Friday, 1 July 2011

Crow Point from Braunton Burrows

I headed down south this weekend to visit my dad, who unfortunately had computer problems again. Being hundreds of miles away means that I can't help him when he gets into serious trouble with his PC, and we all know how much the local computer shop can charge to do what to someone in the profession like myself, can do in half an hour at no charge. So I decided to spare him forking out those extortionate costs, and at the same time spend the weekend with him outdoors in one of my favourite areas of Britain. Devon, Somerset and in particular the Exmoor National Park are to me one of the most under rated areas when it comes to natural beauty and walking opportunities. I spent all of my six week school summer holidays in Barnstaple in North Devon with my grandparents at the bungalow in which my Dad and his lovely wife now live. The bungalow sits high on a hill above the town with the most stunning of aspects. From their lounge window at the back of the bungalow is the kind of view you would die for. Watching the sunset over the rolling hills on Saturday night from their lounge chair was very satisfying. I spent the most of those summer holidays either on the glorious beaches with my cousins, down the magical Bradiford Water river below the bungalow by myself or out in the car on a drive and picnic to one of the many beautiful parts of Exmoor with my grand parents and their friends. Those early experiences certainly fuelled my love for the outdoors.

Dad by the old wooden barge and his Tramper

As is nearly always the case when I need my car to travel to a far away destination something broke down a few days before. This time the exhaust started blowing. It turned out that the damage I had done to the car several years ago when I accidentally parked the car on a big boulder in Glencoe, had finally come back to bite me in the bum. I can't complain though as the damage has taken several years to finally break. Luckily I know the greatest mechanics in the world. Not only are they great at their job but the twins at AS Motors in Northenden are also outdoor folk and can often be found climbing up mountains at weekend both in Britain and abroad when they aren't dirtying their hands under Mancunian's neglected cars like my own. They also stand on the terraces at Moss Lane with myself cheering on my beloved Altrincham FC. Sounds too good to be true but they really are great, I phoned up at 5pm Thursday and by midday Friday my exhaust had been replaced and Keisha was ready to drive me down south. So I finally set off along the M6 south, usually a nightmare journey but it wasn't too bad. Going the opposite way heading north was a lot worse with accidents causing major congestion pretty much all the way from Birmingham to Manchester. I reached Birmingham in good time and joined the M5. With so many visits to Devon as a child you can imagine how many times I have one this journey! The pace was good going until I reached Worcester where there had been an earlier accident. The congestion was still there so I ended up crawling all the way past Bristol to Tiverton where the new trunk road makes a speedy trip across Somerset and Devon to Barnstaple. In the old days that trip from the M5 to Barnstaple was a nightmare and often involved driving it through the night. My dad was often the story teller of frightening tales, usually involving the mythical Exmoor beast, especially if we hit anything in the night!

Pyramid Orchid

The trip along the M5 was always an eye opener for me and I was always the kind of child who stared out of the window at the world. The Malverns are the first real hills you see and considering their lack of altitude they still give a very striking profile, like a bunch of pyramids rising over the Worcestershire countryside. The next point of interest I remember from my childhood trips is more of a man made affair. The docks at Avonmouth where the motorway crosses the River Avon bridge where fascinating as a child, hundreds of chimneys pumping out smoke and steam of all colours. Although I am glad to say that these days most of those dirty chimneys are now gone, it is sad to think of the industrial job losses the area must have suffered over the years. Ironically these days Avonmouth is now a mass sprawl of thousands of imported cars that are shipped in regularly on the huge car ship. There are also numerous huge wind turbines now instead of chimneys. The next hills I remember were the pointy Crook Peak, just after the Weston Super Mare junction at the far western end of the Mendips and the small but perfectly formed Brent Knoll, just before the Burnham on Sea junction. Maybe one day when I am not in a rush I will stop by one of these lovely small hills and climb one of them. As the motorway makes its way across Somerset it crosses several rivers and dozens of drains full of bird life. The names of these rivers and drains have stuck with me my whole life Huntspill River, King's Sedgemoor Drain and the River Parrett to name a few. By the time I reached Tiverton it was chucking it down with rain and it continued to do so for the remainder of the journey. I arrived at the Bassnett Senior's residence and sat up late on the first night chatting to my dad who I hadn't seen for far too long. We chatted about what to do with our two days, we decided the best plan was to do the Crow Point from Braunton Burrows walk on the Saturday and I wanted to climb to the top of Exmoor's highest point Dunkery Beacon on the Sunday. The weather forecast made for interesting listening and gave the impression that a cloud inversion and perfect conditions was possible early on Sunday morning. To my surprise dad said "why don't we get up real early and go see the sun rise from Dunkery Beacon?... leave here at 3am?", I was delighted so my response was "well I am up for it if you are". More on that in the next blog post!

