A week in the park.

Audrey was on half term last week, so while I was off work we went for a walk each day, in Barnstaple’s Rock Park and along the banks of the river Taw.

It got Audrey off YouTube for an hour or so, she got an ice cream out of it and I got some nice photos into the bargain.

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Rooms and pathways: An Autumn walk at RHS Rosemoor.

Having a week off work in October and a sunny day at the same time, well that was too good an opportunity to pass up; so today Rhonda and I took advantage of a free entry offer at RHS Rosemoor and, of course, I took plenty of photos.

The large, sprawling gardens are cleverly laid out in a series of themed spaces, obscured from each other by the use of hedges, trees and hard landscaping, using the curves and perspective of connecting paths to draw your eye onward to the next horticultural treat.

There’s something for every gardening taste; formal rose gardens and the geometric precision of tightly clipped fir hedges; vibrant colours of the hot garden and a glorious mixture of textures in the foliage garden; the walled kitchen garden and fragrant delights of the herb garden and, my personal favourite, the lush and beautiful lake area, with its giant gunnera plants adding a primeval feel to the series of waterfalls that drop down to the sparkling, lily-covered waters below.

Transitions between the different areas are so subtle, though, that they feel like unforced progressions from one “garden room” to the next, especially as there are vegetables and herbs mixed together with decorative planting (including a superb pergola in the kitchen garden, with melons growing over it) making for a very pleasant couple of hours in the sunshine.

Picture this: Tarr Steps…

Tarr Steps is one of the many ancient scheduled monuments that we’re fortunate to have in this part of the country and it’s a great place for a walk with your camera.

Midway between Dulverton, popular destination for hikers and tourists alike, and the picturesque village of Withypool, Tarr Steps, nestled in the Barle River Valley, isn’t hard to find and is definitely worth a visit.

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Parking in the very reasonably priced car park, it’s an easy stroll down the public footpath that crosses a sheep field (dogs on leads here please) to reach the bottom of the valley.

If you reach the bottom and feel the need to fortify yourself for the walk ahead, why not stop at the Tarr Farm Inn for a drink first; the beautiful 16th century stone building offers great views from the beer garden, down to the even more ancient stonework below.

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From the perspective of this high elevation you don’t get much more than the impression of a solidly built pontoon bridge, but descending to the river bank the impressive scale of the engineering can be fully appreciated.

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The date of the Clapper Bridge (from the old Latin word claperius, meaning “pile of stones”) is uncertain, but best estimates put it somewhere around 1000BC.

[Although Exmoor legend has it that it was built by the Devil as part of a bet. He threatened to vaporise anyone attempting to cross the bridge until, faced down by a local hard man preacher, he acquiesced and allowed safe passage across the river on the condition that he retained sunbathing rights on the stones]

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Tarr Steps bridge is 180ft (55m) long and is constructed from 17 main slabs, all of which weigh upwards of a ton and the largest, 8ft long × 5ft wide, tips the scales at two tons.
The many smaller stones that make up the piers of the bridge are intricately fitted together without any form of cement or mortar and also incorporated are the unique, raked “buttress” stones, angled in such a way as to deflect debris washed down the river in heavy rains.

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Despite this feature the Great Flood of 1952 (the night Lynmouth was devastated by flooding) demolished the bridge, leading to the stones now having been numbered for easy reassembly by conservation workers.

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In fact since 1952 there has been a web of anchored cables further upstream, designed to catch fallen branches before they reach the bridge..

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..which worked fine until 2012, when the extreme weather brought so much uprooted timber down the river that it ripped out the cables, carrying them downstream to do even more damage and once again providing patient heritage experts with the world’s heaviest jigsaw.

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The Barle River Valley itself is a SSSI, (site of special scientific interest) and has been designated a National Nature Reserve, with easy walks along the river bank through woods of oak, beech, ash and hazel trees.

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The reserve is also recognised as an internationally significant site for fungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens and it isn’t difficult to see why.

