day of Spring had arrived and with the rise in temperature the wild brown trout of the Barle were on the take. Between us we must have caught ten or so fish, none of them much more than 1/2Ib in weight. But that happy day with my father fishing on the Barle remains as fresh in my memory as if it was yesterday.

River Barle near Simonsbath

My final destination for the day was in a field behind the Exmoor Forest Inn at Simonsbath. Not exactly wild camping, but within staggering distance of the bar and a final slap up meal. Boris Johnson has a house up the road apparently. Perhaps I would bump into him at the hotel bar in the evening and give him both barrels about Brexit!

Exmoor Forest Inn, Simonsbath

I arrived at Simonsbath shortly before 5pm. Knocking off 30 minutes I had spent en route buying lunch and drinks, I reckoned I had covered 32 miles in around 9 hours and 30 minutes, meaning my average walking pace during the day was 3.5 mph. Amazingly I still felt fairly fresh and half thought about motoring on until I reached Lynmouth.

In the campsite behind The Exmoor Forest Inn I got chatting to a lovely couple who were sitting out in front of their impressively large clamping tent, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. They offered me a beer and we then started swapping anecdotes about walks we’d been on and camping kit we used. Will and Hannah live in Marlborough and Will works as a journalist on a website called ‘Outdoors Magic’ (www.outdoorsmagic.com) which features articles about the outdoors and walking kit! I felt we could have spent several hours swapping anecdotes about walking kit and long distance footpaths!

Will and Hannah

The Exmoor Forest Inn was packed to the rafters. It has a fantastic ambience and serves a great selection of food. The walls were festooned with photos of fox hound and staghound meets over the years outside the Inn.

And as for Boris? Sadly there was no sign of him at the bar. My Brexit broadside would have to wait for another day@

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