Mark Rowe's walk in Exmoor: Day one
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Environment and travel journalist, Mark Rowe, brings you his experiences of day one of a two-day walk on the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor's National Park.
Standing on top of Selworthy Beacon, peering at the precipitous cliffs, the rocks of Hurlstone Point stepping down to the sweep of Porlock Bay, the winding journey here seemed well worthwhile.
I was standing at the heart of the 5,000 hectare Holnicote Estate, in the middle of a two-day walk across land owned by the National Trust. I’d hit the spring weather on the nail, a clear sky, sunlight slanting into the moor’s distinctive combes, or narrow valleys, and I had the place pretty much to myself.
'Exmoor hasn’t got the intensity of the Lake District or the Peak District,' said Paul Camp, one of the National Trust’s rangers on the Holnicote Estate. 'Even on the busiest day on Holnicote you can find quiet areas where you can get away from it all.'
Paul had joined me for the second day of my walk, a 16-mile ramble up and down the valleys and woodlands of the southern side of the Estate.
My mind was still dizzy with the beauty of the previous day. Setting off from Allerford, passing the recently opened forge and the still vibrant post office, I’d crossed a packhorse bridge and made my way up to Selworthy, a village owned by the National Trust and comprising seven houses, stone-rendered houses distinctively limewashed in yellow ochre – this helps the sun drain moisture off the walls, and which give the impression that they have been parcelled up in crumpled wrapping paper. They boast many charming features, such as wooden lintels, unusually high chimneys – to whisk any sparks from the fire inside away from the thatched roofs - and bulbous walls that house a sizeable traditional oven for baking bread.
Selworthy Woods features oak, sycamore, sweet chestnut and silver birch, where you should hear green woodpeckers drilling away. The woods are something of a curiosity. While they may look ancient, they were actually planted after 1815 by Thomas Dyke Acland, the estate owner, with a block being seeded to commemorate the birth of each of his eight children. The Aclands were an interesting family – they were pretty enlightened landowners and reformers for their era, building the houses of Selworthy for their estate workers – before handing over the land to the Trust in 1944.
The woodland leads to Selworthy Beacon, the modest summit on top of an area of rare western maritime heath. Skylarks lurch upwards from the gorse and bell heather and the views on a fine day are really quite special. To the west, a row of headlands was lined up for inspection, a flat shoreline huddled tightly against their base. The sky was clear, but I’ve also been here when a wonderful low sea mist has flooded into the valley below. It’s magical: the mist is far below, low enough that you can see right across the Bristol Channel to South Wales; it even lends an improbable serene beauty to the chimney stacks of South Wales, making them look like the emerald city from the Wizard of Oz.
I picked up the coastal path, dropping steeply to Bossington’s magnificent pebble beach, the centre of a wonderful amphitheatre of cliffs. A storm in 1996 breached the shingle ridge here and conventional wisdom suggested reinforcing the beach; instead, the Trust argued that, in the context of sea level rises and climate change, it made more sense to let the area go, allowing it to become saltmarsh. The result is a valuable habitat that attracts little egrets, lapwing and oystercatchers.