Tag Archive | walk

Wind on Woolacombe Down

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Where do you choose for a walk on a blustery November day? Somewhere in a sheltered valley, perhaps? Not us – we choose to go to the windiest place we know – the top of Woolacombe Down, to experience the full force of the weather. There is a lovely network of paths over the downs and through the dunes behind the beach.

 

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According to this plaque they were opened to commemorate the coronation of King George V on 22nd June 1911. I didn’t know that..

 

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Looking back down the slope you can see Woolacombe nestled at the northern end of the beach. Bustling in summer, it is quieter this time of year, but plenty of people come down even in winter to surf and walk and generally enjoy the views.

 

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And you can see why, as the views are just stunning. Woolacombe beach is long, smooth, sandy and unspoiled. The headland to the south is Baggy Point, separating Woolacombe Bay from Croyde Bay.

 

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The headland to the north is Morte Point, on the north-west corner of the North Devon coast. The views from this walk are really superb.

The top of the down is grazed by a domestic herd of Exmoor ponies, looking perfectly at home despite the wind.

 

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Once over the brow of the hill, the wind dropped a little, and we took a path curving round the front of the down back towards Woolacombe.

 

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Faced with a choice of returning through the dunes, or walking along the beach, we couldn’t resist getting closer to the fantastic waves.

There were a few hardy dog-walkers on the beach, and three lucky riders cantering their horses across the sands.

 

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What a perfect place to spend a windy Sunday morning, especially as it was followed by brunch in a cafe in Woolacombe, overlooking the sea. I can highly recommend a winter weekend in North Devon to blow the cobwebs away!

 

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Down among the Dunes

Every Friday evening though the summer, a local expert gives up his spare time to lead a free walk through Braunton Burrows, finding and talking about some of the very interesting flowers and insects that live there.

 

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Braunton Burrows is a vast sand dune system which is of huge national importance, as it is home to a large number of species, many of them rare. Most of these don’t live in the new, sandy dunes just behind the beach, but in the rolling, grass-covered older dunes behind, and particularly in the damp areas between the dunes.

 

Water Germander

 

This rather uninteresting flower looks very like mint, but is in fact Water Germander, so rare it is now only found in three sites in England!

 

Sand Pansy

 

The Sand Pansy is much prettier, but much less rare!

 

Eyebright

 

There were many tiny flowers growing amongst the rabbit-cropped turf, but they were hard to photograph in the dull evening light. This one is Eyebright.

 

Angelica

 

Remember angelica? Green candied stuff that you used as a cake decoration? Well this is angelica plant whose stems are used.

 

Marmalade Hoverfly

 

Despite it being a cool, damp evening after an entire day of rain, there were a few interesting insects to be found. This is a Marmalade Hoverfly, presumably named for the stripes on its abdomen rather than its taste in conserves.

 

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

 

This gorgeous creature is the caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth, which only feeds on ragwort. Like every other horse-owner, I have spend many an hour pulling up ragwort from horse fields, as it is very toxic to them, especially when dried in hay. But the ragwort plant is a very valuable plant for a large number of insects, especially the Cinnabar Moth, so it is important that in places like this, well away from horse fields and hay fields, it is allowed to flourish undisturbed.

 

Six Spot Burnet Moth Caterpillar

 

This is the caterpillar of the Six-spot Burnet Moth, which metamorphosizes into…this!

 

Six Spot Burnet Moth

 

Now the summer rains have reached Devon, I was hoping to find a few fungi on the burrows, but there were only a couple of tiny ones, including this minute Milky Conecap.

 

Milky Conecap

 

It was a beautiful place to spend an evening, and we learned so much from our expert guide. Now we need to go back on a hot sunny evening to see all the butterflies and dragonflies!

 

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Wild Flower Wander

Sunday was foul. A rainy morning slowly dried up leaving our relatively high valley still in the clouds. The only way to get out of the damp was to head downwards, so we set off for a walk along a section of the Tarka Trail which we had yet to visit. Parking the car at the northernmost point of the trail near Braunton, we caught a bus to Barnstaple and picked up the trail in the town centre.

 

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Soon we were past the town, and the trail was very easy walking, with the river on one side and pleasant countryside on the other.

 

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We had been expecting to see a few birds along the way, and we weren’t disappointed, with a few gulls, a couple of little egrets, oystercatchers, curlew, common sandpipers, shelduck, redshank, black-tailed godwits, cormorants, little grebes, linnets, and a buzzard.

 

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What we hadn’t been expecting was the huge variety of flowers that we found. Some were common, and easily recognised, and some were a bit more unusual or new to us. In total, we counted 43 species! Luckily for you, I didn’t take photos of all of them, but just a few.

 

Tansy

Oxford Ragwort poss

 

Black Nightshade

Black Nigthshade

 

Speedwell

Common Field Speedwell

 

In places the origins of the trail as a railway line were evident.

 

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There were banks of buddleias in flower, scenting the air, but as it was so dull, we saw few butterflies.

 

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We did spot this chap hiding on an embankment

 

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We kept finding more new flowers.

