Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lynton to Porlock

A damp start to the day. Chris leaves our B&B
We started the day studying the ceaseless activity at the bird table outside the B&B’s breakfast room. Siskins, chaffinches, greenfinches, blue, great and coal tits, nuhatches, a greater spotted woodpecker. And a special treat of a handsome cock bullfinch. But the chief debate was whether we were watching a marsh tit or a willow tit. Willow tit would be a new, and much-desired, tick for both Chris and myself. But the two are virtually indistinguishable, particularly as you see the bird only for a fraction if a second as it grabbed a sunflower seed. The book specifically said that willow tits come to garden feeders for sunflower seeds, but the fact that there was no similar statement for the marsh tit doesn’t necessarily mean it never comes to feeders. So the question was unresolved as we set off.

When you look at the map of Lynton and Lynmouth it’s hard to appreciate how vertical everything is. Our excellent B&B, Woodlands, is on a r5 degree slope with the
Lynbridge Road
below. It’s then about 150m downhill – steeply downhill – to Lynmouth, where the two valleys with their two torrents merge to enter the sea. It was then a stroll around the little park at the rivermouth before setting off uphill.

This is another long uphill stretch – and in some ways more impressive than Great Hangman yesterday, as when you look back down from about 300m by Countisbury Church you can see every inch of the climb from the woods of Lynmouth across the open grassland above, and the sea is a long way beneath.

Looking back at Lynton and Lynmouth: a long climb accomplished
There’s no real reward of gentle high-level walking. It’s a long, long descent down to the road to the lighthouse at Foreland Point – the existence of which has to be taken on trust, as it’s not visible from the landward side. It’s open grassland skirting fields, and for the first time there are actually steep slopes of scree on the hillsides. I hadn’t seen those anywhere else on the path.

As we climbed back up the road we saw a Post Office van, which I expected to pass us. At the top of the climb (a mere 50m job) it became apparent that it must have gone on to $odany Cottage, an isolated house a further kilometre to the East. It just shows the lengths to which the PO has to go: four miles, we estimated, perhaps just to deliver a single letter – for which they get but a few pence if it’s for one of the other postal services. The American system of boxes at one’s local post office or delivery containers at the end of the drive, seems much more sensible. But I think that any suggestion of such a change would create outrage.

The most disappointing thing at this point was that we had allegedly only come four miles. It had felt a whole lot more. And Porlock Weir – not Porlock itself – was still more than 8 miles away. The major part of the remaining journey, all the way to Culbane Church (always further away than one had hoped) foll0wed pretty well the 200m contour, with only modest climbs and descents. The constant feature was a 45 degree slope down to the sea on the left. Initially it was oak woods, still hardly in leaf, but still attractive. There mwere no hoped-for woodland birds such as redstarts, but we did see a pair of peregrines demonstrating the aerobatics a couple of hundred metres away.

And then – rhododendrons. For a mile and a half they had obliterated everything else, dark and lifeless below, and without more than an occasional bud to relieve the monotony. It reminded me of Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, and the southern part of Mull in the Hebrides, both places where rhododendrons have also got out of hand. I hate them when they’re like this – and I can’t imagine how the problem can be cleared up without the use of some general plant killer and a wait for several years. I don’t think Chris shares my loathing for them, but at least I don’t think he found this part of the path very enjoyable.

Culbane Church - at last - but exhaustion!
Fortunately they eventually came to an end, and the last three miles to Culbane were broad-leafed woodland again, but still on a 45 degree slope. The church at Culbane is tiny – one wonders whether there are ever any services there. And there are only two rather modest houses.

Then it was downhill to Porlock Weir, still through woodland, and finally a two mile walk along the road to Porlock itself. There it was time to take my leave of Chris, who took my car back to Tiverton after a cup of tea and a change of clothes.

For myself an indifferent dinner at the recommended pub, and a relatively early night. The weather looked promising for the morrow.

Forecast inaccurate! Raining when I awoke, and still gloomy when we set off. Better mid-morning, but occasional squalls, and showers later. Never really great, but good weather for walking. Mild: 1r-18C. 23.0 km (estimated). 819m ascent, 9r8m descent. Muddy footpaths for most of the way. We did not deviate from the Coast Path

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