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This peaceful river valley has been used by man for hundreds, possibly thousands of years for hunting, fishing, charcoal burning as part of the iron smelting industry, and now of course walking, canoeing and just enjoying the ancient beauty of the woods.

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Picture this: In the misty morning…

First posted February 2015

*****

There are many beauty spots in North Devon that I’ve visited again and again to take photos, but it occurred to me today that I’ve taken more pictures in one place than almost any other.
Although it isn’t, strictly speaking, one place.

About eighteen months ago I posted a photo-blog based around my journey to work, along the A361 North Devon Link Road from Barnstaple to South Molton, on the edge of Exmoor National Park.
Since then I’ve taken dozens of photos of the sunsets, sunrises, landscapes and trees on and around the twisty, undulating ribbon of tarmac that winds through the wooded and field-checkered countryside.
Happily, they have proved very popular, both here on the blog and on Facebook, (where I have recently set up my very own public photography group to showcase any and all types of photographic art) but most of these shots are captured whilst making a hurried stop at the side of the road or a quick detour on the way home in the evening.
So today, having awoken at the unreasonable hour of 7.30, I took a traffic-free trip into the misty, frost-sparkly morning and went exploring.

Here’s one of two tunes I’ve picked to soundtrack my journey:

My first stop found me on the hills above the A361, looking down from the road to West Buckland

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…from whence I made my way towards Exmoor and my main objective for the morning’s adventure, the viaduct that spans the spectacular Castle Hill Estate at Filleigh.

I travel over the viaduct nearly every day and yet, apart from the time I had a job driving a large van, I’ve never been able to take advantage of the views afforded by its lofty elevation.

Until today, that is.

I parked in a lay-by just uphill from where the viaduct spans the steep-sided valley and walked back along the hedgerow, finally reaching the point where I could look over the parapet, onto the misty landscape below and across the treetops of the wooded hills that stretch off into the hazy distance.

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But I wasn’t satisfied with that.
What I wanted to do was to get some shots from under the viaduct itself.
Which brings me to the second tune with which to accompany this photographic odyssey:

Clambering over the crash barrier and down through the tangled undergrowth, I eventually came to a farm track that led me under the towering stone supports, into the dappled pine forest and fields that border the road.

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I climbed back up the steep slope of the valley to the road, sounds of traffic just beginning to disturb the peace of morning, heading home with the usual feeling of privilege I get when I’ve had a chance to witness the world as only the early bird sees it.

Picture this: Watersmeet/Valley of the Rocks

First posted September 2013

*****

The picturesque North Devon coastal towns of Lynton and Lynmouth, and especially the rugged landscape of Valley of the Rocks, offer some great photo opportunities, as does Watersmeet, which has the same “Little Switzerland” feel to it.

imageAfter talking a shady walk down into the gorge from the roadside car park, you encounter the old Victorian hunting lodge that now houses a tearoom…

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.. and just across the river, the entrance to a cave which was apparently once the home of a hermit.

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From there, take a stroll upstream on the East Lyn River, one of the rivers that meet here, giving the gorge it’s name.

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Although some parts are still rapidly flowing, foaming white water, a long dry spell can expose the very bones of the gorge, the granite river bed, in all it’s dramatic, time-worn glory.

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Further on, evidence of one of the area’s long-vanished industries still stands testament to the skill of Victorian engineers. Two giant lime kilns, now overgrown, lend a brooding atmosphere to the dappled woods.

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Retracing the path, return to the old hunting lodge, cross the bridge over Hoak Oak Water and make your way downstream on the wider, combined river.

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Looking back at the lodge from downstream.

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Walking down the river from the lodge is an easy, reasonably level stroll and before long you came to an impressive slate-faced bridge that allows walkers to cross to the opposite bank making for an undemanding looped route back to the tearooms, just in case anyone requires an extra cream tea to fortify them for the climb back out of the gorge.

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The view from the bridge, looking upstream.

Valley of the Rocks.

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I took a slightly different path on this occasion, staying on the inland side of the rock formations instead of following the coast path.
This was fortunate because the famous Lynton goats were all over the place. Some were good enough to put on a display of horn butting and territorial disputes for me, although sadly I was too slow to get close enough to film them.

