Autumn at Langford Heathfield

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There have been some beautifully sunny Autumn days recently, and I revisited one of my favourite local walks at Langford Heathfield to see how it had changed with the seasons. The late afternoon sun streamed through leaving everything with a golden glow.

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I think these fungi are Fly Agaric – they are so brightly coloured that I initially thought it was litter! It is interesting how the shade of red varies so much, from a rich scarlet to a muted orange.

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France 2016

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It seems so long ago now, but this summer, we spent a fantastic week in a gite in Poitou Charentes, not far south from Poitiers. They may be ubiquitous, but I just love seeing the fields of sunflowers in this area of France.

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La Rochelle

La Rochelle was just over an hour away for us – a great place to visit, although it is always so damned hot when we go! It was nice to take a refreshing trip out to sea with one of the many boat companies, especially as on our last visit, we didn’t actually make it out of the harbour!

We enjoyed a lovely morning messing about on the river with an electric boat at Angouleme, and I spent quite a long time trying to photograph, but failing to, these fascinating black winged dragonflies with electric blue on them – I would love to know what they were.

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We went on a few local walks near the gite, managing to almost get lost each time (I am sure my sense of direction breaks down on holiday)! This local tumulus was a really interesting place to explore.

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The gite was an absolute gem of a place, with a large garden in which I watched a hoopoe for about 45 minutes one morning. There were also apparently red squirrels and plenty of bats around the property but I didn’t spot any of those.

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Exe Valley Way: Tiverton to Bickleigh

Walk Details

Distance: 8 miles

Terrain: Mostly flat paths – some narrow, and some tree roots. Also a few fields.

Facilities: Parking is widely available in Tiverton town centre. There are pubs and cafes at Bickleigh if you need refreshment for the return trip. There are regular buses between Bickleigh and Tiverton if you can only manage one way.

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We stumbled upon the Exe Valley Way, looking for somewhere to walk on Bank Holiday Monday. The whole Exe Valley Way is 50 miles from the source to the sea and is divided into ten stages. This walk was Stage 4.

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I have to say that the start of the walk (from the car park by the museum (quite a good local museum)) was not very promising, the first mile along a road that led to a large sewage works, but then got progressively better. The walk description has not been updated since  a new route takes you at the far end of the fields on the left into the woodland.

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From here, you start to get better sight of the River Exe and there were some nice areas where it would have been nice to stop for a picnic.

Towards Bickleigh, we encountered my all time walking hatred – a field of cows. Luckily, they all looked to be feeding and we managed to skirt round them on an adjacent but very marshy path. I recently read an article about a dog walker who was almost crushed to death by cows and suffered multiple fractures.

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We rewarded ourselves with a nice cold glass of ginger beer and a light lunch at Bickleigh Mill in the sunshine before heading back. We just caught sight of a little egret fishing on the banks of the river before it flew off – a lovely end to a lovely walk.

I would definitely like to explore more of the Exe Valley Way – watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Wellington to Westford

Walk Details

Distance: I estimate the full circular route to be 8-9km, we walked about 6km

Terrain: Fairly level

Walk Guide: We used this circular walk guide by TDBC. This walk also encompasses the Wellington Basins Heritage Trail.

Facilities: There is free parking at Wellington Sports Centre, Corams Lane, Wellington

I convinced my son Fred that he would catch some Pokemon if he accompanied me on this walk from my home town. The walk starts at the Basins which is a fairly scruffy area of ponds and streams which were once used to supply the Fox Brothers woollen mill in Wellington. This area is now quite heavily used by people walking to the neighbouring village of Rockwell Green.

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The streams are choked with Himalayan Balsam, which I have read is a bit of a scourge, albeit a pretty one!

The route continues, somewhat dangerously, over the mainline railway (there are signals) and on into Lower Westford. From here you follow the waterway through to Westford. Even though the water level was quite low, there were plenty of quite sizeable fish and we saw a dipper.

When we reached Prowse’s Mill, the path took us briefly into a field of bullocks. At which point Fred refused to go any further. To be fair, I am not a big fan of walking through fields with livestock and a previous experience with bullocks taught me that they can be quite persistently curious. So, our circular walk turned linear.

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To make up for our curtailed walk, we had a little diversion into Westford Community Woodland, a pretty little wild space. I would have liked to see if I could spot some wildlife but it was a hot day and Fred had had enough.

As much as I love going somewhere further afield for a walk, there is something to be said about exploring your local area on foot.