Melilotus

Meliotus sp

 

Wild carrot

Wild carrot

 

Agrimony

Agrimony

 

I was also very pleased to find a selection of nice fungi – the first of the new season. These were all boletes, which have pores underneath instead of gills. The tasty and well-known Cep is a bolete. These were new to me, and I am still not sure of their names, but I think this one is the Scarletina Bolete

 

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And this one might be the Lurid Bolete.

 

Fungus 4a

 

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At a convenient point on the path, there was a lovely new cafe overlooking the river, so we felt it necessary to support their endeavours by stopping for a snack. Refreshed, we continued on past the Marine base at Chivenor, where the guards with guns made me a little wary of taking photos!

Once past the base the trail passed through some pleasant countryside, and showed us a few more flowers, before returning us to our car.

 

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St John’s Wort

St John's Wort sp

 

Toadflax

Toadflax

 

Rosebay Willowherb.

 

Rosebay Willowherb

 

I hope you enjoyed the photos, and please feel free to correct me if any of the flowers are wrong – I am still learning!

 

An unusual egg hunt

With the family staying for Easter, we set off along the coast path from Mortehoe to Rockham Beach.

 

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This is a secluded beach on the north coast of North Devon, reached by a decent walk and a huge set of steps, so it is usually pretty quiet.

 

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We explored the rockpools and found some eggs – not Easter eggs, unfortunately, but fish eggcases, which is much more interesting (if a lot less tasty!).

 

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This long one with the tendrils attached to the four corners (and some seaweed as well) is a Nursehound eggcase – a spotty dogfish.

 

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Whereas this squarer one with the long horns is some sort of Ray, I believe. Apparently the size helps with the identification, and we didn’t measure it, so I am not sure what species it is. It was good to see them though – proof that these fish are alive and breeding in local waters. There are remains of a very rusted old wreck on the beach – must look it up and see what ship it was.

 

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After the long climb back up the steps, we continued round the coast path towards Bull Point, enjoying the strong scent of coconut coming from the gorse flowers.

 

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Coast paths are rarely level, especially in Devon, so there were plenty more steps…

 

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Once past the point we turned inland up a gentle valley, with grassy fields dotted with primroses.

 

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Birds such as wrens, chiffchaffs and a garden warbler were singing in the trees.

 

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At the end of a valley full of spring flowers, with celandines and bluebells carpeting the floor, the path wound up back to the roads above, and we returned to Mortehoe.

 

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Above Ilfracombe

Feeling the need for a walk yesterday, but only having a little time to spare, we decided to explore the low hills to the west of our nearest town, Ilfracombe. Known as the Torrs, or the Seven Hills, they lie along the coast, bracketing the town on its western edge.

Following the quiet residential roads to their highest point on the side of the hills, we finally found the small National Trust car park, which already gave excellent views down over the town.

 

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Following the signposted footpath we descended gently and crossed over the ridge to the seaward side of the hills. The Victorians carved out a zigzag path which is now part of the coast path, leading westwards from the town along the steep hillside. There are viewpoints on every corner, many with benches, which were much needed due to the unrelenting steepness of the ascent.

 

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Leaving the steep cliffs behind, the path finally ascends to the undulating, grassy swards on the top of the Torrs.

 

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High up on one of the seven hills a viewpoint has been built, which gives a lovely panorama down over the harbour to Hillsborough and other hills the other side of Ilfracombe.

 

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A choice of routes lead back towards the town and the car park, but we chose to walk a bit further along the coast towards Lee until we were past the end of the Torrs, where a valley cuts inland from the coast, which led us down a gradual descent back along the landward side of the hills to the car.

We walked for about an hour, but there were plenty of earlier paths leading back to the start, making this an ideal spot for future short walks, with fantastic views, excellent sea-watching spots, and even one place where one could descend down to near sea-level to sit quietly and listen to the waves.

 

First walk of winter

Yesterday was the first day of wintry weather here, with hail showers on and off all day, and a thin layer of hail settled over most of the garden. The temperature was a chilly 4 degrees, and it was hard to remember that on Tuesday I had been out for a walk without a jumper.

Today hasn’t been much better, with rain or hail all morning. By lunchtime we were getting cabin-fever, so started to analyse the weather predictions, which offered a potential dry spell in the afternoon.  Dressed ready, we were out of the house as soon as the last drops fell, and drove a short distance to the start of the northern section of the Tarka Trail.

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The Tarka Trail is a long-distance footpath , and our local bit runs along the old railway line between Ilfracombe and Barnstaple. Except that it doesn’t…there is a gap between Willingcott just to the north west of us, and Braunton to the south. One day they will connect the two pieces up, as they are currently purchasing all the necessary pieces of land, and then the path will run 100 metres or so from our garden. That will be very handy!

Parking in the deserted car park at Willingcott, we set a steady pace down the smooth tarmacked track, enjoying the fresh air, even though the skies were leaden. Soon we were treated to a view down the steep wooded valley towards the grey sea at Lee.

 

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Not a soul was to be seen, despite the rain staying away, and we soon started to descend down through the steep-sided cuttings towards Ilfracombe.

