Thursday, 20 August 2015

So Much More Than The View ... National Association For Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty/National Parks

I love leaving the house (and the vague notion that I should be doing some housework) to go walking, preferably in the country. For me it's an intrinsic part of the writing process, and I am hugely lucky that my home city of Bristol is ringed by the Wye Valley/Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds, and the Mendips, and that at a slightly greater radius lie the Gower, the Brecon Beacons, the Malverns, the North Wessex Downs, Cranborne Chase and the West Wiltshire Downs, and the Quantocks.

And when I holiday, invariably in Devon, I can see Dartmoor from the hills behind my family's caravan, while the Blackdowns, North, East and South Devon, Dorset, the Tamar Valley, Cornwall, and Exmoor are all within easy reach.  So much variety and interest - and all of them either Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Parks.  

So I was delighted when our postman turned up with several copies of So much more than the view, a joint publication from the National Association For Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks England, which highlights the benefits such areas offer society. 

It turns out that the AONBs and National Parks in England cover more than a quarter of the country and welcome more than 260 million visitors per year.  They also provide inspiration for artists and writers (like me) and sporting people (not like me); homes for people and wildlife; thousands of jobs; and life-enhancing experiences for people of all ages.

Given that these areas are so vital to the country's economy and to the health and well-being of so many, it does therefore seem surprising that public spending on AONBS and National Parks is less than £1 per person per year.  They need more investment from the government to continue to protect these places and to promote sustainable growth within communities. I support these aims, which is why I was delighted that my poem, Coleridge Changes His Library Books, from my first collection, Communion, was quoted in part in the brochure, as an example of how these places can be inspirational.  

In fact,
my poem about Coleridge, who famously walked his way around the West Country,  takes its inspiration from visits I made to the Quantocks, Exmoor, the Wye Valley, the Mendips and East Devon - no less than four AONBS and one National Park.   

At the launch of the brochure back in June, the Environment Minister Rory Stewart asserted that we have a 'deep obligation to protect this land, its farms and its communities', and that 'while we celebrate the fact that they have also to potential to bring prosperity, we must never reduce such places simply to their economic value – they are so much more than that.'  Whether this will translate into more government investment remains to be seen.  Certainly such statements seem to be at odds with permitting fracking companies to drill horizontally under national parks and other protected areas, to give just one example of the way these landscapes are under threat.  

In the meantime, we can voice our opposition to such initiatives, visit our special places and support their local businesses, support the AONBS and National Parks by donating, volunteering, putting our car parking money in the honesty box, etc. And we can keep on walking, learning and writing; painting, photographing and sculpting; telling the stories and histories of these places; and letting everyone know how vital - yet fragile - they are. 

As for the bit about being a household name, well, thanks, guys, but I don't think 
that's the case even in this house, given that the dog seems to think I'm called Mum.  But I'll still keep visiting and keep writing. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Severn Sea At Our Feet

I'd intended to take my daughter and her friend down to Berrow beach in Somerset on Saturday, to give the dog a run and get a few lungfuls of sea air, but one look at the river of cars headed south on the M5 at Cribbs Causeway had me switching lanes and driving under the motorway instead, on a direct route towards Severn Beach.  Which was disappointing.  And yet, as I've maintained before, the closest 'beach' to Bristol does have its own bleak beauty.  

NO, not that, this ... 

Tide out too. Proper desolate. I like it. 

I'd intended to take an arty photo of this huge lump of driftwood but Ted got there first. 

I was pleased out of all proportion to take this simple, foot-worn path up to the technological magnificence of the Second Severn Crossing and under the busy M4. 

The old bridge looking sombre in shadow

Here's the view downstream again.  You can just make out Denny Island and that familiar divide west and east, between a cloudy Wales and brighter England, all down to Atlantic depressions and prevailing winds and stuff.

One of the things I love about coming out here are the huge skies and the feeling of space. It's always worth the 20 minute drive out of the city to get a sense of the sea.  


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Drewsteignton, Fingle Bridge and Castle Drogo

One last holiday jaunt before returning to Bristol. Having cleaned up and loaded the car, we set off for Drewsteignton and a favourite pub of mine, The Drewe Arms, where we stopped for lunch.

I'd decided the time had come to take my partner in poetry on what is perhaps the greatest of all Dartmoor Newbie walks, the wander from the inn at Fingle Bridge along the banks of the River Teign via Fisherman's Path to the road leading to Castle Drogo, then back along Hunter's Path to our starting point.  Except that we were going to set out from Drewsteignton itself and vary the route a little further by doing it in reverse.  This involved traversing a field of cows (again) which didn't make me Ms Popular (even though I was at pains to point out that it wasn't anywhere near a different field in Drewsteignton  in which I'd encountered a very testy bull back in 2003).

Having reached Hunter's Path we turned right, away from Fingle Bridge. This was partly to get most of the walk done before any further drinking opportunities arose, and partly so that the first view of Castle Drogo my partner would get would be the one from Sharp Tor, where it rises from the granite as if it had miraculously grown of its own accord, rather than been built.  By Lutyens.

Meanwhile, Ted was staking his claim on all he surveyed.