Ash Common Circular Walk

Walk Details

Distance: 8km

Terrain: Combination of Tarmac roads, rough lanes and fields. Long trousers are essential to combat the stinging nettles!

Walk Guide: we followed this circular walk guide.

A promising 5 mile walk on the foothills of the Brendon Hills which begins at Ash Common, a pretty section of common land. The route started off on country roads then branched off into much rougher and steeper lanes then through fields and bridle ways.

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The walk started to decline about halfway round, when we had to walk through a field with three ponies in it who were all blinkered. I am not usually frightened by horses, but these seemed quite skittish and unpredictable and followed us right across the field at speed, not helped by a duck deciding this was the best moment to suddenly ascend into flight.

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So, it was with some relief that we went through a section of woodland and left the horses behind. However, the footpath which led back to the farm was severely overgrown with stinging nettles, and although we soldiered most of the way through, we were unable to make the last section where the nettles were at least knee high, so were forced to turn round with our battle scarred legs.

Unwilling to head back through the horse field, we walked along what was initially marked a public bridleway before being told we were trespassing by the landowner in a field which actually contained some llamas. I think we were, albeit unintentionally, although my profuse apologies seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Soon back on another bridleway, although not the one we were looking for, we made it through to the village of Ash Priors, and a short walk back to the car.

And just in case our walk wasn’t bad enough, I found a tick in my sock when I got home! So, lesson learned – long trousers, insect repellent and an OS map next time I venture out!!

Swell Wood Heronry

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Walk details

Distance: 2.5km

Terrain: Narrow footpaths with a couple of sections of steep steps.

Location: Grid reference ST360238 – A378 between Fivehead and Curry Rivel, Somerset

I am so glad I discovered this RSPB site when I did because the nesting herons and little egrets have almost all gone. Swell Wood is the largest heronry in South West England and is on a ridge overlooking the Somerset Levels.

There are actually two walks at Swell, one is a short accessible path (Woodland Walk) for buggies and wheelchairs and the other, Scarp Walk, is a slightly longer scramble up and down the escarpment.

I was a little disappointed that the Scarp Walk did not afford views over the levels due to the woodland, however it was a pleasant sojourn in the shade nonetheless, and I was delighted to spot some stinking iris – pretty, despite their name.

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But the obvious highlight for me was the time spent in the hide with my binoculars scanning the treetops for herons. There were at least two herons nests and I also spotted a little egret. I confess that I had no idea until this point that such large birds nested in the top of trees- always assuming they nested on the ground. It never ceases to amaze me what wonderful wildlife we have in Britain.

 

Wellington Monument -a quick and dirty walk

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Walk Details

Distance:2.7km

Terrain: a flat section to the monument then a steep descent with steps and ascent as you loop around the promontory. Some of the latter section of path is covered in prominent tree roots.

Location: large car park ST143 167

This is a great local all-seasons walk for me which offers views across Wellington from the top of the Blackdowns. It is a real shame that Wellington monument is fenced off to the public – I remember a time when it was possible to walk up inside it.

The land and monument is now managed by the National Trust who have recently undertaken a lot of work to remove some of the woodland surrounding the monument so that you can access the views which have been hidden for the past 30-40 years.

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Although it is only a short walk, it is a pretty popular place with lots of dog walkers and families out for a stroll, and there is plenty of space to sit and have a picnic and fly a kite!

Watch out for the giant hemlock in the Summer which grows along the avenue between the car park and monument.

Full details of the National Trust walk can be found here.

NOTE: Apologies for the bad photos – my phone camera seems to have died!

 

Quants and Ruggin Nature Reserve

 

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Walk Details

Distance: 1.5 miles

Terrain: the walk is undulating in north facing woodland and grass/heathland with some sections of bridleway

Location: Near the Merry Harriers pub, Forches Corner, Clayhidon.  Head towards Angersleigh and take the first left to Quants ST 189 176.

Amenities: there is parking for a maximum of three cars at the entrance to Quants.

These are two closely connected nature reserves run by the Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT) on the Blackdown Hills, Somerset. I discovered that the SWT have published some Wildwalks and this is one of them with a guide to wildlife that you might spot there in different seasons.

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The Wildwalk guide isn’t actually all that easy to follow, although I feel I may have fared better if I hadn’t listened to my husband who set us off on the wrong path in the first place (I never get lost on my own)! However, the walk we actually did, which was mostly bridleway offered up some lovely natural habitat in the form of lush, shaded areas with an abundance of ferns. This was absolutely essential as it was a really sultry day.

