Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Exeter Walls Walk

Wall North of South Gate

I have long been fascinated by city walls and an opportunity arose for me to explore the walls surrounding Exeter while my wife was otherwise engaged during our trip to Devon.  The walls around the city of Exeter are surprisingly complete with nearly 70% still standing.  You could be forgiven for missing them though as the modern city has completely enveloped them and the central business district has spilled out beyond the original confines.  Apparently even more of the wall survived into the 20th Century but significant sections were removed to enable modernisation and ring roads to be built.  Now though Exeter seems to have rediscovered its love for the wall and a walk around the remaining sections has been laid out, complete with interpretation boards.  This is the walk that I completed although not in the official order of the boards.

Watch Tower

I started actually at the final board as this was the one that I found first.  I hadn’t actually set out to do the walk but faced with some time to spare and an invitation like this how could I resist?  The final board (number 8) is at the South Gate and I approached this from the Yaroslavl Bridge, which connects two parts of the wall removed to make way for the inner ring road in 1961.  It seems amazing to me that a historical structure that has been around for several hundred years could have been vandalised in this way.  Attitudes were different back in the 1960s and progress and a desire to regenerate the city after the devastation of World War 2.

Decorative Bridge

Just along from the bridge and missing section of wall would have been the South Gate.  By all accounts this was the most impressive of all the gates but now you will need your imagination to ‘see’ it for the whole structure has been obliterated.  This was demolished in 1819, presumably for something as mundane as widening the road into the city.  The only clues as to its appearance are on old drawings and maps pointing to how impressive it must once have been.  For a good many years it acted as the local clink but the authorities moved it during the early 1800s after acknowledging the inhuman conditions in which they were keeping prisoners.


Immediately to the north of the South Gate is a stretch of wall that is pretty complete and the path runs alongside it for some distance.  Unlike walls in other cities it isn’t possible to walk along the top of the wall in Exeter, which is a shame.  However, what it does do is allow the walker to look closely at the structure of the wall and on this lengthy section it has clearly been maintained on many occasions for there are repair patches all the way along.  Apparently some of these repairs were effected as long ago as the English Civil War when the wall took quite a beating.  This is now a quiet section away from the hullaballoo of the city and only ends when a road leading to the cathedral cuts across it.  I don’t think there was a gate at this location.

Cathedral Precinct

I took the opportunity to go and have a closer look at the cathedral while the opportunity arose.  This is surely one of the finest mediaeval cathedrals in the UK and its precinct was thronged with people enjoying picnic lunches on the lawns outside and drinks and lunches in surrounding pubs and cafes.  Given that it was such a beautiful day it wasn’t surprising to see it so popular.  Sadly there wasn’t time to look around inside on this occasion but I shall be sure to when I come for another visit.

I returned to the wall and continued around to what would have once been the East Gate.  Some of the wall is in good shape, other sections are significantly denuded while the modern city looks on.  Fortunately what is left appears to be well looked after along this part but I couldn’t help feeling that it was a bit after the horse had bolted.  Eventually the wall ran out by some of the big modern stores that have been built in this part of the city centre.  I had to walk around them in order to find traces of the walls again.  The official start of the trail is here.
War Memorial

The wall leaves the bustling city shortly after to continue on a course through Northernhay Gardens.  This is a delightful oasis and a very popular place for people to enjoy the sunshine.  The gardens looked resplendent with the planting schemes devised by the Council’s Parks Department and they are to be congratulated for putting on such a colourful show.  The gardens are overseen by Exeter Castle, a stronghold that has its roots in the original Roman Fort built not long after the invasion in 55AD.  This is surely the oldest part of the wall?  In this area is a Norman Gatehouse; not part of the original wall but worth a look nevertheless for it shows that the wall had new relevance when this latest set of invaders took over the country. I also paused to look at the very fine war memorial in the gardens before heading down the slope towards what would have been the North Gate.

It is a great shame that none of the original gates now survive.  I am sure if they could have put in a few more years the preservationists would have got hold of them and maintained at least one for posterity.  The North Gate and the West Gate were a lot less decorative than the first two I passed but what the wall lacked in decoration was perhaps surpassed by the views across the valley outside.  Although some of the walk along the wall was through some parking areas it soon improved as it reached the park and old housing of Bartholomew Street.  This is a delightful corner of the city centre, largely away from the horrific traffic that blights a lot of the county town of Devon. 

Park Lodge

I lingered in the park awhile trying to imagine the views that Parliamentarian Forces would have seen from the now torn down Snayle Tower.  I wonder what they would make of the retail parks and ring roads of today’s scene?  Just beyond here is the site of the West Gate, once a very busy entrance for the woollen trade coming to market but demolished in 1815 to widen the road.  The road is now a rather brutal interloper on the scene, being very wide and busy at this point.

