All Quiet on the Western Front

Simple pleasures – the cottage has been full of them this last week as I’ve had my seven month old grandson to stay with me. After a week of hilarity, hoots of laughter and tears, the cottage walls are settling back into place. The solid bricks finding their place in the foundations that hold the cottage strong. It’s all quiet on the western front. I wouldn’t swap the time that I spend with my grandson – to gaze deeply into his stunningly bright and smiling blue eyes reduces me to tears. To see into the very soul of his being conjures up a bond so powerful, it will remain for life and beyond. Two hearts – that of a nana and her grandchild. A very simple pleasure. I miss him – he has returned home now. The cottage has regained its equilibrium of peace and calm after being baby central for seven days. It’s bitter-sweet, this peacefulness. I’m torn between two pleasures: the pleasure of being alone, free to do as I please, when I please or to be in the company of my grandson, passing on knowledge (as young as he is) and rejoicing in his being with me, here on Exmoor. I know I’m allowed a mixture of both and that suits me fine. I suppose it’s the light and shade of life and we need both to survive – to make life interesting. Waving them off down the lane early on Sunday morning, I stood there in my fleecy pyjamas, which were tucked down into my boots to prevent them becoming soggy. The day had dawned wet and breezy and there was a white mist hovering above the road, shifting as the slight wind took it on its way across the fields. There and then I decided to take myself off across the moor to Fyldon Common, Kinsford Gate and Simonsbath to see what treasures I could find on this dismal day. Packed up, camera at the ready and with my charity shop Bear Grylls fleece keeping some of the drizzly rain at bay, I was good to go and go I did. Mist on Exmoor is intermittent – pea soup in places and then, magically, gone! This morning was no different and I travelled down the lanes and across the moor driving in and out of the blanket and lace curtain swirls. image Reaching my destination it was abundantly clear that there was to be no sightings of anything that morning. I was high up on the moor with, usually, excellent views to the left of me… but not today. There was just the rousing call of a pheasant coming eerily out of the dense mist. Executive decision time found me making my way towards Lynton and Lynmouth on the North Devon coast. The Valley of the Rocks was somewhere I hadn’t been for some years. I thought it would be a welcome change to go shout at the sea and throw my troubles into the wind on this dramatic coastline. Carefully, I made my way through the mists and out the other side.  Reaching the road to Lynton was like coming out from under a blanket after a weird dream, with all becoming  clear once again and I felt myself waking as I headed towards the brighter skies, a coffee and a homemade cookie. The lanes here are lined with beech trees, new with citrus green leaves that dappled the shiny road ahead of me, as the sunshine broke through them. My view changed as the undulating roads took me past lush, emerald-green fields, ancient woodlands and sparse, wheat-coloured moorland. Here, rich fields butted up against the dry-looking moor and it made me think about our wonderfully diverse countryside. Red deer grazed on the moor, camouflaged by their brown-grey coats but with their whitish rump  giving them away.  I pulled in to watch them awhile as they were quite a large herd – their heads raised at my presence but not unduly spooked by my observation. I left them to their breakfast and followed the curving roads once again. Climbing the hills to the Valley of the Rocks is quite hairy if you’re not used to the roads. They are dotted with hairpin bends that come at you, out of the blue and I’ve been in cars where passengers have gasped out loud, clinging onto their seat, as the bends and hills are encountered, captured and triumphed! As the rocky outcrops came into sight I wondered if I’d catch a glimpse of the wild goats that roam the cliffs here but, car park in sight, my first priority was sustenance by way of a welcome coffee and something to eat. A text message from my daughter informed me that she had stopped for breakfast herself, so I thought I’d share the time with her, even though I was absent from her company. Being apart from your offspring doesn’t mean they are out of mind, does it? It would give me time to ponder awhile on the week that had just passed and at how fortunate I was to have such riches in my life. When  faced with the vast ocean in front of me, I always like to release something into the wind, a secret or trouble that I need to share. Parting with it and giving it to the rolling sea, a beautiful blue today, releases my shoulders and frees me