I awoke at seven, heavy with the lethargy that comes from very deep sleep. As I lay there I could smell the clean scent of the moor drifting in through the open window. The storm had blown itself out during the night, and the morning was fresh and cool. Thin grey clouds covered the sky, but it didn't look like rain.
The helpful staff had hung up my soaking gear somewhere overnight, so at least I would not have to set out in wet clothes. My boots were still damp, but that wasn't a problem. I had a brief chat with the landlady after breakfast; she was very friendly, and interested in what I was doing. I guessed that they didn't see many walkers there, perhaps not surprisingly as there are other and cheaper places to stay within a couple of miles. Nevertheless I look back on my visit, and the warmth of the place, with pleasure. It was a fortunate chance at the end of a rotten day.
I set off that morning with a sense of optimism. My feet and shoulders had taken a bit of a battering on Exmoor but I was in better shape than I expected. From the village, the way follows a narrow lane uphill before dropping back into the valley. The path is smooth and easy, made for quiet ambling. I passed through fields and bluebell woods, listening to the chatter of the river and the murmur of ewes. It was pleasant just to drift, unhurried, placid as the brown water. At times I wandered among moss-green rocks; over ledges of stone smoothed by the wild winter floods; through silent secret woods on carpets of leaf mould damp and fragrant; and all the while the stream splashed at my side, beguiling, until I forgot where I was, and where I was going, and walked for walking's sake.
At Tarr Steps I crossed the wide and shallow river by way of the old clapper bridge. At this point the Two Moors Way wanders off to bag a hill and a couple of fields, but I stuck to the road. I have managed to overcome the puritanical urge that once drove me to follow the steep and narrow path through mud and mire. These days, if there is a broad track leading in the direction I want to go, I take it! Call it idleness, or the wisdom that comes with the advancing years. For those who are tempted likewise, the lane climbs away through pleasant woods, overlooking the stream. Finally, at the end of a long steep slope it enters the hamlet of Hawkridge.
A cold wind blew through the hilltop village. From the churchyard I looked south over Dane's Brook, where the land flowed up once more in a long brown wave. That ridge marks the southern boundary of Exmoor; beyond it the moor merges into another landscape, a tidy world of woods and streams and slight valleys draped in a grass green cloak.
On the road down from the ridge I met another walker, travelling in the opposite direction. It was his fifth day, coming up from Ivybridge, and until then he had not met anyone doing the Two Moors Way. Chance encounters are always encouraging; and this one the more so, as he told me I would not have to worry about finding my way for the next few days at least. Much of the central part of the route lies along narrow lanes, with short sections over farmland. The only obstacle up ahead was Dartmoor - especially if the weather were bad.
The rain continued to fall that morning, not heavy but with quiet persistence. For several miles the going was easy, down through gently sloping fields. Gradually the moor was left behind and the landscape grew softer, rounder. There was nothing particular to look at, just hedgerows and trees, and the occasional farm. There are few striking features in this corner of Devon: no high ground, or wide views. One little valley looks very much like another, and after a while you begin to feel that you are not moving at all. I got out the map and counted the miles between where I was and where I hoped to be that night, mentally ticking them off as I walked; as much to occupy my mind and create some sort of momentum as anything. I diverted briefly to pass a pleasant hour at the Jubilee Inn, then on again through fields of wet grass, until I came the village of Knowstone. There I sat in the porch of the old church feeling suddenly very tired. The drizzle continued to fall, drumming softly on the gravel path outside. It showed no signs of stopping, so I picked up my pack and set out once more through the grey landscape.
It was on Knowstone Inner Moor that I came upon three rough wooden crosses. Who had set them up, I had no idea. As they stood on that dreary heath, they seemed almost an omen. And perhaps they were; for the rain eased and the first pale gleam of the sun seeped through the ragged clouds. As I walked along the dark tunnel of beech trees that runs over Canworthy Common, the sky brightened. The grey pillars glowed in the broadening light and the new leaves shone. Emerging into the sunshine a fresh breeze caught me, idling over the wide fields, tumbling the grass. All around the land fell away, and the world was wild and free once more. From Creacombemoor Cross I could see twenty miles up ahead where Dartmoor lay on the horizon.
It was late in the afternoon when I approached Witheridge. Somehow I managed to get lost in some muddy pastures down by Yeo Copse, and the last weary mile took almost an hour. As I clambered up to the village a raw wind sprang up. The main square looked cold and forbidding under a darkening sky. The only place to stay appeared to be the Mitre, although the sign outside the door, 'Party Tonight - open until 3 am' was not encouraging. When I inquired about a room, the girl behind the bar warned me that it might be a bit noisy. I was too tired to look elsewhere, so I decided to stay. The room itself was basic, but it was a bed for the night and the price was reasonable. The pub didn't do meals, but fortunately the Angel over the road was open. I went straight to bed after dinner. As I lay there I could hear the thump of music down in the bar, though I can't honestly say that it kept me awake very long. I remember listening to one song from an Abba tribute band, and that was all.