Friday, 26 October 2012

Stumbles and grumbles on Exmoor's coast

I'd decided to pop down to Ilfracombe to visit Mick (by car this time). Last night we popped into the Ship and Pilot for one. Or two. Or four. The beers we tried were all excellent:

Firstly, Supernova from BHB (Black Hole Brewery) based in the old Ind Coope bottling plant in Burton on Trent. Unsurprisingly they have added 'brewed in Burton' on the pump clip - the town has been known to turn out a decent brew or two after all... The beer was a golden ale, very light in colour and had a delicious citrussy flavour. Mick tried to argue that it was the Pale Ale as it was the lighter of the two, the other beer we had ordered was Pale Ale from Devon Brewing Company, an amber coloured beer with a malty taste, brewed just up the road in Braunton. The brewery is a newish one and so far the PA is it's only brew. Not a bad start as far as I'm concerned. Druids Fluid from Wizard Ales was the third beer we tried, brewed here in Ilfracombe, and a regular at the pub. Rich and dark and with an ABV of 5%, it's not a beer I would want to drink all evening, but it's a nice pint to finish with on a chilly, rainy evening by the sea.

Giant Polypore I spotted in Heddon Valley.
Hard to miss actually...
We were therefore rather slow off the mark this morning but finally we managed to get it together and get out of the house. We drove to Heddon Valley just along the coast and a place I had never visited before. It was drizzling as we parked the car by the Hunter's Inn and headed off down the path. Despite the weather it was a magnificent walk. We stopped to admire a buzzard sitting quietly on a branch. The trees were a riot of colour with leaves of burnished orange and vivid yellow. The Heddon River wound through the centre of the valley and as we walked towards along its banks the woodland was replaced by bracken and scree slopes lining steep, steep banks on either side. Much steeper and this would be a gorge. A few determined trees clung to the sides of the hill, trunks twisted and gnarled, and occasional bushes of gorse (or furze - is there a difference?) bloomed by the side of the river.

Gorse or Furze

It was only a mile or so to the mouth, where the water tumbled over a shingle and boulder strewn beach to reach the sea. Like many of the coves along this coast, this route was used by smugglers to land spirits and tobacco. It was also used for burning lime, which was brought in by sea to many of the coves along this coast, with the resulting fertiliser used to improve the generally poor soil.

The river was running fast after the recent rain. 'Careful on the rocks,' warned Mick, 'you can see they are under water at high tide. They'll be slippery.'
'Yeah, yeah,' I said, taking no notice and setting out to cross the water. I was wearing wellies which were great for keeping my feet dry but not so great for gripping on the rock. Almost immediately my feet shot out from under me and I found myself sitting on a slab of rock in the middle of the river.
'Don't just stand there!' I exclaimed, 'help me up!'
Mick was unable to move as he was laughing so much so I hauled myself gingerly to my feet. We tried again further upstream where there were allegedly stepping stones under the water. I managed to stay upright this time although the water slopped over the tops of my boots. Great. Wet feet and a wet arse now.

There are stepping stones here somewhere...
The south west coast path weaved down a path clinging to the cliff, crossed the valley and wound itself up an equally precarious looking path off to the north. 'Let's go up there,' I suggested. I had noticed on the map that there was marked a roman fort at the top which I thought might be interesting. Mick reluctantly followed me as the path began climbing up. As the river receded until it became a thin silver ribbon far below us, Mick decided he had had enough. 'This is for nutters!' he exclaimed. 'I'm not going up there.'
'But it's fine. Look the path is wide enough. Just don't look down.'
He edged a couple more yards before stopping again. 'No, I'm not going along there.'
Coastline looking north
He refused to budge so I headed on alone to the top of the hill where an outcrop of rocks made a fine viewing platform. In both directions a series of promonotories stretched out like fingers into the misty sea, with brown bracken skin and rocky fingernails. I waited for Mick to join me but he never appeared. I would have to go back. As I rounded the corner I caught sight of his blue jacket. He was hiding behind a bush. As I drew closer he emerged onto the path.
'Why were you hiding from me?'
'I wasn't. I was hiding from the drop,' he shuddered. 'Let's go down now.'

Coastline looking south

Happy at sea level

Back at lower level we made our way back to the pub. Along the way we saw pumpkins, spider webs and tombstones that I was sure had not been there turned out the pub was having a somewhat early children's halloween party.

We lounged on the sofas in the bay window with a pot of tea watching miniature spectres, draculas and witches arrive for the fun. Outside we admired the peacocks before setting off. A woman was feeding them who turned out to be the mother of the pub's owner. She told us that recently she had come to feed them and the pheasants had all been up on the eaves of the pub.
'How do you feed them up there?' asked a customer. 'Do you climb up on the roof?'
'Um no, I wait for them to fly down...'

Hunter's Inn, Heddon Valley

We headed back to Ilfracombe along the coast road over Trentishoe Down. The view of Combe Martin nestling in the valley far below was spectacular. As we wound our way back in the dwindling light I said I could see why Mick had decided to move here. This coastline is stunningly beautiful. 'Yes there are some great walks around here,' he said. 'But too many of them are at ridiculous heights. They're not for me. I'm just low life.'
'I do believe you are,' I said.'

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