Letter from Exmoor: A coastal walk from Combe Martin to Holdstone Down

Combe Martin to Holdstone Down

There is a concrete path running around the side of the bay at Combe Martin, and further along I can see a flight of steps leading upwards. I decide the steps must join the South West Coast Path, knowing it is somewhere on the slope above, and I set off.

On the way I pass a young boy who has been fishing in a rock pool. He has caught a large crab. He tells me it is only one of many – but the rest escaped.
steps to nowhere, Combe Martin, Ruth's coastal walkI climb the steep steps but find, to my surprise, the top section becomes progressively overgrown. I push through nettles and find the entrance to the steps has been blocked up with a wall of bricks. Why deny access? I can only think it is for ‘Health and ‘Safety’ reasons.

I climb over the wall and find myself in a pretty open space overlooking the bay, with a promenade and a gazebo.

Combe Martin, Ruth walking the South West Coast Path(In the photo above, the blocked entrance to the steps is hidden at the far end of the row of flowering bushes.)

The South West Coast Path takes a steep route up the slope on the east side of Combe Martin Bay. There are steps to climb and in places the path is narrow with overhanging brambles. I am relieved when I emerge from the undergrowth and see a sign: National Trust, Little Hangman. Wow. That was quick. I’m there already!

b03 path up steps, Ruth walking the South West Coast Path, Hangman overgrown SWCP, Lester Cliff, Ruth in Combe Martinb05 Little Hangman, Ruth walking SWCP, Combe Martin, Devon

I stop to admire the view of Combe Martin below me. Contained within the narrow valley, Combe Martin boasts it has the longest village high street in England. [Later, thanks toWikipedia, I am disappointed to discover this is an exaggeration!]
 view over Combe Martin, Ruth walking the SWCP, Devon

And now for another disappointment.

 view across Wild Pear Beach to Little Hangman, Ruth LivingstoneI consult my OS map and discover I am not at the top of Little Hangman after all.

My climb has brought me up Lester Cliff. Ahead and below is the deliciously named Wild Pear Beach. The tall headland on the other side is the real Little Hangman.

[According to the official North Devon tourist site, Wild Pear Beach is often used as a nudist beach. Access to the beach is always difficult, but has been cut off completely by a recent landslip.]

I follow an easy track up to Little Hangman and climb to the top point (218m) to have a rest and take a photo. Ahead is Great Hangman, 100 metres higher at 318m, the tallest coastal cliff in England.
from Little Hangman to Great Hangman, Ruth's coastal walk, north Devon coast
The way up is surprisingly easy. The path is well-worn and, although the incline is fairly relentless, it is not particularly steep.
 easy slog up Great Hangman, Ruth's coastal walk around the UK
At the top there is a cairn of stones and a group of other walkers are standing on the summit, taking photographs of each other. They must have come up the other way and they look rather hot and tired.

other hikers, top of Hangman, Ruth walking on the SWCP, DevonI congratulate myself on my cool appearance, and wait for them to move on.
b11 self-portrait gone wrong, Ruth on top of HangmanRuth Livingstone - self portrait second attempt, Ruth Livingstone on top of HangmanWhen they’re gone, I set up my camera for a self portrait, balancing it on a nearby rock, and run back to clamber up the cairn. Unfortunately my first attempt was not very successful.

I adjust the camera and try again. Success!

Greater Hangman – thehighest point on the South West Coast Path. Or is it…

Although I know, Greater Hangman is the highest coastal cliff in mainland Britain, it doesn’t feel particularly exciting to be standing on the top. One reason is that the cliff slopes gradually, and so there is no sensation of standing on the edge of something and looking down at the sea far below. So, it turns out to be a strange anti-climax, in a way.

There is a higher hill ahead. The other walkers pointed it out. (You can tell it is higher because its summit is above the horizon.) I check my map. Holdstone Hill and 349m above sea level.

looking ahead to Holdstone Hill, Ruth's coastal walking, North Devon

The route up Holdstone Hill looks clear and easy. It may not be on the official coastal path, but I decide to climb it anyway.  Full of confidence, and with 90 minutes before my planned rendezvous with my hubby at a car park somewhere on the other side of Holdstone Down, I set off.