in a way I cannot explain. I could have waited until I reached Hollerday Hill (quite apt considering the task in hand) but, no, it had to done there and then. So, secrets and troubles dealt with, I am on my way along the coast path towards Lynton and perhaps a mouth-watering, delicious crab sandwich on thick, crusty granary bread. DSC01952 Gorse bushes are dotted about on these rock-strewn cliffs, each like a shining sun themselves, brightening up the grey rocks. Small purple flowers, violets I think but am not sure, cling to the vertical grassy areas and contrast well with the bright yellow blooms of the gorse. Down below me, the sea was as calm as it can be on an early May morning. It glistened in the sunlight, tiny jewels, twinkling on the surface, hundreds of them, and I know they’d fascinate my small grandson. DSC01948A wooden bench, engraved with the initials of another walker who, loved this area too, begged me to sit and take in the view. Who was I to refuse its request? The coastline to the left was now clearly in view for me to see and the colours were astounding! Green, grey, purple, brown, yellow, blue, white – they seemed to go on forever and I felt my heart at peace and my body relax even more so. Ahead of me I could see the path stretching onwards so I’m off again, but first I spotted several dots bobbing up and down, black and white, in the ocean below.  At first they looked like penguins and I smiled to myself at my thoughts. Binoculars up to my eyes, I could now see that they were not penguins (as much as I’d like them to be) but perhaps guillemots? Whatever their identity is, they gave me huge pleasure just by watching them, taking in the gentle swell of the sea on a Sunday morning. As I travel the pathway, I meet other walkers who pass the time of day and share their sightings with me. I was pointed towards two goats who were perched on a flat slab of rock overhanging the sea. How they’d  managed to pick their way down to where they sat, I’ll never know. The drop was practically vertical but there they lounged, enjoying the sun and it was great to see. With their shaggy coats in brown and white, gnarled and curved horns, they were obviously safe in the knowledge that they were inaccessible to passers-by, I took my photo and left them there, relaxing. DSC01962 Birdsong kept me company as I wandered along and a wren dipped in and out of the gorse bushes aside me. It was a very reddy-brown, tail high in the air and so tiny that I couldn’t keep track of it as it flit about. Using the bushes like a maze, darting in and out, it stopped  in its tracks to treat us all to its shrill song. Grey wagtails ran across the terrain using the rocks as stepping-stones, their tails moved in a rhythmic pattern as they searched for their lunch. I don’t seem to be able to walk anywhere without a robin finding me…and he found me today, his velvet notes vying for attention against the little wren. The robin found it easy to trust me and selected several dried gorse branches to belt out its tune, sending me on my way. It’s not far to Lynton from here and there are several viewing points along the way where you can take time to stop and gaze. What is a walk if you cannot stop to enjoy your surroundings? I take pleasure in looking out along the coast, watching the change in the surface of the sea, the  blues changing from dark to light as the sun moves from cloud to cloud, and the gulls as they wheel about the cliffs – their white, black and mottled-brown hues stark against the sky. I imagine witches and wizards, twisting their magical wands, uttering incantations and spells as they talk to the sea as I have done. DSC02003 Musings finished, Lynton called and it was bustling with tourists and locals alike looking for somewhere to quench their thirst, enjoy an ice cream or to indulge in a spot of lunch. I joined them in their quest and calmed my appetite with a local crab sandwich as I’d anticipated. I could have taken the scary but fascinating cliff railway down into Lynmouth but decided to make my way back. I wanted to make the most of the glorious weather and try to visit Watersmeet whilst over this way. I’ve heard there are dippers nesting there and sometimes you can find yourself quite close to a heron whilst wandering the pathway along the waterside. The tumbling rivers, with their mini waterfalls are a pull to those seeking a cream tea from the excellent National Trust tea rooms there, where chaffinch and various members of the tit family come to visit you at your table expecting a crumb or two. Who knows, I may just have worked up my appetite again and indulged in an afternoon cream tea myself – clotted cream, oozing strawberry jam and warm scone. My daughter and grandson were safely home, so why not? Simple pleasures – my life is full of them.

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