Picture this: Autumn colours at Arlington Court…

First published in October 2014.

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This weekend I’ve once again been playing host to my old friend Ho, who has been taking a well earned break from a frantic work schedule to join me for a spot of relaxation in the beautiful autumnal Devon countryside.
This time we decided to take a stroll around the extensive grounds of Arlington Court, ancestral home of the Chichester family for over 500 years.

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The house itself is an imposing stone built mansion, surrounded by rolling lawns, lakes, and woodlands, criss-crossed with pathways that lead you to various viewpoints overlooking not only the gloriously varied vistas of the estate but also the picturesque church of St James (not owned by the Trust, but adjacent to the house) which just happened to be staging a flower festival at the time of our visit.

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We began our tour on the front lawn of the house, heading down to the ornamental lake, stocked with lazily cruising carp and topped with a proliferation of water lilies, pausing on the way to admire the splendor of an ancient oak tree that has stood on the site since well before the house or grounds existed.
The tree is preserved primarily for the scientifically important and internationally recognised variety of lichen, moss and fungi that festoon its gnarled and twisted trunk.

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The church is just visible through the trees that overlook the lake, providing a focal point for visitors, an invitation to investigate the hidden beauty of the peaceful sanctuary as you make your way round the estate.

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But before we headed into the cool vaulted space of the flower-strewn chapel we made our way down the shady path amongst the trees to discover what the woods had to offer.

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Before too long we came upon a small camp in a clearing, complete with a traditional clay oven beneath the billowing folds of a parachute canopy, along with rustic huts constructed from sticks salvaged from the woodland floor.

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The woods have the quiet atmosphere of a primeval forest, rotting trees left where they fell, allowing the verdant moss to take hold and making perfect burrows for small animals and insects, creating shapes that look for all the world like the backbones of long-dead dinosaurs or mythical dragons.

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Occasionally a gate or stile will allow a view across the cattle grazing fields of the deer park, to the densely wooded slopes of the valley, the trees starting to display the muted tones of autumn foliage.

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We retraced the path back to the lake and made for the tower of the church, immediately seeing signs of the floral attraction within…
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…already catching the scent of the expertly designed bouquets before we even entered the light and airy space of St James’s, the vibrant colours of hundreds of flowers perfectly complimenting the stained glass windows and ornamental carvings on the walls.
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Our final two stops were at the formal and walled kitchen gardens, the latter of which provides fresh produce for the house and its cafe.
There was even an imperious peacock to welcome us to his domain, although he didn’t seem keen on me taking his picture and I required several stealthy attempts to capture him in all his iridescent glory.
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There is even an “insect hotel” high-rise apartment block for bees and other pollinators…
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…and there is always something intriguing around the next corner or through the next inviting door.
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…and of course the Chichester family symbol, a heron grappling with an eel, is in evidence everywhere.
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All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable visit to a place that I’m sure I’ll visit again and again, because there is always something new to discover.

Arlington Court house and gardens are open until the end of October, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys relaxing amidst spectacular scenery, basking in the more genteel atmosphere of days gone by and leaving the stresses and strains of modern life behind for a few hours.

Picture this: The Tarka Trail…

Named after the otter in Henry Williamson’s book, and originally conceived as the Taw and Torridge Country Park, the stretch of disused railway tracks and surrounding land between Barnstaple and Bideford was bought from British Rail in 1987, and the 180 mile footpath and cycle network that exists today was finally extended – to Braunton in one direction, and Meeth in the other – in 1992, when it was officially opened by HRH Prince of Wales.
It finally became the Tarka Trail in 1994.

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You will see signs for the National cycle network (route 27) all over the area and we frequently use the trail, not for anything strenuous like cycling you understand, but as the section nearest us runs alongside the river Taw, (the same river that runs through Rock Park) it’s very pleasant to walk out towards Braunton and feed the ducks, coots, moorhens and swans that gather in the wildfowl reserves which line the old railway beds.

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I have been taking photos along this stretch of the trail for several years, and as we were out there again today meeting and feeding the new cygnet as mum and dad kept a wary eye on us, I thought I’d share some with you.

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You can see signs of the past life of the trail, with railway artifacts still visible here and there..

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..and livestock grazing in the lush wetlands between the old tracks and the estuary.

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There’s plenty of wildlife to see here, particularly on the lake that was built with nesting waterfowl in mind, with reed beds and low, overhanging trees making an ideal nursery for many types of birds.

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A small jetty at one end of the lake allows visitors to be surrounded by grateful beaks just waiting to be fed…

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..some more forward than others.

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Are you going to feed me then?

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… Well?

The gulls will even take food on the wing..

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..and there’s always s fight for the last few crumbs.

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The landscape around the trail always has something to catch the eye..

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..which is why we keep going back.

If you want more information about the Tarka Trail go here.

March of the Internet Nobody, day thirty: Nature photography week…

Diary of an Internet Nobody.

For my penultimate post in this maelstrom of March madness, a more accurate description would be “countryside”, instead of “nature” photography, as I tried to capture a bit more of the actual landscape on my journey home today.

I took a detour past the imposingCastle Hillcountry house and gardens, snapping a few shots of the estate cottages, the lodge house at the entrance to the drive, Castle Hill house itself and the surrounding woodland. The crows called noisily from high above as they built their twiggy nests in the tall trees, daffodils bloomed on the roadside and the river flowed peacefully past.

It finally felt like spring is actually here and summer is on the way.

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