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

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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

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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: 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 one: Nature photography week…

Diary of an Internet Nobody.

For this, the final post in my month long frenzy of blogging activity, I took a slightly muddy stroll along a stretch of the Yeo river valley and captured what nature had to offer (in the grey springtime drizzle) in amongst the trees and undergrowth.

This area floods regularly in winter and spring, so it’s an altogether sparser landscape than our local woods, but the wood anemones are blooming, along with the ubiquitous wild garlic and a few other wild flowers. There is also an abundance of dramatically shaped trees here, bordering a more fast-flowing river which rushes over a concrete weir after snaking through the woods.

Thank you for joining me on my week of nature rambles and for putting up with me every day this month, normal(ish) service should resume tomorrow.

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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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