Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Coastal and Countryside Training Weekend - Exmoor and North Devon Coast

As I didn't mention this in my previous post (Oxenwood - Wiltshire Sunset), I thought I would start with the reason why I have had to do a First Aid Course in the middle of nowhere and then a Coastal and Countryside Training weekend in a place further than the middle of nowhere! The school I teach at needed someone to take on the Duke of Edinburgh Award Leadership and I agreed to take it on. It involves training up a group of young people for a 2 day (1 night camping) expedition in the countryside. As such I have to be trained up, not only in outdoor first aid but in how to train the children up for their expedition. 

So this last weekend I packed my walking and camping kit (much of it borrowed from friends, thank you!) and took the train to Taunton in Somerset. Now it might be a good moment to warn you that as much hiking as I did at school in South Africa, I never once that I can remember, ever camped. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I left the comfort and warmth of my one bed flat to spend the weekend on Exmoor. Now you might wonder why I said I took a train to Taunton... Well because I don't drive yet and the centre is in the middle of nowhere, the leader of the course; Antony, director of Positive Venture; offered to give me a lift from Taunton. So I spent Friday night in a Travel Lodge, in comfort, although I had a pizza from Pizza Hut for supper! I had to be up nice and early to be picked up and when I looked out the window at about 6:30am or so, the sun was rising above the building that was my view and I spotted the tiny rainbow light in the clouds. Recently I have found myself wondering (probably rather stupidly) why clouds aren't always rainbow coloured when the sun hits them as clouds are just water droplets after all... Anyway I thought it was kind of pretty so I took a photo.

When we arrived at Pinkery Outdoor Education Centre, our base for the weekend, I realised how remote we were (the A in the map below is the centre). The centre is about 400m above sea level and is possibly the highest education centre in the country, pretty cool! The clouds were low and threatening rain and the wind was never-ending. Because of Exmoor's "desolation" I suppose the wind has nothing, or hardly anything to stop it.

There were 5 others doing the course for the weekend; although they were only staying for the 2 days, and not camping (they only needed the walking qualification); two leaders, and a DofE leader from Wiltshire who had already passed this qualification and was there to keep me company during the camping and just lend a hand.

The morning and a little into the afternoon we sat in a warm classroom learning theory, from correct clothing and why we need to wear layers to what equipment is needed, and then learning about maps. I was at a little disadvantage here as the last time I had looked at and learnt how to use an ordinance survey map was in Grade 7 when I was 14 or 15. The rest of the group were volunteers from Exmoor, who already led walks and knew how to read maps.

Finally we left the comfort of the centre and took our first steps onto the moor. Thankfully the weather was holding, for the moment, and in holding I mean it wasn't raining. The wind was as strong as ever, the clouds still threatened and it was pretty cold.

We walked from the centre to Pinkery Pond (This blog/website gives an interesting story of the pond as well as a description of the walk).
I was given the map for this first section of the walk, scary... and had to tell the group where we were going. It was quite simple as we were just following a cute little stream towards the pond.

We stopped here to take in the views and to pass the map onto another member of the group to lead us to our next point, called Barrowgate, and yes I stood on top of one of the many barrows in the area, it was very very windy up there.

I didn't take any more photos on the walk as I had to concentrate on not tripping in the peat and boggy ground. My new hiking boots were probably very happy to find themselves in black peat.

The day was over for the rest of the group when we arrived back at the centre. But for me it was the start of the part I was a little nervous about - the camping. I started to put up the tent (borrowed from a friend) in the wind, with help, but after 10 or so minutes one of the poles decided it had had enough and snapped...

So that was that for my tent. I was lent a tent (by Wiltshire lady, Deborah) and put it up as much out of the wind as possible (which wasn't at all possible) with the reassurances that if it was too cold I was allowed to sleep inside! This photo does not show how windy it was!! You'll have to read on to find out how I got on (or didn't) in the tent.

Antony, Dave (the guy that oversees the centre) and Deborah decided they would go to the pub to have supper. However I hadn't learnt how to use the Trangia (a meths based camping cooker) yet and I had a meal to cook on it, so while they got ready to go out I cooked my camping meal in a bag (pasta bolognaise). It didn't look too good but I was surprised it did taste really nice. Once I was finished, Antony drove us to a pub, The Black Venus. It was very busy and we waited for probably about 30 minutes to be seated but that didn't bother us. Antony, Dave and Deborah all stood looking at the menu written on a chalk board and it was pretty funny watching them decide what they would have - it did take quite a bit of time, swapping choices, looking at what was on other tables and asking friendly waiters and even customers until they finally decided what they would all have. Since I had already eaten I asked for a small bowl of chips and a choc brownie for pudding. But I had to wait for mine as the others had ordered a pot of mussels to share (ew!). Have to say though that the service and quality of the food were both excellent and the chocolate brownie was very photogenic and the perfect portion.

