A dull rainy day – I ‘d been concerned that our meeting place might be a little crowded, it being holiday season, when apparently the population of Devon and Cornwall doubles, and I can well believe it. But I needn’t have worried.
Tom and Alex (grandson and husband) refuse to come out with me in the rain. I put on my waterproof clothes and wellies, and go, leaving them with heads bent firmly over an Airfix model tank. The sky is dark and overcast.
As I drive into Fremington Quay, on the River Taw, I see four of our walking group heading towards the café.
Then four more of us in the car park, where I also find my water bottle has leaked all over the contents of my backpack (because I had put it in upside down with the stopper unscrewed) – but no Anne, who has offered to guide us up through the secret lanes that lie behind the more well-known parts of Fremington Quay. I hope she turns up, because I don’t actually know where they are.
Another couple of friends are inside the café- and also Anne, who tells us that the lanes where she was going to lead us are flooded, and impassable but she will be happy to show us whereabouts they are, at least. So I hurriedly improvise, and announce a new plan.
I explain a little of the area – aware that a few of the walkers have lived here for decades, and know it infinitely better than me. I point out the direction of nearby nature and bird reserves; also the site of the well-known earth pigments visible on the rock face; the walk through the tree-lined path alongside the Pill (an inlet of the river), and how it links up with some woodland lying inland, just beyond the massively expanded village of Fremington itself, which now blocks the way… and how my own interest lies in the intense entanglement here of the ‘human and natural worlds’.
I refer to the railway that was here, (the line is now part of the Tarka Trail cycle path), the pottery industry, and Fremington’s former importance as a harbour for importing and exporting raw materials and goods.
We walk in the cool misty air through the country lanes. There is no-one else around. It is quiet. Mist always seems to lend an atmosphere of stillness and mystery that draws me irresistibly.
Yet, as we walk and talk, I learn from others more of the recent history of Fremington Quay, and I get a growing sense of just how noisy, dirty and industrial it must have been, and what a hard life for the workers.
We are talking about the very recent past – 19th and 20th centuries, and I realise how quickly the pace of change is quickening compared to previous eras…
Anne changes her mind about just showing us where the lanes are, and continues to leads us through the quiet hedge-lined lanes, up and over a stile and across a high field. Today is grey and green. Although we are quite a large group, there is a sense of stillness and peace. We see a magnificent white stallion pawing the ground, and then… a herd of horses gallop across the bottom of the field, punctuating the silence.
A man walking a dog says ‘beware of the horses’, and hurries off, running down the hill. We decide they are too far away to be an imminent danger, and carry on. Eventually we arrive a high vantage point overlooking the entire estuary of the Taw and Torridge, and the surrounding countryside.
Even though the scene is lightly veiled in mist, the view is stupendous. I can see for miles and miles. I can see the mouths of the Taw and the Torridge where they join, and where ships coming in used to lower their sails as a signal to the gig boats of Fremington to race out to guide them into harbour.
We pass an attractive farm complex. Paula and I decide it would make a great studio complex for us and our friends!
Back down to the Tarka Trail, and to where the various earth pigments, inviting to local painters, show up in the cliff face… yellow ochre, burnt umber, ball clay, small touches of Bideford Black, and what has been dubbed ‘poor man’s grey’: a Bideford Black mix.
Rock face at Fremington Quay – lichen, leaves, earth pigments.
Photos by Paula Newbery.
Gulls, curlew, crows… I hear estuary birds calling…
… then up through the trees, and back along the Tarka Trail. There is no wind under the trees. Once again I am struck by the different flowers that are showing up now. I am amazed to see the first autumn flowers – white Meadowsweet and Hemp Agrimony…. It seems like only yesterday I was enjoying the first primroses of spring.
Back to the café for rest and refreshment. Although I have visited Fremington Quay a number of times (not the lanes though) I am left with a fresh sense of the vitality and energy of this place: how we are continually shaping the landscape and the landscape is shaping us.
Our developments are not always what I would consider for the better however – and I think again of resurrecting an art project, enthusiastically started but abandoned, relating to how the ‘natural world’ is being edged out to the margins, leaving just narrow strips, patches and corridors here and there. But at the same time, I am aware that once we are all gone, nature will reclaim its territory with no trouble at all.
The next Essential Nature walk will be to Chapel Wood, near Braunton on Fri 11th Sept. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to know more – or leave a message below.