How did I end up looking like a geriatric Girl Guide with no friends (or extreme social distancing as I like to call it) by a campfire? Well, it was actually a bit of exploring in the RSPB Nature Reserve at Chapel Wood. The site has been closed since we arrived a few months ago but it is now open to the public again operating a one way system and we are so pleased we got to see it.
Some of the cycle tracks, footpaths and bridleways right on our doorstop go through this large Estate which seems to have pockets of woodland all around the Knowle and Georgeham area of North Devon. The hamlet of Spreacombe itself is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 with a total of 5 households. So proper old. But today we were heading for the RSPB reserve to see if would see or hear some of the residents. We took a route the long way around just to get a good dose of Devon views, cottages and houses nestled in the rolling hills and the light was just perfect for Jonno to get this photo of this tree. Pretty impressive for a phone photo.
Spreacombe Chapel and Well
As you enter the reserve, on the right is the remains of a chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist which was licensed for worship in 1385 (although attending a service would be an al fresco experience now). The ruins show the layout of the chapel and the two room living area for the priest although the rooms are also referred to as the home of a hermit. Maybe it was a house share?
The River Caen bubbles alongside these ruins and there is a holy well. In the 1920s the land owner Arthur Barker excavated the ruins and both his and his wives ashes were buried on the site and there is a small memorial stone.
We followed the signage of the one way system which took us up some steps to the top of the woods to the site of an Iron Age hill fort. It was hard to work out it’s location and tell it apart from some of the overgrown man-made World War II trenches that the Americans based in Saunton used for training purposes.
As we wandered along, we saw lots of the nesting boxes but didn’t see many feathered friends around. After being peaceful and quiet for so long, the arrival of visitors again must have kept them all at a distance. It only took around 20 minutes to walk around the designated footpath but even if we couldn’t do much twitching, the added bonus of a bit of local history more than compensated.
The Tractor Tragedy on Buckland Hill
A couple of times we have walked past bunches of flowers in the hedge on a very steep narrow lane called Buckland Hill, near Heddon Bridge, and it was on our return route today. There are a couple of vases and an “In Memorium” plaque but no other indication of what they are for.
A little research of the North Devon Gazette told us that, back in 2011, a local business lady was driving a vintage tractor as part of a rally up the hill. Her mother was a passenger. It seems that the driver missed a gear and stalled the engine. The 1.2 tonne tractor started to roll backwards down the steep hill and the brakes could not slow the descent. The tractor mounted a steep bank and rolled over.
The lady driving was trapped beneath the overturned tractor and her mother was thrown free. The driver was pronounced dead when the paramedics arrived but the mother survived her injuries. Such a tragedy. A happy day out turning into such a catastrophe. It will be 20 years ago next year and someone, maybe the mother or other family members, still put fresh flowers, what looks like, every week.
Heddon Bridge Signal Box
Just a little further on down at the end of this lane we crossed what was part of the, now closed, Ilfracombe Branch Line of the London and South West Railway. After almost a hundred years of ferrying holiday makers to the coast, it finally closed in 1970 but some of the tracks are still visible in places. Here at Heddon Bridge, the home owners next to what was the level crossing have added a mural to what we presume was the signal box. It was a great nod to it’s former days.
Devon – Open for Business!
This first week of serious easing of the lockdown has seen most local retailers up and running and the sight of motorhomes and caravans along the roads has resumed. It feels like an awakening after a pleasant slumber and it is great to know that people can get away for a break and enjoy this beautiful part of the country after what has been a fairly anxious and stressful time for most people.
There are mixed views on this influx, of course, but personally we feel that we were fortunate enough to come to Devon on family holidays both as children and with children of our own so it is as it has ever been. If anything the numbers may be down a little this year due to those still cautious of travelling and with capacity down, due to social distancing on camping and caravan sites and in bars a restaurants, takings for businesses is likely to be substantially down.
All good reasons for us to have a bit of a spend up supporting local businesses before we move on. Where is that takeaway menu? Can I strap a boogie board to my backpack?