The initial grassland section is grazed by these beautiful Longhorn Cattle who are apparently quite docile. We weren’t keen on testing that theory!

As you enter Ruggin Nature Reserve you come across these lovely stretches of meadow, peppered with these pretty pink Heath Spotted Orchids.

In the Quants Nature Reserve are a couple of tunnels which are apparently home to three different species of bats, although it was mid-afternoon when we visited so no bat sightings this time.

I love the idea of a Wildwalk and this would make a really enjoyable and achievable walk with young children who could use the guide to spot things, and there is a link on the SWT website for you to log your sightings.

Donkey Sanctuary to Weston Mouth Walk

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Weston Mouth Beach

Walk Details

Distance: 4.3 km

Terrain: Generally moderate walking on paths, fields, tracks and shingle beach, but with a fairly relentless steep ascent from Weston Mouth.

Amenities: Car park, restaurant and toilets at The Donkey Sanctuary, near Sidmouth (for sat nav, use EX10 0NU).

Walk Guide: The Donkey Sanctuary Walk by South West Coast Path

The Donkey Sanctuary has several walks around and from its extensive grounds between Branscombe and Sidmouth. Many of these are suitable for wheelchairs and buggies or families with young children. This walk is not one of them!

We elected to follow the South West Coast Path circular walk, which begins on the same path as Walk D. You don’t start many walks by having to herd the donkeys away from the path – such beautiful, docile creatures. Do stop and have a look at them either at the start or end of the walk – they are well worth a visit.

As you start to leave the paddocks of the sanctuary, you enter a series of meadows which are awash with flowers. At this time of year, there are lots of bluebells, primroses and wild garlic. As the weather warms up, it is possible to see lots of butterflies in the meadows.

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Field of Dreams Meadow

The path snakes down the coombe, following the stream which opens out into Weston Mouth beach, which is a shingle beach. It is possible to walk from Branscombe all along this stretch to Sidmouth. Years ago, we used to holiday in the little beach cabins at Branscombe and this walk brought back lovely memories. There is a little cottage on the cliff at Weston which smelled fantastic – a mix of wood smoke and Lapsang Souchong tea!

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The ascent from the beach can be hard-going. Strange that this is described by the South West Coast Path as “moderate” but by The Donkey Sanctuary as  “only for the very fit – not for the faint hearted”. I suppose it depends on how fit you are. I would describe myself as moderately active but I found the ascent up the cliff pretty exhausting! Very pretty though!

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Bluebell Woods

The Hayloft Restaurant at the sanctuary does good lunches, but on this occasion, we passed as there was a queue out the door!

The Donkey Sanctuary also publishes A Walker’s Guide which is £1.00 and will provide you with ample walking for future visits!

 

Chipstable Circular Walk

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Walk Details

Distance: 8.03 km

Terrain:  Some very steep ascents and descents on rocky, uneven ground although the mid-section is fairly flat. Part of the walk is through a water meadow, so waterproof footwear is recommended.

Grid reference: ST042 271

Walk Guide: Circular Walk 17, Taunton Deane Borough Council

This is a walk in gorgeous countryside on the Somerset/Devon border near Wiveliscombe on the Brendon Hills. We followed the walk guide as shown above and started at the church in the village of Chipstable, however, if I was going to do this walk again, I would begin at Washbattle Bridge. From Washbattle Bridge the walk ascends pretty sharply from the river valley up to the top of Heydon Hill at 342metres. It would be so much nicer to know that the main hill was done and dusted at the beginning rather than looming at you 2/3 of the way through!

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Unusually, we saw more pheasants than people out enjoying the cool Spring day – there are so many that there are warning signs for drivers on the road to Chipstable!

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There are three main phases of the walk: the Green Lanes, the river valley and Heydon Hill. The start of the walk from the hamlet of Chipstable takes you up through some Green Lanes, which are historic routes that have been marked out by people possibly since pre-historic times. There are lots of these Green Lanes around the Wiveliscombe area and are beautiful spaces to walk through. At this time of year, the banks are full of violets and primroses.

The route continues along the River Tone for a long stretch, some of which is a conservation area, and is really pleasant.

At Washbattle Bridge, the walk continues uphill, at first gently through some water meadows, then into a vicious ascent up a very narrow path (not for the faint hearted)! There was water running down this path so I imagine it is more like a waterfall in Winter. At the top of Heydon Hill before descending back down to Chipstable, we saw some lovely Spring lambs!

Please note that this walk is not the 6.7km that the walk guide suggests it is!