The lure of the outdoors
Where to go to walk off that delicious Devon Christmas lunch – Cathy Sayers provides some answers…..
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.