Walking to Snowdrop Valley in Exmoor

There are many good reasons for investing time in research and planning before heading off on a hiking route, but the one which nearly thwarted our plans to go walking to Snowdrop in Exmoor, Somerset was a new one on us. We knew the weather was going to be good, we knew we had just about enough time to fit the walk in before getting back home in time for an afternoon Zoom meeting. But, until we were almost ready to set off, we didn’t realise the closest car park (£5 parking fee) to the flower-filled valley was due to be transformed into a farmers’ market for the day and was therefore out of bounds to cars.

When I first heard the term ‘Snowdrop Valley’ it conjured up enchanting visions of a woodland scene where the forest floor was covered in delicate white, drooping blooms.

Instead of postponing until one of the six days in the week there wasn’t a farmers’ market at Wheddon Cross, we decided to lengthen the route by parking at Dunkery Bridge and walking from there. As it turned out, it was a decision that made the experience even more enjoyable.

The route to Snowdrop Valley

Confession time, I didn’t study the routes on our OS map closely enough to realise the first signpost I saw pointing toward Blagdon Wood wasn’t the main route that would link us up with the Coleridge Way which, in turn, would lead us close to Snowdrop Valley. All I knew was we had to pass through Blagdon Wood and the compass direction was right. A few hundred metres after setting off and doubt started to creep in. Although well marked with daubs of paint, the path tracing the contours of the valley above Manstley Combe in the direction of Blagdon Wood is a minor one. In fact, it’s almost non-existent at the start, the faintest of trails traversing the sloped forest at an unnervingly steep gradient, even petering out in parts. But perseverance proved the order of the day. Eventually the path widened and we could relax, confident we were actually following a proper route, and enjoy ancient and atmospheric woodlands. The forest floor was carpeted by moss-covered rotting branches and tree trunks, adding an enchanting element to the experience.

Occasionally, we broke free from the forest, the views of the Somerset countryside opening up as we crossed the hillside. After a couple of kilometres, the path joined the clearly signposted Coleridge Way. By the time we arrived at a road descending from Blagdon Cross to Snowdrop Valley, we had encountered not one other person. At this point, we left the Coleridge Way to drop down the road where we saw big, bold arrows marking the final section to Snowdrop Valley on a path parallel to the road that isn’t clearly shown on OS maps.

Snowdrop Valley in Exmoor

Snowdrop Valley is in North Hawkwell Wood and is privately owned by The Badgworthy Land Company. Luckily for us all, they open the valley to the public for around a month a year (end of January/beginning of February to the end of February) while the snowdrops are in bloom. There’s no entrance fee, but there is a donations box on the gate leading to the valley, where a sign informs we have the Benedictine Monks to thank for the stunning display, as it’s believed snowdrops were brought by an order of them in the 11th century.
From the gate, a snowdrop-lined path runs along one side of the River Avill, more of a stream, before crossing the water to return via a path above the opposite bank, a total distance of just over a kilometre.

When I first heard the term ‘Snowdrop Valley’ it conjured up enchanting visions of a woodland scene where the forest floor was covered in delicate white, drooping blooms. And that’s exactly what you get, with the added bonus of a gently gurgling stream as a backdrop. It is an enchanting place. A place to linger and enjoy nature’s artistry. Its transience makes it all the more special, reminding me of other places we’ve seen where floral displays are short-lived, like when the almond trees are in flower on Tenerife.

When we’d had our fill of nature’s delightful gift, we parted from the people making their way back to Wheddon Cross (most people access the valley from Wheddon Cross via one of three clearly-marked paths, each of varying lengths). This time we took an alternative path (the main route) back up to Dunkery Gate, following the River Avill before ascending open moorland, the path leading us directly back to the car park, making for a satisfyingly circular route which boasted diverse scenery as well as a magical pay-off.

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