Thursday, September 11, 2014

Exmoor Day 1 - Medieval bridges and spiky intruders

After an early start and time spent negotiating the rabid packs of traffic on the always delightful M5, I was in Exmoor, the former Royal Forest and hunting ground, which became a National Park in 1954.

On the way to my campsite, I saw the sign for Tarr Steps, a clapper bridge that traverses the River Barle, a river and accompanying valley that would consume a lot of my time while in Exmoor over the following days. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, so I stopped to wander down to the ancient construction, and take a few pictures.

Tarr Steps stretching across the River Barle

Possibly dating from around 1000BC, although no one really knows for sure, this clapper bridge, which comes from the Medieval Latin "claperius" meaning "pile of stones" is the largest example in the country. Each stone slab weighs between 1 to 2 tons a piece, but despite their bulk, the bridge has been damaged in recent extreme floods, the last being in 2012, where some of the slabs were washed about 50 metres downstream.

Each slab is now numbered to make reconstruction easier. Which is good news for the Devil, as according to myth, he has sunbathing rights on its stones.

I arrived at the campsite, a peaceful spot on a working farm, and set up the tent next to a fast flowing stream at the bottom of the field. I practically had the place to myself as I whistled up a brew, admiring the beautiful scenery.

Now that I had the car unpacked, I realised my ridiculous error. I had forgotten my tripod. I hadn’t realised at Tarr Steps, as I thought it was just under all the camping gear, which I couldn’t be bothered to move at the time to gain access. But no, I had come to Exmoor with the sole reason of taking landscape photographs, and I hadn’t brought my tripod.

It was a bit like turning up for a fishing weekend without any tackle, I would have to catch the slippery devils by hand!

So, metaphorically kicking myself at my lack of metaphorical tackle, I booted the car into gear and trundled out of the campsite towards Horner Woods. There were a couple of packhorse bridges that I fancied snaring in my metaphorical net.

Mitre Bridge, so called because of its shape.

A Site of Scientific Interest, and part of one of the largest National Nature Reserves in England. Horner Woods are said to contain Britain's largest area of ancient oak woodland. It is also rich in archaeological features, including an Iron Age enclosure and a deserted settlement thought to date from Anglo-Saxon or medieval times.

But it was the little stone bridges crossing Horner Water that I was after today, so despite my shortcomings, I visited a couple of them to get a few pictures.

No idea what this one's called, but it is a nice bridge.
Looking downstream from one of the bridges as the afternoon sunlight dapples the leaves.

After that, I drove up onto the moors near Porlock to see what I could see, and what I could mainly see was a lot of mist and haze in the atmosphere, apparently it had been like that for days, which was a bit disheartening. So I kept my fingers crossed it would improve, before moving on.

The atmosphere lent the scene a moody ambiance.

I then stopped in Brendon, a lovely village close to the border with Somerset, as I had seen a rather shapely view; looking over a stone bridge towards a sunlit cottage, and couldn’t pass by without getting a snap. 

I think the word is 'quaint'.
Found this collection of wild flowers behind a stone wall.

A little while later, pulling over on the coastal road towards to Lynton and Lynmouth, I got a few shots looking out to sea in the bright, hazy conditions. I tried to make out the horizon, without much luck it has to be said. The ocean just sort of merged into the sky, blue turning into blue, like a two dimensional azure canvas, which was quite odd, and left me with a feeling I was looking at something not quite real.

A few shots looking out to the hazy horizon.

Something that was altogether too real, and I was more than aware of, as I parked up and walked along to the seafront at Lynmouth, were my fantastically absurd trousers. You see, the day before I had gone clothes shopping. Well, I had stopped by the clothes section in Sainsburys and slung a pair of jeans into my basket, as they were about the right size.

That’s about as much retail therapy as I like to participate in as a general rule. Unfortunately, even though the label had clearly stated one particular size, when I put them on first thing the next morning, it was quite obvious that I had been seriously mislead.

I’m not entirely sure who they were designed for, but I’m guessing that they didn’t get out much, they could have even been featured on one of those enlightening Channel 5 ‘documentaries’, where phrases like ‘bed bound’ teams of nurses’ and ‘epic task’ might be bandied about.

Strangely enough, at 6am I figured strapping on a belt would do the trick to bring them into line. It didn’t. So, attracting the gaze of elderly holiday makers, who lined the seafront benches, with the copious flapping of my billowing pantaloons, I resolutely made my way through town.

A panoramic shot of Lynmouth taken on the phone, while the ocean gusts played merry havoc with
my lower garmet.

I stopped for a bag of chips as an appetiser for the Bolognese I was having later, before taking a drive up to the Tors Hotel, which is perched high on cliffs that overlook Lynmouth bay, to get a coffee and catch the last of the sun’s rays before they disappeared behind the surrounding hills.

Another phone shot in colourful Lynmouth. You can see the tracks
for the cliff railway to Lynton on the right.

As the light was beginning to fade I drove back to the campsite to get the fire going before it got dark. Unfortunately my wilderness skills are not quite on a par with Ray Mears, I doubt they’re even on the same level as Ray Charles, but I did what I could.

It may have seemed from a distance, if you’d happened to be passing by and taken an interest, that someone was trying to convey an impressive and complicated message via smoke signal, perhaps in the mistaken belief there was a tribe of Native Americans camped in the next field, But on closer inspection you would have seen a man in oversized, roomy denims, frantically struggling with a small pile of kindling.

Then you may, in all possibility, have suddenly experienced feelings of despondency and anguish, not only for him, but for humanity in general, before making the sudden decision to walk off into the woods and kill yourself in the face with a rock.

But on the plus side, I got it going enough for sufficient heat to warm the bottle of red wine I had thoughtfully brought with me.

After dinner I chucked the remainder of the spaghetti Bolognese into a carrier bag to throw away the next day, before heading for the utilities block to wash up. Upon my return, less than 10 minutes later, I happened across a surprising intruder under the table. 

A rather small hedgehog on a mission.

He was obviously looking forward to a spot of Italian cuisine for his supper. Now, I’m not one to deny wildlife its privileges, but I thought it for the best if I removed the doggy bag from easy access, and placed it on the table. As I lifted it up, I could see something other than left over dinner encamped in the plastic sack.

It was the biggest hedgehog I had ever seen in my life, already settled in and munching his way through mama’s finest, How he managed to get into a tied up carrier bag I hadn’t the slightest idea, and considering all he presented to me was a large mound of sharp spikes and a snout bathed in bolognese, I had no intention of trying to remove him.

It's hard to get a scale of his rotundness but take it from me,
he was very rotund.

All I could do was gently place it back on the ground, and hope when he’d finished his repast, he’d leave quietly and with as little mess as possible.

And that, thankfully is what happened, when I got up the next day, the carrier bag was just where I’d left it, with every trace of Bolognese gone and just the spaghetti left behind, which had been thoroughly licked clean by the look of it.

I took it as the highest of compliments, and hoped he would pass on recommendations to his fellow prickly diners, until I realised how mental I was beginning to sound.

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