Worthygate Wood

PEBBLE RIDGE – stage 1 – BUCKS MILLS TO PEPPERCOMBE – 2.5 miles – 7412

As part of my research towards the Pebble Ridge mini-expedition I will be performing in June for the Appledore Arts Festival I visited Worthygate Wood, a National Trust property stretching along the 2-and-a-half-mile coast path between Bucks Mills and Peppercombe. This will be the first section of the walk and I feel it important, as an artist, to get a sense of the area and its topography that we will be navigating, to add to the more empirical geological, geomorphological and historical information I am accruing to share as part of the experience, before embarking on our little adventure.

 from worthygate wood (pward 2012)

I climbed out of the historic village of Bucks Mills, nestled in its wooded valley, quaint cottages tumbling to the dramatic North Devon coast, a brook burbling idyllically along its length to cascade onto the beach below, once powering a mill or two and maybe the Lime Kiln that sits atop its cliff-top derelict harbour face, smoke drifting idly from stone chimneys. I could feel my breath rasping in my chest and throat. My calves aching, unused to the steep gradient the rickety steps were helping me ascend. What was I letting myself and my fellow Pebble Ridge walkers in for?! I had already been uncomfortably surprised by another section of the walk – its steep ascents and descents and twists and turns perched on the cliff edge, slippery and remote.

Yet as I neared the top of the climb catching panoramic glimpses of Bideford Bay and beyond, I realized I had entered an utterly enchanted woodland. There was no sound here of our mechanized civilization, just the waves and wind and the birds singing of their springtime quest. Oak, holly and hazel cloak the disappearing cliff edge. Tops brushed landward by the ocean-fuelled breeze, a shelterbelt for the more delicate forms – the blue tits and chiffchaffs hiding amidst the twigs, bluebells shooting through the soft soil. The land is a series of slumps and ridges created as the massive rock beneath slides and shatters below, raw material for the storm beach skirting its base – my precious, magnificent pebble ridge. A little tense, I push on, not knowing the physical extent of my foray.

  a different palette, worthygate wood (pward 2012) 

Nearing Peppercombe I allow myself to relax, deciding not to descend to the red-rocked valley – I would only have to climb back out again! I stop and kneel beneath a gnarled oak, among the sappy fresh shoots, and mark my place on a stone with another stone, sinking into the damp mulch, staining my jeans green, attuning myself to another rhythm.

Eventually I amble back, taking time to appreciate this magical place, more comfortable now – it has become familiar even after our passing encounter earlier. And how different things appear on the return journey – distances, gradients, perspectives, sensations. The weather is changeable, casting shadows where before were none and the chill evening air provokes scents and a light more akin to a mystical realm.

Recently I have allowed myself the space to really begin to feel nature again, to breathe in its power and subtlety. Appreciating the sense of a place. I bend down to dig the soil, to pick up sticks, to hold them in my hands and form them in some primitive way. I leave my personal investigative manipulations of matter and substance as a contribution, as offerings to the enchantment, as expressions of my joy and thanks. Maybe they will draw another’s attention to the mystery of this place or become playthings for those who already know it as home.

  3 stones on a swaying branch and honeysuckle wreath, worthygate (pward 2012) 

As evening fell fast, I could only imagine the woods full of thick sea mist, the mossy oaks twisting in and out of vision, the spirits of the past and future whispering in the wet, salty air – children playing, woodsmen working and smugglers cowering from their pursuers.

I met just two other people during my two hour walk, both gasping and sweating from their efforts, struggling on toward a distant destination, ardently seeking health and happiness beyond the disease of our civilization, with no time to absorb the essence of the place or to intuit its many histories, as surprised as I by the paths harsh drops, climbs and turns, not clear within the detail of any map.

At last to see the hopeful glow of gorse and blackthorn flowers like radiant stars in the dusky light, to envy the moles their cliff top abode and the peregrine mewling from his perch, the ravens acrobatically asserting their aerial domination, smaller birds chirruping an evening song and even a hare who shyly lollopped away having had enough of spying on my suspicious, strange human antics – graffiti for the squirrels, a cairn for a mouse.

And while I record my various attempts to assimilate this sense of wonder through artful form I realize how privileged I am to enjoy such a fully animate experience, and how no mechanistic recollection of these tactile moments could ever really capture or fully convey their all-encompassing empathy – merely memories in thought and sense, energetic traces of a time past but precious all the same.

 molehill soil ball; gorse and blackthorn stars, worthygate (pward 2012)

PW 2012

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