While we were waiting for the food to arrive Antony pulled out the map to plan where we were going to walk the next day. I decided it was safer to blow the candle out! Sadly I only spotted this cool shadow (and the coolness of the candlestick when it was already cold)

The lighting wasn't very good for photography :( But still pretty cool presentation.

It was about midnight when I finally crawled into the tent and attempted to fall asleep. But the wind in the trees and the wind turbine not 100m from me didn't help matters. The tent was on a little bit of a slope so finding a comfortable position to sleep took a while, not to mention trying to keep warm. I could feel a cold breeze on my neck (I only found out in the morning that one of the zips was a little open!) but two hours later I finally fell asleep. The dawn chorus woke me up at 5am, this was headed by the amazing sound of a cuckoo (only the 2nd time I've ever heard the cuckoo in England) and this one was definitely very near the tent. But I was too comfortable and tired to leave the tent to fetch my camera for photography! I managed another 2 hours sleep but finally decided to walk around the centre and get some photos...

This is the view at the front of the centre, the road in is to the left.

Oh yes, not only did the wind and turbine keep me awake but this little lamb and his mum were wondering around all night...

Bit of a poser!

A cool rock...

The mum strutting...

The cool trees that protected me from the possible flying blades of the turbine should it break. They're also the perfect place for one of those cool adventure rope courses...

A gateway to the moor - don't be fooled... it's cold, wet and boggy out there!

Spotted this little warbler, definitely different to the one I captured at Biss Meadows

A very plump (probably cold) chaffinch.

The turbine...

It looks like it has a face...

A very unhappy face

Chaffinch and warbler together

Once the rest of the group arrived for the morning we settled into another morning session in the classroom to go over a few extra map bits and to plan our route along the North Devon coast. We decided to walk from Lynmouth to Watersmeet, up to Countisbury and back to Lynmouth along the coast. We broke the walk into 6 parts so we each had a section of the walk where we had to lead the group. I chose one of three sections along the river.

The route along the East Lyn River was very pretty, but due to mist and low light my camera couldn't capture it looking it's best. Everything was very green!

See if you can spot the yellow wagtail. We also saw a Dipper but I had the wrong lens on and by the time I had changed he had flown down river not to be seen again.

One of the many bridges across the river.

Once we had finished with the river section of the walk we had to climb out of the valley. This for me was the toughest part of the walk as it was a very steep hill. If you look at the map above, you can see how steep the valley is!

Once we got up to the top of the hills the wind picked up again and the clouds were rolling in

Looking back at the last major hill and down into the forest

Walking into the unknown

That's not just a white sky, that's fog!

A good reason to be at the back of the group. A few of us spotted the red dear running through the mist.

Finally we arrived on the Countisbury Way and started the walk along the coast, with a warning that the path was quite narrow, it was windy so communication was tricky and it was foggy!

My lens did get a bit wet...

Told you the path was narrow... look at that cliff... eek. I was keeping my eyes firmly on my feet and the feet of whoever was in front of me, cringing each time their foot landed on the grass on the right rather than the path!

Random tree...

Stopping to change leaders

Where we've been

Where we were heading

Amazed at this little lamb. From a little right of this, the angle of that bank looks a bit steeper and I had to wonder how the lamb got there without falling off the hill!! It also showed me how hardy the sheep are out on Exmoor to survive the harsh winds and cold weather.. we were there in spring, what's it like in winter?!

Sadly on the path coming into Lynmouth we passed a very very very sick sheep. She was very emaciated, just able to stand on her front legs, her head was bowed and she was constantly drooling. Not nice to see, especially when we realised that two lambs we had seen further back were probably her lambs... :( Sniff... poor thing.

We finally finished the walk in Lynmouth again at the river mouth. If you read up on Lynmouth you'll find out about the massive flood they had a while back. These walls are part of the flood defences...

Walking back to the cars I spotted a few signs of spring... snowdrops?!

Pretty tulip

Couldn't resist taking this photo. Some will know why :D

Sorry for the length of this blog. Thank you for reading this far. Now those who have asked me how the weekend was know why I have only said it was good and not told them all about it... looooong story :D


  1. Stunning - know the area well. Usually stay in Exford but last year I popped to Lynmouth for a change.

    Even when the weather's bad, Exmoor never disappoints - and I always take hundreds of photos of sheep...

  2. If you'd sent an owl on ahead, we could have met up! Exmoor doesn't always look like this, Nutmeg, sometimes the sun shines and transforms it.Come again in more clement weather and bring that camera back. Well done you for taking on the DoE Leadership - I'll look out for you next year cos they often 'moot' just outside Hoss's field ...