Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Exmoor Day 3 - The Barle Valley up close

I emerged from my dripping tent, thanks to a boatload of early morning condensation, to a very dim vista, so I couldn’t yet tell what the sky had in store. I jumped in the car, well more sort of slumped, at that time in the morning, and headed towards the Exe Valley again, in the hope I might get a decent start to the day.

I set up in the pre-dawn gloom and prepared myself for the sunrise to come, which was all well and good, except there wasn’t one. Just a dim grey sky turning slowly into a slightly less dim grey sky.

The grey clouds have come out rather blue in this picture, which actually makes the scene look a lot better
than it was.

So with my only companions being the distant sheep, white tufts drifting across the smooth, round hills over the other side of the valley, and the only sound, intermittent sessions of bleating as they exclaimed their morning news, I watched a landscape reveal itself beneath the sun’s scant luminescence, a diffuse miasma of light, sieved and strained by the impassive matt of cloud above.

As I quietly observed a new day unfold in front of me, the same way it has done for every living thing that has ever existed, for generations, for epochs, for eras, for eons, as it has done in fact since the earth itself had such a thing as a day to unfold. I thought to myself, this is shit.

Fortunately the possibilities looked like they might be better beyond the hills behind me, so I thought I’d try my luck over at Barle Valley. I quickly drove round and there was indeed slightly more interest in the sky. The sort of interest you would get from staring at a piece of paper with a smudge on it, if up until then you’d only had a piece of paper to admire.

Looking over the Barle Valley. I would soon be within it's bumptious clutches.

Here were a smattering of dark grey clouds enlivening the vast mid grey canvas, but they soon scuttled off, as if that considerable excitement was too much for them, leaving a very mediocre start to the day.

It was about 7am and I didn’t fancy going back to the campsite, I wanted to do something, to have something to show for getting up to greet the day. I decided now would be a perfect time to explore the Barle Valley, to try and get to know it a bit better.

So I hightailed it into Simonsbath, donned my wellington boots, stuck some flapjacks in my bag and struck out onto a footpath that looked like it might take me where I wanted to go. The morning was nice and cool, and although it was pretty dismal, it was perfect walking weather.

After following the trail alongside the River Barle through a few overgrown patches of land, it veered off and started to head upwards. I had it in my head to keep to the river as much as possible, so to that end, I left the path and followed my own course. Considering my ample ability to get lost at the best of times, this probably wasn’t the most prudent of choices, but my mind was made up. I would discover this valley’s secrets whether it wanted me to or not.

A rather fetching section of woodland I encountered on my travels.

Following the river through marshy ground and chest high grasses made it fairly tough going, and it wasn’t long before I was discarding layers of clothing, despite the cool temperatures. I carried on until I reached a moss covered patch of woodland, where I continued for a short while until the tangle of branches, stretching from canopy to ground as far as I could see, completely blocked my path. I tried finding a way through, but the going was so slow, especially with my camera bag and tripod that I decided to double back a little way and take a route that went around this patch of jumbled woodland.

A sprawling tree and one of the many streams that feed into the River Barle.

I headed away from the river, much to my dissatisfaction, and up onto some wide, green hills. The ascent was pretty steep and I was soon high up and away from the valley floor. I tried to work out where I was in relation to the view into the valley I had from the road, but I didn’t recognise any particular landmark.

At a loss of whether to continue along the high ground, or head down to the tree filled hollow below, I decided to stay in the open, and made my way to a gate on the far edge of the field. From here it was through another field and past some old stones, who looked like they were heaving themselves out of the ground, or perhaps the ground was pulling them in?

There are quite a lot of standing stones around this area, and I wasn’t sure
if these were part of that complex, but as far as I could tell, they were 

just part of the landscape.

The field started heading downwards and I followed it to another gate, which took me onto a root lined path that followed a woodland perimeter. Before long I had rejoined the river and I was beginning to get an idea of where I was. Here the water had moved away from the woodland and had begun to twist and snake through the open valley floor.

Stopping for a bit of a sit down, I took a quick video of the empty valley and fast flowing river.

