Family holiday: North Devon Coast; via expected bottle necks on M6 and M5 to the National Trust property at Kingshayes. Fascinating history, the owner/builder had a successful lace making business (in Loughborough) destroyed by Luddites who moved his factory to Tiverton, Devon … and was followed by most of his employees undred employees who – mostly walked – the two hundred miles to occupy the new accommodation he had built for them. Fascinating history, beautiful grounds.
Then tripping along the southern flank of Exmoor through the rolling hills of the county; roads usually perched on one side of a valley that runs between grass-for-silage meadows and either barley or maize. Grasslands: the original solar panels: converting sunlight into energy.
A couple of days in warm-rain soaked estuary town of Bideford. What a difference a tide makes: low slack water and misleadingly lazy looking mud banks that leave whacking great spaces beneath both the old bridge and the ultra-modern “high level” road bridge appears useless and untidy. High tide brings reflections of skies, boats that float jauntily and tourists. I know of course that appearances can be deceptive. These muddy shores are powerhouses for wildfowl and anglers and in history were an industrial thoroughfare, bringing trade and prosperity.
The statue of Charles Kingsley brings back memories of a book I never really understood: The Water Babies. Kingsley is heavily associated with the West Country and a walking path bearing his name crosses one named for a book I absolutely loved: Tarka the Otter. Indeed Tarka the Otter (Henry Williamson) was probably the first novel length story I ever remember taking an interest in. It was serialised on the BBC radio and I listened avidly to it with my grandmother each Sunday afternoon. I have re-read it and find it very evocative: reminding me of those days and very much of my love of the natural world. The story (the first and last years of an otter’s life) is both thrilling and catches the elements of this area and the spirit of, I suspect, the times.
Dartington Crystal is the only fully functioning glassworks in the U.K. now and got visited by most holidaymakers on that second wet-wet-wet day. as scavengers we got together enough fuel to light the wood burner in the house.
We visit Bude and the Atlantic is wild and furious: winds blowing heartily on to the coast, spindrift cloaks the stony beaches, rising over the quays and even on top of the high cliffs. For me this is something glorious. I do not want sandy calm beaches to sun bathe on, or flat seas to swim in. No; give me big breaking waves, white horses and rock pools and I am in one of my elements – as long as I can keep my feet dry.
The coast here is dramatic, tiny one-time Victorian fishing villages (Clovelly is a fine example) are now tourist magnets and deservedly so. But access to the coves and beaches is steep and downhill. All very well, but you have to get back up hill to where your car is parked don’t you. And you’ve probably had more than your regular fill of a Devon cream tea, maybe even a local beer (one I noticed called Cornish Oxygen). But there are magnificent hanging waterfalls too and spectacular geological formations all around.
Hartland Quay sees us walking gamely along the Coast path. Up hill, a little level section, then down into a dip (locally called a combe I think), then back up again. the coast here is dramatic, folded strata making the cliffs and beaches: rock pools and long noisy rollers travelling from miles and miles away. The local pub is called the Wrecker’s Retreat and we are happy indeed to retreat into the bar for generous ham sandwiches and a cup of sweet tea.
We spend a morning at the Rosemoor gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). They are impressive indeed: a range of garden “rooms” beautifully imagined and maintained. Fruit gardens, vegetable gardens, extensive wildflower meadows, woodland walks, a lake. While I am somewhat inspired I am also a trifle disappointed. I was expecting, given the RHS’s mission statement of making everybody an enthusiastic gardener “one gardener at a time” that ere are not more how-to-do information boards, seasonal tips, techniques and what-to do type information. I can certainly imagine that already converted gardeners enjoy the experience, but for those new to gardening these impressive plots might be intimidating.
A day trip to the immaculate Lundy Island, home of puffins and seals. Sailing from Ilfracombe with a Damien Hirst statue that has been quite literally remarkable. Certainly not possible to ignore Verity, a heavily pregnant woman-of-two-sides, one an anatomical representation. She is left handed and holds a sword aloft while (hiding perhaps?) a set of scales behind her back. She stands on a pile of law books. The meaning? Not sure what Hirst, who now lives locally intended but art like this for me generates interesting discussion: I think it represents this because … kind of thing. From Wednesday the weather is much better and we all enjoy the week, including fish and chips while crab dipping from a slipway in Appledore.
A day or so to get our breaths and we are meeting friends from elsewhere… but I am missing that wild keening that coastal gulls do so well.
If you have got this far – well done you! – the second, if you are interested is here: https://beeseeker.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/been-away-been-around-the-second-chapter/