Hiking Devon’s coast

Hiking Devon’s coast

Patricia G. Mankin

Hiking Devon’s coast

When the coast of England is written about, the focus usually is Cornwall and Land’s End, but this past autumn I happily discovered what is known as the West Country, or the Devon coastline.

A 5-hour train ride from Gatwick Airport carried me to the West Country and Barnstaple, one of the oldest towns in Great Britain. I noted with pleasure not having seen a single billboard on the excursion from Gatwick.

This trip was a week of hiking along Devon coastal paths and through Exmoor National Park.

The hikemaster, Andrew Bull, picked me up at the quaint Victorian train station and we set off across some of the most unforgettable landscape in all of England.

Devon is a land of the greenest patchwork fields divided by lovely, thick hedgerows. There is a rather stark austerity to this land but a very definite romanticism.

Drenched in atmosphere

Our first night’s lodging was in a 16th-century manor house sitting alone on one of the most hauntingly beautiful moors I have seen.

Upon entering this home I had the distinct feeling I was in a Masterpiece Theater production or, better yet, in a setting straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery (our hostess was a “dead ringer” for Miss Marple). Needless to say, it was exactly what I had in mind.

The first two days of our hike were met with constant drizzle and gale winds, but somehow this intensified the feeling of isolation on the sweeping moors. It seemed England was meant to be experienced in this way.

When the sun shone on the third day, the views of the defiant serrated coast stopped me in my tracks: a more dramatic view I thought, “This is the England I came to see.”

Historically, this whole coast has been the scene of continuous strife, the bay itself a rendezvous for the British fleet from the 15th century. It has echoed to the noise of battle throughout the ages. Smugglers and pirates have anchored there – the small ports are full of legends and stories.

Aside from this imcomparable coastline, the world of Devon comprises ancient Norman churches, thatched whitewashed cottages and quaint untouched villages.

“Lorna Doone” country

Andrew Bull and family reside in the gorgeous little village of Croyde, which looks out onto the Atlantic. I have yet to find it on any map of Great Britain.

We were treated to the famous Devon cream teas and devoured Devon clotted cream, fresh scones and strawberry jam.

A great deal of the land through which we passed is managed by the National Trust and thus protected from changing with the passage of time. I found it reassuring that the set perimeters of the villages are just that: set, and not to be exceeded. We could learn something from this.

A number of farms are owned by the people but managed and protected by the National Trust. These Devon farms are neat and compact and boast some of the prettiest pastures and fields in England.

Exmoor has a wild, brooding sort of quality. As I stood on the highest point, my gaze was drawn across the moors to Bristol Channel in the distance.

The views were stunning and, making it even more interesting, the area was the historical focus of the book “Lorna Doone.” Mr. Bull regaled us with this wonderful story as we hiked past points of interest that inspired R.D. Blackmore to write this epic.

On our way to Lynmouth and Lynton we passed a lovely, religious retreat of matchless architecture placed perfectly on a cove; it over-looked the sea from one side and those pristine fields on the other.

Victorian charm

Lynmouth and Lynton are Victorian resorts with respectable hotels and villas built with turrets to catch the sea views. These two towns are built at the junction of the East and West Lyn Rivers before their flowing into the sea.

From Lynmouth to Lynton on the hill above, you can take the only lift available on any long-distance foot-path. This is the 19th-century cliff railway, which is operated by an ingenious system of hydraulics and rises 950 feet.

At Lynmouth we stayed at a wonderful Victorian lodge on a hill over-looking the Bristol Channel. At night we could gaze across and see the lights of Wales.

The lovely, old Victorian hotel in Lynton has entertainment in the evenings with a sound reminiscent of World War II songs. The interior design rivets your eyes to the endless detail.

Reflections

I don’t believe it’s my imagination, but I have always noticed in England there is a rather diffused lighting to the landscape. This seems to accentuate, for me, the timelessness of the country. It draws me back again and again.

There really is no substitute for seeing a countryside on foot with the wind in your face and the endless diversity of the landscape to intrigue you. I can’t think of a landscape that would make one come to this realization with more conviction than that of Devon.

PHOTO : The views of the defiant serrated coast stopped me in my tracks. I thought, “This is the England I came to see.”

COPYRIGHT 1992 Martin Publications, Inc.

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