These two even managed a circus style balancing act for the assembled tourists.
(Ok, maybe not)

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Picture this: Tapeley Park…

First posted January 2013

*****

Tapeley Park house and gardens is a unique and fascinating place, on the road between Barnstaple and Bideford.

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Tapeley Park house, seen from the Italian terrace garden.

The estate has been in the same family since the 1700’s, and is now owned by local anti-corporate campaigner and political activist, Hector Christie, who runs it on a sustainable basis, and he is proud of his Green credentials, supplying the local community – as well as the estate cafe – with organic vegetables, and using recycled materials wherever possible.

The house has it’s own claim to fame – the fact that it has an important collection of William Morris furniture – ironically preserved over the years, due to the house being unheated and mainly closed up for years, as revealed on a C4 documentary.

But it has always been the grounds – which include a Victorian kitchen garden and experimental permaculture garden – that make us go back time and again.

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The lake is a beautiful place for a picnic.

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Many exotic plants grow in the mild, sheltered climate.

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Neatly trimmed arbours lead you on…

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…to surprises around each corner.

There are animals too. Apart from the wildlife scurrying in the undergrowth, the estate keeps rare breed pigs, sheep, and highland cattle.

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Three little pigs.

The hard landscaping has been lovingly restored, most notably on the steps leading down to the Italian terrace garden…

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…and yet, there are still echoes of the past, lending a eerie calm to quiet, reflective corners.

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There is even a labyrinth, made from the stone shards of an exploded obelisk, victim of a 1931 lightning strike.

A fascinating and, in some indefinable way, enchanted place, it’s somewhere to return to again and again, always discovering something new.

If you’re ever down this way, why not go and see for yourself, you never know what you might find…

Picture this: Summer’s end at Broomhill…

First posted September 2014

With the days becoming noticeably shorter and meteorologists once again reach for descriptions like “autumnal” to make “cold and wet” seem more acceptable, I took the opportunity to visit Broomhill Sculpture Gardens again before the summer came to an end.

Plenty of the sculptures that I photographed in my previous post were still on display here and I knew from several other visits to Broomhill that many of these are semi-permanent installations, giving them the feel of familiar old friends, aging gracefully amongst the trees and lush foliage of the beautiful woodland valley setting.
But there is always something new to see here and the gardens were at the time playing host to the National Sculpture Prize, displaying work by the 2014 finalists in the woods and wildflower meadow down by the river.

Walking up the winding drive from the visitors parking area, the entrance flanked by sleek curving steel forms…

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…you encounter all manner of surprises, rearing above you from the steeply sloping banks or tucked away within the green alcove of a hedge.

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Reaching the top of the hill, your first view as you round the final curve in the drive is this impressive gryphon, towering over the terrace in front of the hotel…

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…where I sat for a few minutes, looking down over the valley, reading about the sculpture prize and enjoying a refreshing local cider in the late afternoon sun.

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Making my way down the zig-zagging path through the wooded garden, I first encountered sharply stylised African influenced stone figures…

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…juxtaposed with more abstract, modernist pieces, both on the ground and suspended in the branches overhead.

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The path eventually leads down to the lake, the area around it dotted with more sculptures, peering out from the surrounding trees and the still water itself.

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Following the meandering track back up through the woods, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the strange, post-apocalyptic world of the abandoned tennis court, an exhibit I am always drawn to when I come here and one that never fails to provide some striking images.

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Then I made my way to the main display area for the prize finalists, on the way passing what looked like a yoga lesson, frozen in time.

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Details of all the 2014 NSP finalists are included in the links at the top of this post, but here are a selection of some of my favourite pieces, starting with an oversized piece that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, I can’t think why…

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And I had to get one final shot of this piece, another of my personal favourites, the atmospheric Watchers, frozen in enigmatic contemplation amongst the dappled shade by the riverbank.

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If you can get down there, I recommend that you visit the National Sculpture Prize exhibit at Broomhill, the voting ends soon and the winner will be announced in October.