Day 52, Taunton to Tiverton, 25 miles. 'Roads, Canals and Carveries.'
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Upon waking at our surprisingly nice Taunton Airbnb this morning, Duncan rolled over lazily, took one meek look at the rain and uttered the words I knew were coming, 'Don't think I'll make it today mate' (or something similar, I wasn't really listening), but I had quietly expected such an admission - to be honest I'm not sure I would have been too thrilled with hiking 51 miles in two days with little to no psychical preparation beforehand. In the end it probably turned out to be the right decision for both of us, the weather was poor and as a result I spent most of today walking at a very brisk pace and it's possible that I may have been held back slightly by company, whereas Duncan got to stay warm and dry so I don't think either of us were complaining too much.
Today was another long one, 26 miles yesterday and 25 today is no joke but as the rain was falling steadily, and I had little cover to work with, I zipped up my mac and got on with it. The first third of today is barely worth mentioning, former walkers all seemed to take a route that cut through fields and farmland and universally complained of the presence of semi-aggressive cows on this section of the trail - well that just wasn't for me, so I bit the bullet and followed the B roads for around eight miles as I really didn't feel up to negotiating with cattle again today, especially not on my own and in the ceaseless drizzle. There is little to say of those first eight or nine miles, I walked through the town of Wellington where as unfortunate market day was being slowly but surely ruined by the inclement weather, I twice took shelter under trees when the rain became briefly torrential, held my breath around the few pig farms I skirted, and that was about it. Before I knew it I was strolling down the quiet lanes of Greenham, where I would find the beginning (or end I suppose), of the Grand Western Canal.
Now I've moaned about and celebrated canals in roughly equal fashion so far in this blog, but the Grand Western was comfortably the best of the lot. It swayed casually between abandoned industrial walkway, covered in swathes of lush vegetation with fish and heron never far from sight, to pleasantly maintained canal with flower pots and barges whenever a town came into sight - due to this simple oscillation it never really became boring, which is just as well because I would be on the canal all day, for a solid 16 or so miles to its terminus at Tiverton.
The Grand Western was lined with monuments to its industrial heritage, huge ruined chimneys lined the water with the occasional plaque to tell visitors of the glorious history of this now-forgotten canal.
Truth be told I was genuinely enjoying the Grand Western, after monotonous road walking in the wet, the canal offered both shelter and interesting sights without sacrificing on directness - sure there were cyclists to avoid but this seemed a small price to pay and so the miles absolutely flew by. Duncan, presumably still languishing comfortably in bed, had arranged to meet me at my halfway point for the day, a small village called Sampford Peverell, which had the wonderful combination of being canal-adjacent, whilst also boasting a massive carvery. I watched Duncan's train overtake me in a matter of seconds as I approached the town and properly realised that walking really is a slow way to get around - never mind - the town was lovely and the carvery, whilst absolutely roasting inside, was delicious.
Having eaten more than was strictly necessary I bade farewell to Duncan - the last person to join me on this journey - and was soon back on the Grand Western in solitude. Indeed, I would spend the rest of my trip, all the way to Land's End, flying solo from this point and I actually felt quite positive about the change - walking with company is great but sometimes you just want to walk alone in the wild, and I still had many days in which to do so.
The canal continued to be lovely, although it had traded in its eerie, overgrown atmosphere for a more well-used one - people, boats and bridges became frequent instead of rarities, which nicely eased my transition back into solo-walking.
I walked past a plaque advising passers-by that a military plane had crashed into the canal on this very spot back in 1961, killing both its crewmen - it felt strange that such a quiet and peaceful place could have borne witness to such a catastrophic incident.
After this it was easy, pleasant walking all the way into Tiverton which is essentially a smaller and nicer version of Taunton. At some point along this section of canal I crossed over into Devon, meaning I had entered my penultimate county - something which had felt an awful long way off back on the John O Groat's Trail, or the Great Glen Way. I met a charming elderly couple who insisted on giving me a handful of shrapnel for my fundraising efforts and found the owner of my Airbnb to be one of the nicest people I have met on the walk so far - the accommodation was spacious, cheap and luxurious, plus he had an adorable spaniel and made me a homegrown salad, what more can you ask for - Raymond if you ever randomly stumble across this blog and make it this far, just keep doing what you're doing my man.
That was it for today really, the 25 miles had practically melted away due largely to the flat and direct route taken through Western Somerset and whilst it had been a bit of a filler day, I was another 25 miles closer to my destination and into my penultimate county. As for tomorrow? I would be seeking out the the Exe Way on the river of the same name, then taking the lanes all the way into the heart of Devon. Bring it on.