I spent some time walking along the bank, as the fast flowing current whirled and flapped over the stones, on its long journey seaward. Fording the river as required, and stopping here and there to get a few shots of the valley as it rose steeply either side of me. And apart from the ever present gurgle of water and the occasional distant bovine bellow, there was not another sound to be heard.

One of the many tight turns this picturesque river makes as it cuts through the valley.

The water was perfectly clear.

Crossing in the shallows, the water dragged and heaved incessantly on my boots with each step, and it was
easy to see how the river had cut its way through the landscape over so many millennia.

I carried on into the valley, following the curves and sweeps of the terrain, enjoying the beautiful views, and after a few hours the clouds began to part and the sun made a belated appearance, which certainly brightened up the landscape, but also started to heat things up.

I had on clothing fit for a cold morning, and following the bank as it angled round to the left, I began walking into the sun. At this point I thought a bit of a rest in a shady nook would be just the job.

I managed to find the perfect spot, overlooking the river but hunkered down from the sun’s gaze, a small alcove lined with moss and other soft vegetation which created an extremely comfortable place to recline. I had a refreshing drink, care of the River Barle, whose waters were crystal clear, and unleashed the flapjacks.

There was plenty of colour about on the undulating landscape.

Taken whilst standing in the river, looking into the valley.

The sun began to heat things up, so I took a bit of a breather which was just to the left of this tranquil view.

I stayed there for about half an hour as it was such a pleasant place to be, with nothing but the buzzing of insects and bubbling of water as a soundtrack, it felt like I had the whole place to myself, and considering I hadn’t seen another person the entire time I was there, I may well have had. I was tempted to doze off, but I knew the day was getting on, and I had other places to visit while in Exmoor, so I decided to head back.

I walked a different way on my return journey, just for a change, keeping to the other side of the river for the most part, and trying to remain in the open valley floor as much as possible. It took quite a while to get back as I encountered a lot of boggy ground, riddled with holes and indentations, which were well hidden by the thick vegetation, making each step an adventure.

Where possible, I also followed a trail created by the cattle that browse this area, which at least gave me something to follow through the surrounding undergrowth, but also meant I was walking through two foot thick mud, which sucked and grasped at my boots and made progress rather slow going.

Taken on the way back, this view looks towards the road I would stop on to get some sunset shots. The road
runs just above the stand of trees, that run diagonally right, in the distance.

By the time I returned to the car at around 3pm, I was comprehensively exhausted, and I thought it would be a splendid idea to head back to the campsite to freshen up, and perhaps even sneak in a quick afternoon nap.

That turned out to be a ridiculous idea. As it was now Saturday, and what had been a quiet little campsite was now infested with children, all intent it seems, on larking about in the section of stream that ran directly behind my tent.

So after a little rest, of the awake kind, I was on my way to Valley of the Rocks and a stroll along the coast path in the afternoon sun. I took a few photos looking out to sea as it blended into the sky, and then some of the mighty Castle Rock and Rugged Jack, with the warm sun on their magnificent flanks, as they stretched upwards into the deep blue sky.

Ocean haze
I spied one of the wild goats in a
rather precarious position. See if you
can spot him.
Here's a close up of his sunbathing
A view towards Castle Rock, with Rugged Jack in the distance.

After that I headed down to Lynmouth and picked up a chip supper, then drove up to the moors to eat it as the sun started to ascend, casting a warm glow over the empty landscape. I didn’t really appreciate this as much as I should have, as I wolfed down the chips and floury bap accompaniment, so I could get over to the Barle Valley in time for sunset. I was determined to get a decent shot of it before I had to leave the next day.

I grabbed a quick shot of the moorland heather before I scooted down for some sunset action.

It turned out pretty well in the end, a few clouds hung around to give the sky a bit of colour and interest, but it was mainly clear, which meant that the temperature plunged rapidly, and I forgot to take a jumper with me. So after an hour or so I was pretty chilly, and was glad to get back into the car and blast out some welcome heat as I motored back to the campsite.

Still, it was worth the effort, to finally get a decent sunset at a place that seems to have preoccupied me for the last couple of days and a lot longer besides. 

A few shots of the Barle Valley at sunset. My persistence paid off in the end.

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