It’s taken a year and a half before I’ve felt ready to write something with the title ‘an introduction to walking in Somerset and Devon.’ A year and a half and a lot of hoofing it around the area we have decided to call home after eighteen years of living abroad, in both Spain and Portugal.
Eighteen months ago, we had no idea what walking in Somerset and Devon might involve. We hoped the South West of England would offer sufficient diversity to keep our hiking requirements sated. But, apart from being pretty sure it was a green and pleasant land, we really didn’t know what to expect.
After our first handful of months, I confirmed to friends who didn’t know the area that it was indeed a green and very pleasant land, but also that I had some concerns it might be too pretty … too gentle; that the countryside, beautiful though it was, lacked a wild side. There was a worry that after a while, walking might become a bit too samey.
And that’s why it was important to spend a decent amount of time getting to know the lay of the land.
Walking routes in Somerset and Devon
Every new walk chipped away at that misconception, whether the route involved walking alongside rivers, streams, and canals; exploring ancient forests and enchanting woods; traversing softly undulating pastoral lands, flood plains, and exposed untamed moors where paths are swallowed by bracken and gorse; pausing beside fords in sleepy hamlets and picture postcard villages with thatched cottages; or crossing sprawling beaches and rugged clifftops on coastal paths.
Within a short drive we can be on Exmoor, exploring the Quantocks, delving into the Blackdown Hills, or standing on the highest peak in the South West of England, overlooking the Bristol Channel and Wales. Areas of natural beauty and nature reserves are commonplace. And yet, on most walks we don’t encounter many other people. Slightly further afield offers even more options including Dartmoor and the Mendips.
Walking route ingredients
Good walking for us doesn’t just involve impressive views that force us to pause awhile or the sort of countryside that unlocks the inner poet. We’re greedy. We want loads of other ingredients as well – historic elements, cultural insights into the people and the land, interesting and amusing quirks that make us go ‘wow,’ and cosy, inviting places we can relax and relive the highlights of another great walk with drinks in hands and smiles on our faces. Walking in Somerset and Devon delivers the essential goods and then some – it might be stumbling across an unassuming but fascinating Quakers’ graveyard in a copse; moving out of the way of a shire horse dragging a canal barge; dangling legs over an ancient clapper bridge; marvelling at perfect fossils embedded in the rocks; cooing at free-roaming wild ponies; straining necks trying to see the tops of Britain’s tallest trees; standing on Canadian soil in Britain; or being mobbed by hundreds of frantic pheasants, honking noisily as they hitch their skirts and scamper anarchically along the track ahead.
After over a decade of creating Slow Travel guides across Europe, often in off the beaten track areas that aren’t so well known outside of the country they’re located in, we now have certain criteria that must be met before we consider any area as being worthy of the title of what we refer to as gastro-hike destinations.
Our eighteen-month long introduction to walking in Somerset and Devon has more than persuaded us that this is most definitely an area that rewards with superb walking routes and delicious local produce served in ridiculously charming inns.
A lot of people might already be aware of Somerset and Devon’s gastro-hike charms. Equally well, a lot of people won’t, which is why we’re launching Walking Ways with this introductory post.