Yaroslavl Bridge

I was almost back to where I began at the car park but there was time for one more gate – the Water Gate (not associated with any scandal that I am aware of!).  This wasn’t part of the original defensive wall structure but was added in the 16th Century to enable further access to textiles from the nearby River Exe.  As with all the others imagination is now needed to get any idea about what the gate would have looked like.

Norman Tower

This marked the end of the walk.  As with many city walls walks it is of modest length and can easily be completed in a couple of hours.  I only just had time to complete it myself and so I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to inspect all the associated structures.  Despite its 20th Century destruction in places the remains are fascinating and allows the walker to see beyond the glass and metal of the modern buildings to a different time in Exeter.  For that reason this is a walk to be commended.  Leaflets are available at the tourist office or you can obtain an online version.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

South West Coast Path Section 39 Hope Cove to Salcombe

Malborough Church
I couldn't very well let a week in Devon pass without having a go at doing some more coast path, but in truth I was only ever going to be able to complete a short section as it was hot weather and although my wife is a good sport she doesn't really enjoy coastal walking.  As my companion for this section I didn't want to push my luck and she was on a promise of a decent lunch at the end.  Transport is also a real issue in this part of Devon and I wanted therefore to make life as easy as possible.  We parked in the village of Malborough high up above the coast roughly half way between start and finish of our walk.  In total this walk is about 9 miles.
Red Path

Malborough is a very agreeable small village, especially away from the main road.  It also benefits from having an hourly bus service from Salcombe to Kingsbridge as well as free parking.  It therefore makes an excellent staging post where there are few other options in the area.  Parking in Salcombe is an expensive option so be warned!

Hope Cove Chapel
In order to start our walk we had to first get down to the seaside at Hope Cove.  Fortunately there is a fairly direct path down from the village.  We walked through the churchyard initially admiring the old gravestones as we did so.  We also ran into an old lady who passed the time of day with us.  She wanted to show us around the church but we declined as we were anxious to get going before it got too hot.  The church did look interesting though and the tower was particularly tall - maybe a daymark?

Lifeboat Station
The first section out of the village was easily the worst part.  I calculated that walking the quarter of a mile or so along a country lane wouldn't be so bad and we may even not meet any cars at all.  How wrong I was!  The lane was a bit of a race track with lots of surfer traffic heading down to Hope Cove.  We also met a couple of very large tractors with scary looking attachments and we certainly gave them a wide berth!

Hope Cove
As soon as we left the road the walking got instantly better.  Firstly the most obvious thing that caught our eye was the red soil that pervades in this area - it gives the countryside such a wonderful hue.  For my wife it is a piece of nostalgia as it was one of the first things she remembers about coming to this country.  The views across the coast also opened up and we soon realised that we could see way beyond Plymouth into Cornwall.  I had brought my binoculars and a quick look through those revealed that Cawsand was on the horizon with Rame Head just behind.  That is the stretch of coast that we know best of all for that was the one where we started walking along the coast path.

Red Cliffs
Soon enough we came to Hope Cove.  This little place looked to be justifiably popular.  It was possibly one of the first proper summer days we had had and the temperatures had brought out lots of holidaymakers eager to make the most of it.  We dropped down to the coast via some very steep steps alongside a small church.  I imagine the whole village would once have fitted in there at one point - fat chance today!  Hope Cove has two halves - Inner Cove and Outer Cove.  We walked down to Inner Hope and past a very old looking RNLI station.  I imagine the crew here are kept quite busy looking after hapless tourists.  It has been here since 1877 and was originally presented by the Freemasons.

The climbing started as soon as we passed by the Lifeboat Station.  We were climbing up to Bolt Tail although to be fair it wasn't anything like as challenging as some of the other climbs we have done elsewhere.  The headland at Bolt Tail has an ancient fort and we crossed the earthworks to reach the headland.  The view from this point was quite astonishing along the South Hams coast towards Plymouth and beyond.  I could have stayed here for a very long time trying to pick out all the detail.

Red Campion
The walk from Bolt Tail was steadily uphill for some time.  The cliffs below us started to get quite fearsome looking and offshore we could see several ships on the horizon heading who knows where?  They were mostly the slab looking ships that carry huge amounts of cargo in containers.  Romantic they aren't!  The strange thing about the walk initially was that we seemed to make very little progress as the path curved around Bolt Tail and gave us the impression that we hadn't walked anywhere as the settlement lay below us seemingly no further away.  

Beach Henge
This stretch of coast is pretty exposed - there are almost no trees to provide shade.  I imagine that during the winter months there are some pretty strong storms and this might explain why trees don't much like it.  The sun was pretty relentless as a result and a good hat and plenty of sun cream were required.  Keeping the hat one sometimes was a bit of a challenge though as the breeze was pretty strong at times.

