The lure of the out­doors

Where to go to walk off that de­li­cious Devon Christ­mas lunch – Cathy Say­ers pro­vides some an­swers…..

Devon Life - - Festive Walks Round-up -

Christ­mas is a time for snug­gling up with the fam­ily and hun­ker­ing down to feast around the ta­ble. There may be a visit to the church, then there’s the un­wrap­ping of presents, con­tin­u­ing a day of gen­eral mer­ri­ment.

But for many in the county the lure of the out­doors is as im­por­tant over Christ­mas as it is for the rest of the year.

Mak­ing the most of those short day­light hours by walk­ing off the overindul­gences is a top pri­or­ity. Of­ten re­turn­ing to the same place out­side is just as much a tra­di­tion as eat­ing Christ­mas lunch in­doors.

Ecol­o­gist Richard Ber­ridge is just such a per­son who can’t go through Christ­mas with­out get­ting his fill of fresh air out­doors. And of­ten he re­turns to the same en­vi­ron­ment each year.

Watersmeet is a very spe­cial place to Richard. It’s in North Devon where two rivers meet. He likes to walk up the Hoar Oak Wa­ter and East Lyn River which is not only beau­ti­ful but also has won­der­ful as­pects to ap­pre­ci­ate if you’re a na­ture lover.

The river con­sists of a se­ries of deep pools and as you walk you can of­ten see fish.

The trees around are all an­cient oak wood­land. It’s a great view­ing plat­form, Richard says, to “watch dip­pers, which are fas­ci­nat­ing lit­tle birds. They are aptly named as they dive un­der the wa­ter and pick up in­sects from un­der the gravel and rocks.”

Richard en­joys ob­serv­ing these birds for as long as pos­si­ble. As a boy the David At­ten­bor­ough na­ture pro­grammes on BBC first gen­er­ated an en­thu­si­asm for wildlife and the out­doors. Then a de­gree in Ma­rine Bi­ol­ogy and Oceanog­ra­phy at Ply­mouth Univer­sity fur­ther fu­elled his pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment.

Richard likes the win­ter as it’s not so touristy. Watersmeet House is Na­tional Trust owned. It’s a for­mer fish­ing lodge and now run as an in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, tea room and shop. The house is a start­ing off point for around 40 miles of wood­land, stream­side and sea­side walks. The area is a Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est.

Richard likes it best in win­ter. He says the whole land­scape is eas­ier to ap­pre­ci­ate with­out the leaves on the trees rather than be­ing some­what shielded by dense green­ery in the sum­mer. And walk­ing there pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for en­er­gis­ing ex­er­cise whilst ap­pre­ci­at­ing the dy­namic force of the wa­ter, es­pe­cially acute af­ter rain.

Richard nor­mally parks at Hills­ford Bridge to walk down to the House and says once you’re around two miles from a car park you nor­mally don’t see many, if any peo­ple in the win­ter. There are many walks ra­di­at­ing out from this po­si­tion – one walk goes to Lyn­mouth via Coun­tis­bury – even though Richard says this route af­ter Christ­mas Lunch is a lit­tle bit en­thu­si­as­tic.

An­other reg­u­lar haunt of Richard’s for the Christ­mas pe­riod and dur­ing win­ter in gen­eral is the Taw Tor­ridge es­tu­ary. He likes to go there with his three-year -old daugh­ter Al­ice and wife Caro­line. In win­ter they all get a tele­scope out.

There are lots of ac­cess points – you can get to Horsey Is­land from Braun­ton via a toll road and then Sk­ern is near Ap­ple­dore. “Both sites are great places to watch ducks, geese, waders, birds of prey es­pe­cially in the win­ter. And of course you can lean your tele­scope on the car win­dow if the weather’s ter­ri­ble!”

Richard’s far more ex­cited by win­ter­ing birds on es­tu­ar­ies rather than breeding birds in wood­land. This isn’t sur­pris­ing given his ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter grad­u­at­ing; He worked on the Farne is­lands in Northum­ber­land where there’s a big seabird colony. This, he says, ce­mented his bird ob­ses­sion.

Fur­ther work watch­ing seabirds fol­lowed for the Na­tional Trust at Blak­eney Point in North Nor­folk, and then off­shore for an eco­log­i­cal con­sul­tancy based in Nor­wich.

Now firmly en­sconced again in North Devon life, Richard is an ecol­o­gist liv­ing and work­ing where he loves to be most. And that Christ­mas lunch soon gets walked off, (rain?!) wind or shine.

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