The wooden boardwalk across Braunton Burrows

On Saturday morning dad got his Tramper off road mobility scooter charged up and loaded in the back of his Berlingo. I have been cycling to and from work this last three weeks as I have purchased a new Specialized Sirrus Elite hybrid road bike through the Cycle to Work scheme. I have cycled over 200 miles in the last three weeks on this bike and it is fantastic, it has given me a really love for cycling I've not had for decades. I decided to take my bike down with me so I loaded it in the Berlingo too with the intention of cycling the seven mile stretch back to Barnstaple from Braunton where we were walking. We visited relatives in Braunton then made our way down the toll road out to the car park at Braunton Burrows. My dad loves this place. As a child I remember spending hours in the sun playing on the beach and flower covered dunes. Braunton Burrows is the largest sand dune system in Britain. It was also the first United Nations Unesco Biosphere Reserve in Britain. The area is part of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding National Beauty. The burrows are rich in wildlife, especially insects and butterflies, and has an internationally recognised abundance of rare and in some cases unique flora and fauna. My dad has spent the last few years cleaning rubbish from the dunes which are sadly often ruined, particularly by people leaving dog mess in bags. If you are reading this blog then there is a good chance that like my dad and myself you will never be able to comprehend what on earth goes on in a persons brain when they litter such a beautiful place. The toll road that leads to the car park has a wonderful marsh drain down its right side for the entire mile and is always full of ducks and there young. We paused at one point as dad started telling me how he often sees a Grey Heron at that point, and wouldn't you know it, the moment the car paused it flew up from behind the bush across the field. Herons are stunning birds, always a joy to see and often easy to spot due to their size and their slow motion style of flying. We parked up, unloaded the Tramper and set off across to the south western edge of the car park. There were Rabbits darting away down their holes at every turn, the spills of soil excavated from their holes littered with seashells. Rabbits are one of my favourite animals. They often get negative press from being labelled with ideas of what is and isn't wrong or right with human's perceptions of evolution and nature, luckily here the Rabbits are seen for the positive effects they have on the area.

View to the groynes from Crow Point

We reached the wooden boardwalk that heads south west from the car park across the wild dunes. Initially the most eye catching flowers by far were the stunning blue of the Viper's Bugloss. The dunes were already abundant with colour from yellow Evening Primrose, white Marsh Orchids, purple Pyramid Orchids, purple Thyme, tiny pink Rest Harrow, fragrant Honeysuckle, trumpet like Sea Bindweed and so many more. As we got closer to the sea the Sea King rescue helicopter from Royal Marines Base Chivenor down the estuary flew low over us. When I was young Chivenor was an RAF base and as a lover of planes I loved the constant jet activity as my grand parents house was right under the flight path. I remember one Christmas at my grand parents when that Sea King helicopter flew above the back garden with Santa hanging out of it waving! The Burrows have always been used as a training area for the armed forces. During the war the American Army used this area to train and prepare for the Normandy landings. We continued towards the sea along the boardwalk. As we reached the drop down the dunes to the beach dad showed me a stunning Sea Holly plant which I had never seen before. We found some that had flowered and it really was stunning, the leaves change to the blue of the flower they hold. We reached the beach at the old wooden groynes below the old ruined pre war lifeboat lookout station. We had lunch sheltered behind the walls of the old look out station. Exploring the area behind the beach I came across hundreds of Cinnaber Moth Caterpillars munching away on every Ragwort plant in the area. The water here is the neck at the mouth of two adjoining river estuaries as they reach the sea, the River Taw from Barnstaple and the River Torridge from Bideford, as they meet the Atlantic Ocean. We headed south from the groynes along the beach to the lighthouse at Crow Point. Beach combing is one of my favourite past times. We came across lots of Moon Jellyfish and stumbled across a beached Cuttlefish. We rounded Crow Point and headed along the River Taw estuary. Turning back towards the dunes along the beach we came across many boats that were lived in on the beach. An old abandoned wooden barge sat proud and colourful on the sands, it made for a fantastic photo opportunity with its many layers of varied coloured paint stripping off and contrasting with its rusty and wooden structure pinned together with huge solid iron pins. A short walk along the beach and we headed back over the dunes next to the beach to reach the car park. It really is a special place and I hope it stays that way. Dad put his Tramper back in the car and drove home, while I get on my bike and cycled a glorious flat and eye opening route along the Tarka Trail back to Barnstaple. Very satisfying day out with dad in his favourite place. We got home and went to bed early ready for the next day which was to be even more special, more about that in the next blog post.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

No comments:

Post a Comment