But, I had conveniently chosen to ignore the warning contours on my map. Between me and Holdstone lies a steep cleft. Sherrycombe.
Sherrycombe ahead, Ruth walking near Combe Martin, Devon, SWCP
No wonder the other walkers looked exhausted. The path descends very steeply and I slither and slide my way down into the valley. To make matters worse, the valley is full of flies. They buzz and whine around my face. Are they midges? Or biting flies? I don’t know, but they are very irritating. I swat them with my poles. At least they keep me moving.

The only time I stop is for a quick photo of the bridge across the stream at the bottom. I stand still for less than five seconds and the buzzing is almost unbearable.
valley of the flies, Ruth in Sherrycombe, north Devon
In my mind, Sherrycombe will always be known as the Valley of the Flies.

It is only because I slow down during my scramble up the other side that I realise there is another reason for the buzzing in my ears. Somewhere a farmer appears to be trying to get his tractor out of a ditch, and somebody else is hurtling around the field on a quad bike. I catch little glimpses of this drama as I puff and pant my way out of the valley.

On the higher slopes of Holdstone Hill, I was hoping the breeze from the sea would blow the flies away, but the air is very still and it is some time before I lose the last of the pesky things. Now the path flattens as it circles around the shoulder of the hill.
on Holdstone Down, Ruth walking near Combe Martin, SWCP

I forget my plans to walk up to the top of Holdstone and ignore the footpath that points up to the summit. Too tired for further climbing.

A rustling and crashing sound from the bracken causes me some alarm. But it is only a stray sheep. It looks startled to see me.
sheep in bracken, Ruth on Holdstone Down, SWCP
The remainder of the walk is straightforward and easy, if a bit monotonous. The stony track hurts my feet. I head for the only buildings in sight on the horizon. The road must be up there.
final slog, Holdstone Down, Ruth Livingstone on SWCP
I find the car park rendezvous and, out of four possible options, my husband has managed to pick the right one! He greets me with drinks and fruit, and “what took you so long?”. The view, in the mellow light of the evening sun, is truly lovely.
view from the car park, Ruth's hubby on the SWCP


Tim

Miles walked today = 10
Total since beginning = 1,420 miles

Route:

Letter from Exmoor: THE OLD WAYS – Exmoor Walking Festival 2014

This post was originally published by Davina Jelley on the Number 7 Dulverton blog.

On Friday I led a walking book club special as part of the North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival which is now in it’s fourteenth year. Walkers were asked to read The Old Ways – A Journey On foot by Robert Macfarlane, which seemed a very apt choice for a walking festival, particularly as the route I had chosen would include two beautiful holloway tracks.
The weather was perfect for walking, bright, a slight breeze, not too warm and dry and so I guided the group to Dulverton’s alternative venue, our favourite book club spot, the den that is situated on the site of an old hill fort in Burridge woods.

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There were plenty of fallen logs for us all to find a spot to sit amidst the emerging bluebells. The book met with a mixed response, some found it far too in depth and intellectual, others thoroughly enjoyed his style of writing and sense of place. Personally I loved it. I tend to steer away from non fiction, so was a little tentative about starting this book. What if here was the first book club choice that I would be not be able to finish. My fears were immediately alleviated as I was lost in his magical description of a nighttime walk in hushed snow and keen to read on.
Discussion over it was time to continue on a walk and chat in smaller groups about the book, had it inspired our walkers to walk on their own, plan longer walks, walk in different countries or perhaps write about their own journeys on foot.

Not all the group were keen to tackle the steep climb that leads to Court Down, so we said our farewells at Marsh Bridge and they walked along Northmoor Road with the River Barle to accompany them back into town – leaving the keener walkers to continue on the advertised route.

