Avonwick to Loddiswell and back, September 14th 2021
Part 2. North to Avonwick,
The return journey, retracing my steps. Avon Mill to Silveridge Bridge 1.1 miles, following the track bed. By the river once more, a flash of blue, a Kingfisher. A fleeting glimpse. Happiness.
Silveridge to Topsham Bridge also 1.1 miles. The deer have gone from their field. A shame as I’m now on their side of the river and I would have liked a closer look at them.
At Topsham (1.30pm) the sun comes out in all it’s glory transforming Autumn back to high Summer in a matter of minutes. Gone the feeling of dampness, the smell of the earth. Now there are floral scents in the air. Nice but not what I wanted as I now endure a long, sweaty, unshaded walk up the hill to Lower Hendham and Preston. It’s not until I reach the edge of Storridge Wood, two miles later, that I get some much-needed shade. I find a resting place in which to cool down and take a drink before the bliss of a downhill tree-shaded saunter to Gara Bridge.
I cross over the bridge which, as usual, has part of it’s parapet damaged by over-sized vehicles, presumably following sat nav. The last time I was here, with Sara, it had just been mended. That was just a few weeks ago. Back to square one. Earlier in the summer it was possible to walk down to the river by the bridge but now a horde of Himalayan Balsam blocks the way. The warmth of the sun has amplified their scent and I can now appreciate what the bees find so attractive. But I’d still like to rip them all out!
A short walk along the lane to the corner of Hothole Wood where I head off along the footpath which follows the river. It passes the deer field but they are nowhere to be seen. It then skirts Garaland Copse (much neglected, in need of coppicing) and takes me down to the river’s edge amongst where all is peace and quiet. It’s utterly tranquil, absolutely wonderful. A few trees line the bank and one of them, larger than most with a mossy trunk, invites me to sit and lean against it and absorb the surroundings. The river is mirror-like, reflecting with great clarity in an impressionistic sort of way the overhanging trees opposite. The longer I gaze at the reflection, seeing beyond the water’s surface, the more I’m drawn in to another world. It is spellbinding and quite spiritual. There is no sound apart from the occasional “plop" as a fish takes a fly.
But one needs tea to sustain the mood so the last mug-full is poured, the final sandwich consumed, and I relax back into the present. It’s the sort of place I’m always reluctant to leave as they’re so precious and rare these days, but I have to continue.
A short way on there’s a young-ish couple on the bank opposite. He sees me and shouts “Are you on the green dotted line going that way?" Mayhap he has an OS map. "Indeed!" I reply, smile, and carry on.
Last year, during Lockdown (1 or 2, I forget which) something magical happened along the wooded path I’m now on. About twenty or so Fairy Doors appeared at the foot of many of the trees. Of all different shapes and sizes, colours and materials they showed a love for the trees and a simple delight in Mother Nature. Then they all disappeared. Maybe the Fairies had a better offer from another wood. Fairies are, it is well known, quite fickle and will act on a whim with no regard for us Big Folk (quite right). But now a few, just a handful, are back, and it’s a joy to see them.
Then the path, leaving the river and climbing up, meets a lane and that is the end of footpaths on this walk; it’s all tarmac from now on. I pass Butterford Mill which once milled corn for the Parish of North Huish, last used as such in the 1920s. The mill leat, which was fickle at the best of times, rushes under a small bridge beneath me and into the Avon.
There’s Bickham Bridge just down the lane on my right as I carry on up a series of 1-in-5s towards North Huish and away from the Avon Valley. Just past the much-coveted Southern House (fab views across a small valley) there’s a chair set against a high stone wall. On it is a sign inviting me to "Free cooking apples. Help yourself" and in the basket thereon more of Nature’s bounty. So I stuff six apples into a rucksack pocket. I feel an apple and blackberry crumble is called for.
In the distance the spire of St Mary’s church, North Huish, rises up through trees with Ugborough Beacon and Dartmoor in the background, and I know that the hardest part of the trip is almost over. North Huish holds big memories for my wife, Sara, as she grew up here at Church House, and we often visit the churchyard where her parents ashes lie. Sara’s dad, Jack, renovated the semi-derelict cottage they bought back in 1961, using his amazing skills as a fibrous plasterer and sculptor to such good effect that his work was thought by many to be original 16th features of the now Grade 2 listed house.
Approaching the house I can see that one of the current owners, who are now good friends of ours, is working in the garden, so I lean over the gate and say hallo. Happily I’m invited in for tea and cake. It would be uncivil to refuse the offer so I soon find myself sitting in the garden, boots off, feet steaming in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the hospitality. It’s then that I realise that when I stubbed my left foot on an un-noticed tree root earlier that my big toe is actually quite tender. When I get home I discover that it’s turned a rather interesting shade of blue/violet/black.
This is another place where I could while away the hours as the view across the valley (it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is quite special, but if I don’t get the boots back on soon I never will so, much refreshed, I head off on the last leg of the walk, or is it the last walk of the legs? From here it’s mostly downhill all the way to Avonwick. Back down in the Avon Valley I walk past the splendidly named Avon Vale Tennis and Croquet Club which began life as an archery club in 1871. It once boasted over a thousand members, hopefully they didn’t all turn up at the same time as it could have turned into a squash club (!).
The last thing of interest is St James’s church, sited in a corner of Dilly Field, one of the few remaining proprietary chapels, built in 1878 and paid for by Mr & Mrs Cornish-Bowden. The bottom half of the field often floods in winter.
I arrive back at the car at 5.17pm. It’s rush hour again. Hiking boots off, sandals on. A short drive home.
Aren’t hot showers fantastic?
Ordnance Survey map South Devon 2.5"to the mile."A Story of North Huish and Avonwick" by Christine Scott
The Woodland Trust