Friday, 4 May 2012

Parson's Cross to Bideford

Hartland Quay - view towards Hartland Point

The previous evening we had arranged for a taxi from the same firm to take us back the exact point where we had finished up the previous evening. This time, instead of a largely silent driver we were treated to local views on the benefit culture and housing. Scroungers, who had never done an honest day’s work in their lives, being given brand-new homes in the country, which honest folk in public housing in Bideford were never offered; retired or redundant auto workers from Ford and GM buying up local properties and putting prices out of reach of younger locals; and so on. I suspect these are views shared by a large proportion of the working class – or at least those who are actually in work – whether in Devon or anywhere else.

A mile after the start we crossed the River Torridge for the first time – here flowing South befure sweeping in a great 180 degree loop to meet the sea at Appledore, North of our destination in Bideford. As we crossed the bridge a car pulled up, and the driver, who lived nearby, told us that the previous Sunday the river had flooded the fields to either side to a depth of some feet, and that there had been salmon flapping around in the fields.

After this it was generally fairly straightforward road walking all the way to the vill.age of Buckland Brewer. The country is rolling, reasonably attractive, but without any great vistas or features. Minor highlights were seeing our first willow warbler of the year, an unusually confident bullfinch on a telephone wire, and a flock of a couple of dozen curlews foraging in a roadside field.

After lunch at the Coach and Horses we set off downhill towards the River Yeo – a name which appears to feature often in the West Country. There was initially a small length of footpath, which demonstrated the farmer’s disdain for the public. Although the paths were shown as crossing three successive fields diagonally in every case they followed the filed margins. In Suffolk footpaths correspond with the map, and if they are shown as crossing a field, that’s what they do. Not in Devon.

Frank poses in front of Oakleigh Court
Then it was time to put our Orleigh plans into effect. A road to
Orleigh Court
was shown on the map, and after that a track down to Orleigh Mill on the river – at a saving of a mile of more, and avoiding roads as well. A chat with the woman at the lodge suggested that even if we couldn’t get down to the mill we could avoid half a mile or more of the road. So off we set.

No problem as far as Orleigh Court itself (a handsome building) and on past the double garage that had been described to us, but the two women we saw after that weren’t able to help. It seems astonishing that people who live in places like this don’t know their own back yards. Of course, we managed once again to lose our way. The first trach seemed as if it went too far to the South, so we took the next. It meandered past pheasant release pens where a few surviving birds still lingered, and then on past areas where large numbers of trees had recently been felled.

Death in the afternoon - a stoat kills a squirrel
And then we saw the astonishing sight of a stoat tackling what I assumed was a baby rabbit. Two bodies intertwined, writhing in a deadly embrace, until the stoat prevailed and made off with its victim, which must have been the heavier animal. I managed to take some photos, one of which was reasonable, and on examination I now think the victim was a squirrel.

After the excitement we soon recovered the path (which was the one we had eschewed in the first place) and walked on down through the mill. No challenges, despite being seen by a number of people, and no sign of the dog(s) we had been warned might nip our heels.

Bideford's old bridge - the end of Week 2
Then it was a mile and a half down the road to the point where we crossed the river. Frank noted an area where Japanese Knotweed had become established, and said that we should tell Devon County Council. A half mile to join the Trka Trail, and a final two miles to Bideford Old Bridge. After the SWCP, county footpaths and minor roads, the Tarka Trail is real luxury: newly metalled, constant width, maximum gradient 1 in 250 or more. Even though my left hip was somewhat uncomfortable it was an easy end to the stage.

The last mile was on the Bideford side of the Torridge, downstream and then inland to the home of Brian and Jill Rowson, Orchard Hill House.

Dull, overcast and cool all day. 27.8km. 281m ascent, 447m descent. Easy, almost entirely on roads – some muddy diversions.

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