Soar Mill Cove
Eventually we got to the top of the slope and this heralded a lengthy section of level walking which was a bit of a relief.  We passed a car park and that brought a flurry of other walkers.  The cafe suggested in the guide book no longer exists though - in fact the building that once hosted it had half the roof missing.  Perhaps that was the reason why it no longer prospered!  The path was increasingly passing through carpets of wild flowers and foxgloves in particular seemed to be thriving on this section.
Soar Mill Cove

Soon we were dropping down alarmingly and that could only mean one thing -  a massive climb ahead!  This was down to Soar Mill Cove, a beautiful spot that a few hardy souls had made their way down to from the car park.  It was so delightful that we felt we had to pause awhile to get our breath back a bit.  We decided not to dip our feet in the sea though - the sand on the beach was the really coarse kind that we would have had in our boots for hours afterwards.  We did take the opportunity to hide out in a sheltered and shaded part of the beach.  The time out of the relentless sun was quite welcome.

Splasho Of Blue
After steeling ourselves for the next section we finally felt ready.  We slowly climbed up and away from the cove, taking the lower of the two paths that leads away.  This has the advantage of a lesser climb although it is more undulating .  The path sort of clings to the edge of the cliff for a while but eventually reaches the top at The Warren.  This was our last opportunity for a view westward as just beyond here the path took a course around Bolt Head and the Starehole Bay.  For me the best part of the whole walk - the coast was quite astonishing with its rocky cliffs and path clinging to the side of the precipitous slopes.

Little Guy
As we rounded Bolt Head the view changed in a flash - gone was the westward view behind us to be replaced by one eastwards across Salcombe Bay and towards Prawle Point where I had been last year.  In fact from Bolt Head it was possible to see pretty much the entire first two thirds of that walk completed in August last year.  The boat traffic down below on the sea had also increased courtesy of the port at Salcombe.  One boat far below us was tugging some youngsters on a rubber tube and it was possible to hear the shrieks of delight above the sound of the engine!

Bolt Head
The path continued around the bay and managed to negotiate a particularly rocky part with a handrail and fenced in section.  Not one for the faint hearted!  I thought it quite exhilarating but I think I might have been alone in that one.  Once round that headland (Sharp Tor) the going got a little easier as the path continued towards Salcombe.  Soon the scrubby hillside gave way to woodland and some welcome shade.  Distances were deceptive here though - we thought that we would soon reach Overbeck's, a National Trust place that we had identified as our lunch stop.  In fact it was getting a bit frustrating as we were both pretty hungry by now.  Eventually we came upon the access road but had a bit of an unpleasant shock as it became clear that we would have to climb quite a lot to reach the entrance.
Keeping You Safe

We headed straight for the cafe when we got there and even after all these years of marriage I managed to surprise my wife by ordering a crab salad.  I don't usually go for seafood but perhaps it was the smell of sea air that tempted me into ordering it.  I have to say it was absolutely delicious and was an excellent choice.  Feeling fortified we headed around the house, which was once owned by a man called Otto Overbeck, who made his fortune as an inventor using something called a Rejuvenator, which used electrotherapy to improve people's health.  He was also something of a collector and the house was stuffed full of some rather strange items, including several model ships and dolls house things.  The Youth Hostel that once operated here sadly closed in 2014, removing another accommodation possibility for walkers.
Overbeck's Entrance

Having looked around the house and fascinating tropical gardens we found that we had finally lost the sun.  The wispy cloud which had been overhead all day had now enveloped the sky and we had a rather overcast walk into Salcombe along the road.  This got quite hairy at times as it is wide enough only for one vehicle at a time.  Often there were traffic jams created as queues of cars had to wait in turn to pass by and this meant even less room for us walkers.  

At South Sands we considered using the rather unusual tractor looking ferry that takes passengers into the town of Salcombe.  Although it would undoubtedly have been fun the queue was quite long and we thought it would be a lot quicker to walk.  The walk wasn't uninteresting although I would have preferred an off road route.  The houses were superb - I cannot imagine any go for much less than a million pounds.  Offshore was the shell of Salcombe Castle, rather like the ones in the Dartmouth Estuary but in considerably worse shape.  Eventually we found ourselves in the town and had a bit of time to look in the shop windows and have an ice cream before finding the bus back to Malborough.

It felt good to be back on the coast path and although the distance was quite modest we felt like we had had a good work out.  The trip to Overbecks was definitely worth the extra time and the crab salad was excellent.  All in all a great day out!
Bringing In The Catch

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Lydford Gorge

White Lady Waterfall
This is a bit of a walk with a difference for it is the only one on this blog that you actually have to pay for.  Lydford Gorge is walk number 1 in the Pathfinder Guide volume 26 Dartmoor Walks and is the main route through the National Trust property.  We have a membership so it didn't cost us directly but be prepared to pay an entrance fee if you don't have a membership.  We had this rather nasty surprise approximately 20 years ago when my wife and I did this walk as young students on a day trip from Plymouth.  Being fairly poor we hadn't expected to pay to get in, but we did bite the bullet and do it.  For us then this was a bit of a trip down memory lane although we had forgotten most of the walk in the intervening years.