Reading The Old Ways has sparked an inclination to read other non fiction nature writings. Although why I was perturbed I don’t know, as I loved Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, sometimes it’s good to be gently  reminded and nudged back into forgotten territory, surely that is the beauty of a book club. On my list are a couple of proofs that look interesting including Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel and just published Dip by Andrew Fusek Peters.

Thank you to all who joined us on The Old Ways walk, our regular book club members and those who were discovering the woods around Dulverton for the first time.

* * *

If you’d like to find out more about Number 7 Dulverton and join their Walking Book Club, then please pop over to their website. The next walk will take place on 31 May 2014.

Exmoor Club Card: Spring Offer – save more than 50%

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Our SPRING OFFER is only available for a few more days! Make sure you don’t miss out and get your club card now:  

Only £12.00 for a whole year of fantastic savings (instead of the usual £25.00) – what’s not to like!

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With the Easter holidays upon us and spring well on its way, it is a great time to explore all that Exmoor has to offer.  To make going out a bit more affordable we have set up the Exmoor Club which offers its members great savings across Exmoor.

Here are some examples of the discounts available:

2 for 1 admission at NT Knightshayes Court
20% discount – NT Selworthy Tea Room and Shop20% discount on selected activities at the Exmoor Owl and Hawk Centre
25% discount on web design (Edward Martin Computers)
40% discount on Archant publications like Somerset Life and Devon Life
15% discount at Exmoor Zoo
10% discount at West Somerset Railway
10% discount on Exmoor Safaris with Experience Exmoor
10% discount with Exmoor Adventures
10% discount at The Culbone
10% discount on selected activities at Calvert Trust Exmoor
£25.00 discount at the Yarn Market Hotel

For  a full list of deals and discounts go to www.exmoorclub.co.uk

 

Letter from Exmoor: Out with #Hibernot, in with glorious spring!

 

By Neil Osmond from Experience Exmoor

(first published on the Experience Exmoor website on 26 March 2014)

As we leave the wild and wet winter behind, I would like to share some recent events and news with you.

 

SAFARI SCENES

November was actually pretty nice and for the first time we had many safaris in what is normally a quieter month. The red deer were still active with the action of the rut and huge flocks of starlings were evident high up on the moor. One day, when I was out with a young couple on holiday, I managed to capture some fantastic wildlife video images which my wife Christel put into a short film.

 

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Red deer stag during the rut

I also hooked up with my friend Ken Blakey, award-winning filmmaker and owner of Lee House in Lynton. We went out and about one clear day and Ken produced another wonderful video to capture the essence of our Exmoor safaris.

ADAPTING TO THE WEATHER

The winter proved violent and dangerous, with a huge impact on people’s daily lives, but while out on Exmoor I sort of enjoyed nature’s power and how, regardless of what is thrown at the wildlife, they just carry on.

Right now some early spring Exmoor Pony foals are appearing and their coats have already adapted to the fresh winds high up on the moor!

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First Exmoor Pony Foal we’ve seen this spring

HIBERNOT

The Discovery 4 is just an outstanding vehicle and this winter we were backing the Land Rover catch phrase #Hibernot. Social media helped us here when one of my photos of a Highland cow got re-tweeted by the Land Rover PR team to over 79,000 followers!

The 4×4 we use provides height, great comfort and superb visibility for all on board. It wasn’t me who won the big £108 Euromillions Lottery, but if I had done I would just get an extra Discovery!

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Highland cow used in LandRover’s #Hibernot campaign on Twitter

GLORIOUS SPRING

The gorse bushes are in full yellow bloom, lambs and foals are entering our world and the clocks are about to change, giving us longer days and extra opportunities to discover more and enjoy this special area. So… out with #hibernot, bring on a glorious spring!

EXCITING NEWS

Early in the year we got contacted by one of the best local professional surfers, Lyndon Wake. As of this year we are planning an exciting partnership to provide sea, surf and land experiences in North Devon and Exmoor. We will also be working with the fantastic Sea Safari team in Ilfracombe to provide a combination of land and sea discovery adventures!

