Monday, 28 March 2016

Walking the Coleridge Way - Day 4

Brendon Valley
Mick had been so right to insist we did not camp yesterday evening. It had rained all night and had we been out on the green we would have woken up feeling damp and grumpy. As it was, having strewn our gear about the room, it had all dried off nicely and I had also thoroughly enjoyed a long hot soak in the bath -  which had been heavenly. This morning we tucked into a huge breakfast of cereal, a full English with all the trimmings plus toast and marmalade along with copious amounts of tea -  followed by coffee -  before our final day's walk into Lynmouth.

As we had managed to cover around 20 miles yesterday we were now left with a comfortable five mile bimble down the Brendon Valley, so we had no intention of rushing out before the last piece of toast had been consumed and the coffee jug emptied to the last drop. But finally the time came - and by now the sun had come out - so we set off across the bridge and down the ineffably beautiful Brendon Valley.

Somewhere en route to Watersmeet

Passing through the courtyard of Countisbury Mill the path followed the East Lyn River along the valley, past the hamlet of Roadwater with its riverside pub. Steep, tree-covered banks rose from both sides of the river valley which tumbles its way down waterfalls and swirling pools to meet Hoar Oak Water at Watersmeet. Here the former fishing lodge, built in 1832, is now a National Trust tea-room - although it looks like a fairytale cottage, set in a secluded glad amidst the trees with the river tumbling past the garden. The lodge was built for the reclusive Rev. Walter Stevenson Halliday who also built Glenthorne House and above the door is a poem penned by Wordsworth.

Although we had only walked a couple of miles since breakfast we were taking it easy today and so stopped for yet another cup of coffee. The small birds hereabouts know which side their bread, scones and cake is buttered and the garden was full of chaffinches, blue-tits and robins who variously took it in turns to work up the courage to land on the tables and collect the copious crumbs we put out for them.

Checking the route
Another coffee...
Tame blue-tit
And a confident robin
From Watersmeet the path climbs high into the woods above the river but I had another refusal from Mick  - he claimed it was his vertigo but I'm fairly sure he just couldn't be bothered with the high route and so we followed the 'tourist route' alongside the river and into Lynmouth. Just before the bridge the East Lyn is joined by the West Lyn River which started its journey high up at Exmoor's Chains - a plateau on the western side of the moors. This boggy area acts like a sponge absorbing the rainful which is plentiful here. On one fateful night in August 1952  these bogs were overwhelmed by the vast quantity of rain which - by a strange quirk of nature - came down with the intensity of a tropical rainstorm.  The volume was too much for the ground to absorb and instead the water rushed down the river valleys...until it reached Lynmouth. The river here had been culverted through the village and behind the bridges the river became choked with fallen trees, boulders and debris, causing the river to back up down the valley.

Thirty four people died and four hundred and twenty lost their homes that night. My parents, keen cyclists at the time, had stopped at Lynmouth the night before on their way down from Bristol to my grandparents house at Bideford and I can't help but wonder what might have happened to them had they happened to have set out a day later on their ride. It might have changed my history - perhaps I would not have been sitting here writing this now.

Emerging into Lynmouth it is easy to see how the village warned the epithet "The English Switzerland". The name was coined by Robert Southey who visited here in 1799. At the time Europe was out of bounds due to the Napoleonic Wars and so, deprived of the Grand Tour, people were forced to holiday at home. Lynmouth, to its credit, quickly caught on the economic potential and soon Swiss style hotels and villas were popping up all over the hills. It has been used in local marketing and tourist literature ever since. Well done Southey!

There is something remarkable about this unique and beautiful place - and it's no wonder that not only Southey, but also Percy Bysshe Shelley waxed lyrical about it when he honeymooned here in 1812, as did Coleridge who, in 1798 in a letter to his publisher Joseph Cottle wrote: "we will go on a roam to Linton and Linmouth, which, if thou comest in May, will be in all their pride of woods and waterfalls, not to speak of its august cliffs, and the green ocean, and the vast valley of stones, all which live disdainful of the seasons, or accept new honours only from the winter's snow."

For us it was journey's end of our four day sojourn in the land of poets. Although we had maybe cheated a little at the end due to Mick's fear of heights, we reckoned we had done enough of the Coleridge Way to justify claiming our certificates and so we headed for the Exmoor Park Visitor centre . We proudly informed the nice woman at the desk that we had just completed the walk and she obligingly completed two certificates with our names to record the fact we had walked the route. We badgered another member of staff to take our picture before strolling back to the car, stopping on route for a celebratory bag of chips.

Four days, 51 miles (plus a couple of erroneous ones), three nights free accommodation, one B&B, a respectable number of pints of beer (c.15?) and a certificate! All-in-all a thoroughly enjoyable and successful Easter Weekend Jaunt.

Collecting our certificates for completing the Coleridge Way