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A WALK THROUGH TIME                        3.    SALCOMBE HILL TO BRANSCOMBE MOUTH The coastal path from Salcombe Hill drops steeply down the combe and then it mounts the Duncombe height to dive again to Western Mouth and rise again beyond. Have you the breath to pound these paths? Young legs might have the will, but weaker souls may pause  –then chose to drive to Western Farm - to park and walk the woodland lane that hugs the fir-clad head to find the summer seascapes where the fulmars scan the skies. This is the walk by Cox’s Cliff, through groves all ivy-clad. It climbs a rambling, shambling path, where quarrymen once worked. and ancient mounds or tumuli, all overgrown with blackberries, hide the ground where smugglers lurked. Above, a world of golden gorse, where butterflies abound – the speckled wood, the meadow brown and wood-wit all flit by and, on the ground, the celandine, red campion and primrose can be found. Behind the sheep fields and white hawthorn mounds are remnants of times gone – the ramparts of an iron-age, for this was Berry Camp, a watching place above the cliffs, a cemetery for chiefs, with views to east of Salcombe and High Peak, and west to Beer stone and out across the rippling tide, outline of Berry Head. Beyond, we find a red washed seat, memorial to Brian Webb, who died three years ago, and loved this place, so we are told. Mounds of daffodils are growing on ether side his bench and falcons range above, while down below on a silver sea is the print of a shadowed cloud.  From here you see, quite clearly, how triassic red stone shifts through yellow sand to cretaceous white revealed in land-slipped cliffs. Now rested, we walk eastwards along the acorn path. Our way is marked by posts and styles and wooden kissing gates. It leads us down by way of woods to Branscombe’s west cliff hill. “And are these hooves or hiker’s boots imprinted on the mud? Was that a woodcock in the furze – a chiff-chaff in the wood? Is that a church tower hidden there, below the oak-tree boughs?” “Yes, that is Branscombe vale, and we are high above.” “Was this a quarry for those stones, when that old church was built?” “It could have been. Most likely so, hewn out of local stone, For Branscombe is an ancient place, and dreams of long ago. St. Winifred was patron saint, a saxon maid, they say, and this white stone was valued and sought from far away. And later, in King Edward’s days, the Flemish weavers came, and this became a wool combe, with sheep on heights above and spinning in the cottages or weaving at the loom.” We paced downhill on log-laid steps, went through a wicket gate, and crossed a field, pitted by moles - (or were they voles?) trod carefully as we went. Mid-day was warm now on my face, the wind was at my back, the combe was resting below trees, The swish of surf on lazy rocks told us our walk was done. We’d earned a drink at the thatched beach bar, where the children danced and ran.. At rest on a bench, my mind went back to an earlier day last year. I ‘d driven down lanes to Branscombe on a dwindling afternoon, to crunch the mound of shingle beside an ebbing sea. “The Napoli” beached off the headland rolled brooding on the tide, was this a monument to folly, or a testament to pride? And memories came flooding of the news the papers gave how the men had all been rescued but the cargoes were no more and ancient passions rose again to roam and rob this shore. Was Branscombe still a haunted place? Do customs linger on?  Is sea booty a welcome prize and something to be won? The anchor of the Napoli is now on proud display, a symbol of the wrecks of time that strew the south-west bays. But on that afternoon I came here, the sea had an oily cast, and mirrored in the waters were glints and hints of gold, as if to tell of riches lost and plunder found, today and long ago. A plaque now tells of treasure seekers coming from far and wide. Yes, Branscombe is a haunted place, a joyous summer hide But when night falls in winter – a lonely place to bide. The ghosts of fears down long lost years are echoed on this coast. This is a shore of shipwrecks, of night –time squalls and secret hauls of watchers on the cliff, of riding men, of sailing men and booty on the beach.





A sign-post prompts us up the hill – the acorn path to Beer We start to climb, but “Stay - A gun emplacement lurks behind those nettles on your right. Go down six steps where all is dark and memories hold the door.” Although the room below is dank five ports reveal the sky “This is the one through which they peer and would have fired, if enemies had come? And here’s the place, those years ago, they mounted a great gun.” But now - we see a tranquil tide - a fishing boat floats by. Above we climb again, before we turn to view the bay below, the ways we’ve come across cretaceous cliffs. Yes, there lies Branscombe, and beyond the sweep of Sidmouth Bay the rising woods - but wait , what’s that brown scar on the face of green High Peak? Binoculars reveal land-slip, an ancient place has gone - that cliff edge where we watched last year, like iron-age folk before. Is there life still in that green hill? Against the laws of nature, against the tests of time are dragons buried in that wood, transmogrified in lime? We turn, another finger post – two paths lead on to Beer, the upper one across cliff tops, the Hooken walk below. We choose the lower one and plunge into another world – a shantyland of summer cotts which bear the names of birds “razorbill” and “guillemot”, “kestrel.”, “puffin”,”swift” or cosy names, like “daisy nook”, “echo beach” or “lazy days.” The empty wooden chalets hope for visitors coming soon  to waken them, or freshen them with children in the sun. A sign we saw in Branscombe bid us listen for the linnet in the gorse and seek the blue adonis butterfly that thrives amongst the chalk   The path leads on to Hooken Head, through pungent undergrowth, For this is where the land collapsed, two hundred years ago. Here crooked trees grow wildly, and hawthirn overhangs, its branches ivy-clad. Our way now lies through broken walls, which once embraced a farm, but now are home for ants and bees with rodents running free. We pause, look up at golden cliffs, where fulmars roost and range, and down at a green canopy  of  brambles, nettles, weeds – a tanglewood of wild fertility and strife. For this is nature’s way. Each death begets new life.     The crumbling path leads upward. A stumbling ragged road. “Will this be here next year?” we ask as we pick careful steps. And then we scramble on to turf, We’ve made it to Beer Head Look back and see the way we’ve come – Through red rocks to the white. I hear the breaking of the surf – and recognize the flow. My tide must turn one night or day like others long ago.        ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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