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Exploring Exmoor’s coast from a different angle

UNUSUAL NEWS

Last year I took out two delightful ladies from the USA who had come over to the UK on the Queen Mary and were staying at The Old Rectory Hotel in Martinhoe. We got along really well and kept in touch through social media. They said before they left that if they won the lottery they would come back to Exmoor and buy me!! Well, a few months ago, believe it or not, they actually won and guess what? They are coming back to Exmoor in August and have booked up 2 safari days with me. We will also try to see the Dark Sky of Exmoor and dance with the stars. I cannot wait to see them again.

NEW AND OPEN FOR BUSINESS

The new National Park Pavilion in Lynmouth will no doubt attract many visitors. The centre is a great point of information , offering interactive displays and even a theatre room. Visitors to the centre are also able to book their Exmoor safari with us with one of the helpful staff members at the Pavilion. The Coach House at Kentisbury Grange has a brand new kitchen in full view of the restaurant and we are looking forward to working closely with the team there. The new Moorish Farm Shop and Café has just opened on the western edge of Exmoor and is already proving a hit with locals thanks to excellent produce and service.

Celebrating Christel's birthday at The Coach House a few weeks ago

Celebrating Christel’s birthday at The Coach House a few weeks ago

NESTING NEWS

It’s so exciting to keep learning every day. Did you know, for instance, that the guillemot sea bird doesn’t actually build a nest for its eggs? It uses Exmoor’s cliff ledges to roll the eggs onto. The angle of the ledge as well the pear-shape of the egg holds them there. How amazing is that?

 

Exmoor cliff edge providing great nesting opportunities for guillemots

Exmoor cliff edge providing great nesting opportunities for guillemots

 

I wish you all a truly glorious spring and hope to take you out on a journey across Exmoor sometime!

Neil

 

Note from Exmoor4all:
Experience Exmoor are one of our valued Exmoor Club partners – members save 10% on their bookings. See our Exmoor Club website for details.

Date for the Diary: Wimbleball Lake Astro Camp

101 Wimbleball Lake Event

From Saturday 1st until Saturday 8th March 2014 South West Lakes Trust would like to invite you to their Astro Camp at Wimbleball Lake as part of National Astronomy Week.

Exmoor National Park is designated as the International Dark Sky Reserve, the first place in Europe to achieve this prestigious award and only the second in the World. Wimbleball Lake was nominated as the first Dark Skies Discovery Site on Exmoor in November 2011.

The week long camp will incorporate a variety of exciting activities for all the family to enjoy including, talks and presentations, workshops, Planetarium, telescopes, stargazing opportunities, plus BBQ’s on Sat 1st, Friday 7th and Sat 8th March. People can attend for a couple of hours, or for the whole week, depending on their availability. Camping / caravanning is also available on our AA 3* rated campsite to maximize the stargazing opportunities. We also have 2 camping pods that are available to hire.

Alex Forster, South West Lakes Trust Exmoor Area Manager said, ‘South West Lakes Trust are really excited to be hosting this Astro Camp as part of National Astronomy Week. Stargazing at Wimbleball is phenomenal as there is so little light pollution, however there will be a wide variety of indoor activities each evening just in case it is cloudy!’

There are many positions at Wimbleball Lake where individual or group activities can take place with level hard surfaced areas overlooking the scenic lakeside with clear big sky views. For more information please call 01398 371116 or email aforster@swlakestrust.org.uk

South West Lakes Trust is the region’s largest combined environmental and recreational charity.  Its 50 inland water sites, encompassing 5,000 hectares of land and water spread across Devon, Cornwall and West Somerset, attract in the region of 2m visits annually.  It is listed as being in the top 3,000 of the country’s 150,000 charities. 3,112 days of assistance by volunteers were freely given in 2011, in return training was offered in relevant skills (86 days in 2011).   SWLT involved over 90,000 people in water sports activities in 2011, including 24,400 children.  It manages large tracts of moorland and significant areas of woodland, with Forest Stewardship Council accreditation.