As we passed under the old stone bridge at Bideford, with its oddly sized arches where the starlings roost, I could not help but think of Henry Williamson’s ‘Tarka the Otter’. The book made such an impact on me in my youth, that the bridge was significant many years before I ever saw it.
It grew quieter as we sailed onwards between densely-wooded hills, sending flurries of birds rising from trees and undergrowth. Birds everywhere: redshanks, oyster catchers, buzzards, egrets, kingfisher, swans, curlew… We passed old lime kilns and the entrance to a disused canal half hidden amongst the reeds. Idyllic cottages with little boats moored alongside, were clustered along the banks in clearings. Once or twice we came across people fishing, and exchanged cheery greetings. And from time to time, under the trees, I saw the entrance to a secret stream, or a steep track climbing up into the darkness of the woods.
Now I was feeling like Wind in the Willows! Obviously this leisurely progress up the river had sent me back into a magical era that only existed in my imagination. Or has it always been here, unseen?
Although it was coming up to high tide, after days of heavy rain, the weight of fresh water was still running down, swelling the river and slowing our progress. The return journey was much faster.