An Essential Nature walk along Heddon Valley from the Hunter’s Inn to the coast and back.
We arrived in that dense fine sort of rain that soaks right through you and feels like being in a cloud. It was a little bit windy too. Our friends who had been patiently waiting for our car load of people to arrive were already cold and wet.
Intrepid as ever, the ten of us set off through the steep-sided valley, covered all over with dark, protecting trees. We followed the track, alongside what I have seen described on the internet as ‘a bubbling stream’, but today it was a turbulent, dramatic, foaming torrent, racing towards the sea. There were no other visitors around – just us. In this still relatively isolated densely-wooded valley, and this wild weather, it felt like an adventure – a bunch of explorers heading out into unknown territory.
As we went, we made sketches, took notes or photographs.
Some of us did know a little about this place (in fact some of us have been here together several times before), and I meant to look out for various types of tree and plant that I knew were there – but like the river, I was intent on surging forward to the sea.
The water was high, and with the recent heavy rain and storm damage around this part of North Devon, together with news of serious flooding in other parts of the country, I could not help thinking of the Paris Climate Conference about to draw to a conclusion – and wondering whether indeed this weather might be related to the terrible problem of global warming and the part we all play in this.
I looked up at the bare branches against the sky. Soon the trees gave way to steep bracken and gorse covered slopes, and massive areas of scree, deposited millions of years ago by retreating ice.
We came out on the high cliffs by an old lime kiln, overlooking the stony beach. I thought how different it must have been here in Victorian times, and what a hard life it must have been for the workers, burning lime and coal brought in by ship from Wales. One or two of us went down to explore the beach. I stayed behind, sprawling on the rocks, my eyes following the jagged contours of the headland and the expanse of scree on the opposite side of the river. ‘In all honesty’, I thought ‘if I did not know this scree was many millions of years old, would I have a real sense of its antiquity?’ I decided I would not.
Still pondering all those questions about time and place, my mind drifted on to the more recent past: smuggling in medieval times, and almost certainly, U-boats landing here during WW2 to take on fresh water under cover of darkness.
Up in the grey Atlantic sky, a group of gulls were wheeling and riding the thermals… higher and higher and even higher until they almost disappeared from sight.
And then the sky started to lighten as we turned to make our way back to the inn for refreshments.