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.

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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: 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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Marwood Hill gardens, North Devon…

Marwood Hill gardens, twenty minutes drive from Barnstaple, was established in the 1950’s by original owner Dr Jimmy Smart and has evolved into a spectacular landscape in the hills of North Devon.
Cottage garden planting at the top of the valley gives way to water and more exotic plants at the bottom, all tied together by hundreds of beautiful trees.

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Salt Pill nature reserve, Fremington…

Salt Pill duck pond is a nature reserve owned by The Gaia Trust and is accessible from the Tarka trail, a short walk up the cycle path from Fremington Quay.
Birdsong, wild flowers, bees, butterflies and moths all add to the unspoilt landscape on the banks of the river Taw, where we took a walk on Sunday…

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…and just after we got home, I captured this sparrow outside our kitchen window.

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