Fleeting Impressions: Knowing my Place

Over the last month or so, I have been making little explorations around my home ground. Not going very far afield.

After the long, dry, sunny summer: flowers, birds, butterflies, verdant greenery – I come once again to the quiet woods. Despite human encroachment, there is still deep peace here among the trees.

faint trickling of water… occasional small bird sounds…
the high pitched whining of thousands of tiny hoverflies, sparkling and shining gold in the dappled sunlight.

The Woods

A leisurely morning walking across the Burrows, organised by the North Devon AONB.
Enjoying life all around, from the tiniest little white shells to the blue skies and wide expansive views across the Atlantic.

Evening Primrose

across the grassland
skylarks rising and dropping down
as I walked towards the group meeting place



snails, spiders



Lady’s Bedstraw

Burnet moths on ragwort

as I walked back out of the Burrows, and home.

NORTHAM BURROWS – little white crabs
As I arrived at the Burrows, the first drops of fine cool rain began to fall. I knew it would not come to much, and after a while, blue skies and sunshine appeared once again. It grew gradually hotter.

A lady accosted me, wanting to walk with me because she thought she might be getting followed. Personally, I prefer to be alone, but happily walked along for a while, offering well-meaning, but I think, unwanted advice about joining some of the group activities organised from the Visitor Centre. Eventually I realised the lady was heading off rapidly in a different direction, and I didn’t follow her.

I couldn’t find the tiny hydrobia shells that were here yesterday. I wandered up and down the beach, gathering ideas for artwork – but didn’t feel like embarking on anything substantial.

I made a quick assemblage: Little White Crabs, intending it to be the first part of a larger collection.

I regretted not being able to spend the last month or so coming here, when I could have worked quietly  during all that hot summer weather in relative solitude. But now the tides are getting high at my usual visiting times, and next week the schools break up for their summer holiday…

Skylarks still singing. All is well.

ABBOTSHAM – seaweed
A beach survey organised by Coastwise for The Shore Thing project.

Amazed to see a beautiful chough in a field as we walked along  along the Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Abbotsham. Then a scramble down the stony beach, where we used quadrats to estimate the percentages present of an astonishing variety of marine life.

This was the first time I had taken part, and i had not much idea what I was doing. My mind was mostly taken up with trying to keep my balance on the seaweed-covered rocks, and with trying to memorise and recognise the different forms of marine life, and the multitude of small creatures we discovered. I was captivated by this insight into a whole miniature universe, and it led directly to my recent nature artwork with cockle shells: Landing Place – and indeed to ideas for a forthcoming photographic project.

So beautiful, poised and elegant – even with my rubbish photo taken quick with my phone.

Cut a bit of samphire and took it home for dinner. Delicious, nutritious, hot with pepper and butter.

The Burrows looked so different in the early evening sunlight. I have been here in the evening before- but normally I would tend to come during the morning. Today, in this warm evening air, there seemed a quite different atmosphere – almost foreign. It was strange to see all the shadows going the ‘wrong’ way – not at all matching the familiar images I had fixed in my mind.

I usually avoid coming here much during the holiday season, not because I have anything against visitors and dogs in general, but because I find it all too distracting from my main focus on the natural surroundings, and my creative responses.

As a matter of fact, I hardly went to Northam Burrows at all last year, largely because it was a year of dark skies and rain (unlike this year when we have enjoyed a long summer heatwave) – but also because I remembered vividly an earlier encounter with two women and their dog:

Out taking photos, I sat down on the beach to rest, took off my shoes and sat gazing out to sea. The beach was completely empty, apart from two tiny figures and a dog appearing far away to my left.  It seemed the figures were making a line straight towards me – and I wondered why on earth, with an entire empty beach to walk in, they had to aim in my direction. Eventually, the dog raced ahead, came up to me, making a bit of a nuisance of itself, and obviously wanted me to play. I firmly encouraged it to clear off,  but it just lay down behind me, leaning against my back.

At last, the two women caught up and passed close by, and as the dog got up to leave, it left me a parting gift, by pee’ing on my bare feet…

Sheep on samphire at Northam Burrows

A lovely evening walk with local members of the Devon Wildlife Trust

A buzzard drifted slowly over our heads as we approached the Taw estuary.
Again, a familiar landscape, seen in the evening, an unfamiliar time for me – when the low light and the different position of the sun gave me a whole new perspective on the scene.

And a palpable sense of recent human history: importing and exporting, ceramics,  lime burning, agriculture… and signs of the old railway that used to run along here over a century ago. (It has now become the Tarka Trail, a pleasant walking and cycle path through the Devon landscape).

Sea Lavender

Sea Purslane (plants able to tolerate saltwater conditions,  I learned were called halophytes).
Rock Samphire
Blue sky – fast moving cloud
The dark silhouette of the old wrecked boat against the fading light
Crumbling stonework of the old lime kiln
Peace of the wide water


Woodland at ROSEMOOR- Tarka
Another fabulous walk with the Devon Wildlife Trust

First we passed a larch plantation that had been felled and cleared, partly because of disease and partly to encourage the growth of native British trees. It was interesting to see the stage it was at: recently planted young birch, and other saplings whose seeds had been long buried underground, growing up through the bracken.

A nice little butterfly

We passed an old quarry, and I was fascinated to observe the sandstone and shale layers sloping steeply downwards, and to mentally relate this to other local areas I knew, and to hear why road subsidence could sometimes occur when built across folded rock layers such as this.

We crossed the stone bridge of the old canal, which used to serve now derelict lime kilns along the River Torridge, and also connect leats to mills at Town Mills (now Orford Mill), Torrington, Weare Giffard… Many local places were mentioned. Names I first encountered after reading Henry Williamson’s powerful novel ‘Tarka the Otter’ in my youth when I barely knew Devon existed. Names still vivid in my memory and imagination today, many years later, after coming to live here around 12 years ago.

We paused at the Dark Weir by Darkham Woods, where Tarka’s final hunt began. After walking for some time through woodland tracks, looking closely at the land and wildlife, and remembering this story,  I thought that Henry Williamson must have known this land as intimately as an otter or any wild animal.

Gazing down at the river flowing over the weir, I was reminded once again how inextricably entwined we are with the natural world all around.


About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in full engagement with 'place' and the eternal movement of life - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'.
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5 Responses to Fleeting Impressions: Knowing my Place

  1. Noel Hartem says:

    Wonderful and interesting read. The pictures were beautiful (especially your little crab collage)


  2. Hazel Pye says:

    great observations xx




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