Money Mushroom
Lydford is at the southern end of the Granite Way and after some deserved refreshment on finishing the outward stretch of the ride we embarked on the short walk around the gorge.  What was immediately obvious this time was that we would not have the gorge largely to ourselves as we had done back in 1995.  If I recall that wasn't such a great day weather-wise and so most people didn't bother coming.  The same couldn't be said about this sunny and warm bank holiday - it was glorious and the crowds were out as a result.

The first part of the walk is along the top of the gorge.  This makes pretty easy walking through delightful woodland and it has to be said that we picked just about the best time of the year to come as the flowers were all out in full song (maybe a couple of weeks too late?).  Ramsons were plentiful and the bluebells were finishing up, while there were plenty of greater stitchwort buttercups and Red campion.  It certainly made for a pretty palette.  The trees had mostly filled out with foliage now and summer seemed to be in full swing.

Railway Bridge
The first inkling of how busy the path was going to get was about a mile in when we started to hit traffic.  A lot of families were out walking and they started bunching up as either the children stopped to look at stuff or the large groups were simply walking at different speeds and needed to allow each other to catch up.  Luckily we passed most of them quite quickly and found ourselves at the other entrance.  We headed through the gate so that we could look at the tea shop but that too was rammed and so we decided to press on.

Descending into the Gorge
In order to leave via this entrance we passed under a railway bridge.  My edition of the Pathfinder Guide dates from 1989 and the included map shows that the line is still operating - must be a very old map for this former Great Western line to Launceston closed at the end of 1962!  This isn't the same line as the one followed by the Granite Way but would have met up just to the south of Lydford.  Unlike the Granite Way route this isn't one that is ever likely to reopen and the short stretch in this area is now just a footpath.

Our high level route came to an end at the railway.  In order to continue on our way we had to descend the steep valley side into the bottom of the gorge.  This was quite a tricky descent not made any easier by lots of people making their way down to the most famous feature of the Gorge; the White Lady waterfall.  This 100 foot waterfall drops dramatically into the gorge below and is probably the feature that most people come to see.  Ironically when we came before this was the only place in the entire gorge where we actually saw someone - a chap who took our picture.  Sadly I haven't come across that picture in years.  Probably tucked away in a drawer somewhere.  This time the scene could not be more different - there was quite the throng at the bottom of the waterfall!

End of the Bluebells
We hung around for a short while but taking pictures with no people in shot was nigh on impossible especially because one young couple seemed to be hogging the limelight and the girl was modelling all sorts of poses in front of the waterfall.  I was sort of amused at first but then got irritated as they clearly had no thought of anyone else wanting to take pictures without them in shot.

We continued on our way along the gorge at river level.  The River Burn cuts a tortuous route through the valley and in places the footpath has to take boardwalks in order to negotiate the steep sided valley.  It also meant that there was soon a lengthy traffic jam of walkers, mostly on account of people not really used to the rigours of such terrain taking things very slowly and deliberately in order not to have an accident.  Perhaps this was a very good thing but nonetheless it was aggravating that the slow coaches didn't step aside for us sure footed mountain goats...

Narrow Gorge
Despite the frustration of walking under such conditions it was easy to see why the gorge is so popular.  The river is full of interest at all times as it has carved out its channel in the rock, creating mini waterfalls and rapids as it heads downstream.  The walking was most interesting as we negotiated our way around the tight corners and through tunnels and across boardwalks.  In the river itself were scores of brown trout.  They must have an energetic life battling against the current.

Devil's Cauldron
Eventually we made our way to the Devil's Cauldron, a remarkable feature created as the river has drilled its way through the rock creating a hollow that is tens of feet deep.  A short walkway allowed us to inspect in more detail and it was incredible to see how much power the river had here.  This was also the point at which we started to head uphill quite sharply and we soon came upon the bridge that we had cycled over to get to the visitor centre.

Tucker's Pool
Before finishing the walk we decided to head along the river valley a little way more to Tuckers Pool, a delightful little oasis beyond the reach of most of the day trippers and principally because it is a bit of extra mileage without any real purpose.  When we got as far as we could we took the opportunity to dip our toes in the water.  It was toe-curlingly cold but very welcome and refreshing.  We retraced our steps and climbed back up to the visitor centre.  By now hoards more people were heading in - I think we could have had even more congestion.  The numbers of people coming here clearly show the wisdom of having a one-way system.  If you decide to do this walk yourself - be warned, it is a seriously popular place!  Our journey wasn't quite over though - we headed back to Okehampton on our bikes :)