As we advanced along the path, there were lots of other fabulous views, like this one over the Teign gorge, with Kes Tor a wart on the horizon.  (You won't be able to make it out in this size picture.)

At Sharp Tor we paused ...

... ready to drink in the glory of Castle Drogo, and instead saw the biggest tent in the world. Buggrit. Restoration set to continue for a few more years yet. 

Looking back up the gorge to Sharp Tor

It was a warm day so we were glad to come down off Hunter's Path, which is pretty exposed, and return along Fisherman's Path - not an easy walk, due to the roughness of sections of the track and the need to climb a lot of steps to circumvent the foot of Sharp Tor where it meets the river - but pleasant all the same.  

Teign by turns fretful and placid  

As elsewhere on the moor, the stone in the gorge is granite, but here the effect of sun on moss turned it to gold. 

Hard to tell here which part is stone and which is wood. 

What was once The Angler's Rest is now the Fingle Bridge Inn. We stopped for a breather and took in the scene - more people than almost anywhere else on Dartmoor, I suspect, but still quite peaceful.


At this point, having left the bridge, I remembered something about this walk that I forget in between each attempt at walking it, and that is what a bastard climb it is up through Drewston Wood to regain Hunter's Path.  The photos don't do the gradient justice.

It was a question of picking a tree up ahead and marching straight at it, followed by a prolonged lean against its trunk while hips, knees, ankles and lungs recovered.
Ted didn't appear to be struggling, however. 

Once on the higher path, we recovered in the cool of the trees.  I was ultra impressed by the venerability  of this beech tree.  They seldom seem to live long enough to swap magnificence for character, but this one has both.   

We then wound our way through to Rectory Wood, where there's a sculpture by Peter Randall-Page from his Granite Song series.  I paid homage at all the sculptures on the trail about fifteen or so years ago, and this one is probably the least prepossessing, but I love the way it interacts with nature, being set over a stream and engineered in such a way that the water bubbles out through a hole in the top of the boulder. I suspect it might be time to start revisiting the rest.  

By the time we'd hobbled back up the holloway to the village, I was in a lot of pain, having packed my Co-codamol in the bottom of the boot without first taking any, but the day was not yet done for when we arrived back in the village car park, it was to discover that my front tyre, driver's side, was completely flat. Whereupon we adjourned to the pub and the landlord's lovely partner took pity on me and changed the tyre in exchange for a rather sweaty hug. Told you it was a great pub.  

Friday, 14 August 2015

Kilgoodh Ust

What's the other side of the stile?

Why, this.  Cape Cornwall - or in Cornish, Kilgoodh Ust, goose back of St Just.  

Lovely, isn't it?  In fact, the only thing that could make it more gorgeous would be the permanent installation of this.

But it's not all wild beauty.  Like Dartmoor, this landscape is post industrial.  In the Kenidjack - or Nancherrow - valley alone, a little to the north, there are eight former mines. And this is what remains of the Kenidjack arsenic works. Nice. 

On the cliff top at the far side of the valley are the ruins of Wheal Edward and West Wheal Owles (which were in fact used during the filming of Poldark and thus justify my inclusion of a photo of the rugged and picturesque Aiden Turner).

You can't even wander around without being warned about the past. 

Most prominent of all is the mine chimney on Cape Cornwall itself, part of the less imaginatively named Cape Cornwall Mine. We were privileged to visit during the annual Flying Ant Day. 

Until the first Ordnance Survey 200 years ago , Cape Cornwall, where the great Atlantic currents divide, was considered the most westerly point of Great Britain.   There are good views from here to the usurper promontory, Peal Point (now known as Land's End), four miles to the south

There are also some perilous-looking paths right at the very edge of the cliff. Danger of Death EVERYWHERE. 

Being a bit of a history buff, Ted was also interested in St Helen's Oratory, which dates back to Romano-Christian times (approx 4th century).   

The ancient cross on the gable end of the chapel was found nearby. Apparently another cross, with a chi-rho monogram, was discovered in the mid-19th century, by the John Buller, the Vicar of St Just, and taken back to the vicarage, but unfortunately his successor threw it down the well and it has never been recovered. Ding dong dell.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Return to Lydford and the Long White Dress Of Love

Our previous visit to Lydford Gorge was the autumn before last; our return trip was at the request of my partner in poetry, who wanted to see it at a different time of year.  

One of the disadvantages of working in a school is that you have to take your holiday during school holiday time. Normally this isn't too much of a problem on Dartmoor, which is big enough and bleak enough to be secluded even during August, but Lydford Gorge is owned by the National Trust and very popular with the  Labrador and Barbour Brigade.

We managed to keep a bit of a space for ourselves while walking the one-way system through judicious speeding up and tactical standing to one side as appropriate. 

Peeing in the White Lady fountain helped also. (Just kidding.)

The waterfall, although less full this time of year, is still the Long White Dress Of Love.  

And the verdant mosses and ferns make the whole ravine feel jungly ...  


... or even Rivendellesque.  

In fact, Peter Jackson could have saved a fortune on CGI and air tickets for the entire production to  New Zealand. 

Although spectacular, Devil's Cauldron was also less spectacular than during more wintry months ... 

... anyhow, we had a appointment at the village pub.