Unusually in the past couple of weeks, and for the forecast future, Saturday was destined to be a lovely day here in the sleepy south-west of England. Having said that, when I first went outdoors it was foggy. But I was confident that the fog would get blasted away so took off at about half past eight bound for the village of Holford, just under thirty kilometres away to the north-west. As my route began to climb after Bridgwater, so the fog cleared and by the time I pulled into the 'trampers' car park near the little village green at the foot of Hodders Combe it was decidedly sunny. I took delight from the fact that mine was the only car in the shaded car park, the first of a hardy breed of trampers to make it out and about on a lovely morning.
Because there had been a lot of rain over the previous few days the track leading up towards the combe was muddy. This didn't matter to me at all. I was kitted out in optimistic shorts and my sturdy sandals, knowing that there would be streams to cross and perhaps even boggy ground to contend with. I was not to be disappointed, but more of that later.
After a kilometre or so I went through a stock-proof gate and felt that I could properly begin my walk. Now I was in the broad-leafed woods and gazing around at the (as the Irish might put it) thousand shades of green in every direction. The sun had now risen to shine down into the fairly steep-sided valley between the millions of oak leaves. It was gorgeous.
A lot of these photos have a similar feel (trees and greenery) but I tried to select them based on the compositions I was playing with while I took them; in this case the leaning tree complimenting the curve of the stream.
I loved the 'corkscrew' tree.
Light streaming through.
The new growth of bracken pushing up through the old.
I made it up through to the head of my first valley, out onto a place called, for some reason, Black Ball Hill.
As I made my way around the side of Black Ball Hill I couldn't help thinking of the edge of Fangorn Forest.
Then suddenly I turned and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Away to my left I realised that I was being watched.
These photos may benefit from being clicked on and enlarged.
There were a few sets of ears at first, then a few more. They are red deer, Britain's largest wild animals. Obviously, I've seen them before from time to time when I've walked on the Quantocks or Exmoor, but usually just the odd one dashing away through the undergrowth, or a few together keeping their distance. I'd never seen this many together all in one place.
Sorry about the quality of the pictures, I was on full zoom because the deer were about seventy or eighty metres away.
My path was taking me closer to them, and I knew it was only a matter of time before they stopped watching me and trundled off. Before that happened, I did a quick head count and got up to about fifty or so, then they turned all at the same time, decided that I'd got close enough, and scampered away over the hill and out of sight. I'm still stoked to have seen them and can't quite believe how many there were. I haven't really got a good enough camera for wildlife photography and can only do my best with what I've got when something like this comes along. But, long may opportunities like this come along, it made my day.
Meanwhile, back on my walk, this is looking back through the valley system I had climbed up through, just before ducking down into the next one.
Then I was at the tree-line of the next valley and back under the shade of the oak trees once more.
Coming out of the second valley, onto the top of the Quantock Ridge - a tree with pretentions at being a dragon.
Looking down on the valleys of Hodders Combe from the top of the ridge.
A lonely tree on the heathland
One of the locals having a bit of an ass-scratch. She was really going for it with both back legs off the ground!
Even though this was relatively high up, this picture shows just how wet and boggy it was.
More sheep, mummy at the front doing an impression of Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. In the background is Bicknoller Post.
This version of Bicknoller Post was put up only a few weeks ago and it replaced a very worn and battered one put there in the 1920s. They get replaced every so long but they continue an ancient tradition. There are a few of these posts along the Quantock Ridge. They mark the boundaries of parishes and also serve as way markers for walkers and travellers, so that they know they are in the right place. Before maps were reliable this was all people had to know where they were in the landscape.
On my way down into my third and final valley of the day, the track was more stream than path with small ones joining it from the side. I was glad I was in sandals. Already my legs were muddy and my feet wet and filthy, but I could easily wash them off crossing the large streams lower down.
I'm really pleased with this. I love its simplicity and yet how many elements there are within it. The rushes in the background, the bracken and the wonderful shadow draped across a rock in the perfect place.
A close-up of one of the species of mosses found in these woods.
Finally back in the valley floor near the end of my walk.
I really enjoyed my three hours or so out in the wilds of the Quantocks. Seeing the deer was a real moment to treasure and getting muddy legs took me back to tramping in far off places, to a land in a very different sea, to my favourite places of all. So, yes, it was a good day on Saturday.
When I got back to the car park it was full and as I drove away, the space I left was the only one in the shaded car park, the first of a hardy breed of trampers to head for home fulfilled.