 

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Finally some other souls emerged from their cosy living rooms, and we were greeted and sniffed by a variety of happy waggy dogs. The trail passes a lovely old wall with huge beech trees apparently sprouting from the top…

 

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Finally we reached the first of the two reservoirs at Slade, a small community on the outskirts of Ilfracombe. Such a tranquil place at this time of year, I imagine it must get more visitors in summer, either fishing, or picknicking on the grassy bank. Today, all that was there was a pair of dippers, which were lovely to see.

 

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There is another reservoir further on, but we had reached our allotted turn-around time, based on out predicted weather window, so we set off up the gentle but unrelenting slope back to the car. We arrived as the first drops started to fall, so it was nicely judged. Home for tea in front of the log-burner and the tennis, feeling much happier for some exercise.

 

Sunset in Ilfracombe

I am a bit restricted as to activities at the moment as I have a slight knee strain, but yesterday I was getting a touch of cabin fever, so we decided that a gentle stroll on level ground would do no harm.

Ilfracombe was buzzing with holidaymakers in convivial mood, despite the chilly evening. Down a back street near the sea, this ‘teenage’ herring gull was calling for its parents to feed it, despite looking quite grown up enough to fend for itself, and wasn’t scared off by us at all.

 

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We explored some areas along the seafront that we hadn’t explored before, and ended up by the harbour for the obligatory delicious ice cream (caramel for me, pistachio for him).

 

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And joy of joys, the fudge shop was still open, so we were able to buy a little bag each (Jack Daniels flavour for me, salted caramel for him).

 

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We watched the sun set, then meandered back slowly, absorbing the atmosphere.

 

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A very pleasant evening, and one to be repeated, I am sure.

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Gushing rivers, dappled woods, tumbling waterfalls, and a tea shop…

This walk has it all, and more. Starting at Lynmouth, we walked up one side of the East Lyn river, admiring the water gushing past the tumbled boulders.

 

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Taking the fork signposted ‘woodland walk’ took us up the slope and through some beautiful dappled woods.

 

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The songs and calls of wood warblers, a bird only found in western woodlands, were easily heard, and one smart male even flew to a low perch so we could watch him sing.

 

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The steep slopes opened out above us to a thinner wood with a grassy carpet under. Soon the path descended back to the river.

 

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The river then splits into two, and at the junction of the three sections of river is Watersmeet.

 

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There is a lovely National trust tea room, which serves excellent cake.

 

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There are interesting paths along the other branches of the river, to be explored another day.

 

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There are also some nice small waterfalls and cascades.

 

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We returned to Lynmouth down a path on the opposite side of the river, and had excellent views of a heron, dipper and grey wagtails.

 

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The path was just as beautiful, and lovely and cool on a hot sunny day.

 

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I think this is my favourite walk. Nothing to do with cake, of course…

 

 

Beach views

The sun is shining, the countryside is green and lush, and we have been showing friends around our little corner of Devon. The jewel in the crown of this area is the beautiful sandy beaches, but the best views of the beaches come from high up on the cliffs, not down on the beaches themselves, so we headed to the National Trust headland of Baggy Point. The walk to the point is one I have written about before, here, but this time we continued on around the headland and made it a circular walk.

The hedgerows and verges are getting more colourful every week, and I loved this stretch with the pink Red Campion flowers and the fuchsia pink spikes of Gladiolus byzantinus.

 

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Once we rounded the headland the long stretch of Woolacombe beach appeared in the distance.

 

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The paths were easy underfoot, with gradual gradients for the most part, passing through rolling green pastures. This was the view behind us.

 

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As we approached the end of the beach, named Putsborough Sands, the views became stunning!

 

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As you can see, it gets busy at half term…..To be fair, it was mid morning, and the beaches always fill up more during the afternoon, but the beach is so vast that there is always a quiet area in the centre, as the main access points are at the ends.

 

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After a drink and an ice cream in the café by the beach, we meandered back over the headland and returned to the car park via a network of sheltered lanes and pathways.

It was a very enjoyable morning walk, with the best views we have had yet of the best beach in the country.

 

 

Come for a ramble around the hill

Last week, on a hot sunny day, I went for a walk to explore a lane that passes behind our hill.

I set off down our private lane…

 

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Turning left I walked along the quiet country lane that runs along our valley on the opposite side to the house. We live pretty much in the centre of the below picture, with both house and garden hidden behind the tallest trees.

 

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I followed the lane to the end of the valley, then turned back on another lane that runs up the hill behind the house.

 

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There were lovely views from the hill, back down the valley, with our village in the distance on the right.

 

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A bit further on is the highest point for miles around, with views down the far side of the hill to the sea, with the Devon coast beyond. Fancy being able to walk from my house and see the sea!

 

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A little further on and the view is of the Taw and Torridge estuary.

 

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It was a lovely quiet lane, with hardly any cars, and one lone horserider.

 

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Just as my route left the lane and entered the woodland to return home, this view showed the road running south towards Braunton.

 

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That had taken me just over an hour, and then for another hour I followed the paths through the shady woodland.

 

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The wood  wraps around the hill and the side of the valley, and leads me back all the way to my garden.

 

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