Penstave Copse and Didworthy – part 1
We’re nearly seven weeks into lockdown; I’ve been repointing the house most days, but the novelty of that has worn thin so, as it’s a sunny, fresh morning, I set off with Marloe the dog for a long walk. I’m planning a circular trip based on the village in which I live, South Brent, and making a loop up and down the valley of the River Avon.
To avoid any driving we set out on foot from home, and after about five minutes reach the first footpath where it leaves the road just downhill of Yonder Cross. This is a great name for a road junction, like something out of a fable, and I like it so much that I sometimes include it in my address, in place of a road name, as my house has none.
We head through the gate and into a field full of sheep and lambs. Immediately, there’s a great view – looking out across the fields to Ugborough Beacon, with its distinctive silhouette, straight ahead on the horizon. I realise that it’s probably no further to walk up it from home than we’re planning to walk today, so that’s something to look forward to before too long. It’s also the main reason I’m walking anti-clockwise today – there are views of the moor at several points in this direction.
Through a kissing gate and out onto a lane; it’s potholed and very narrow with high Devon banks on each side, full of flowers and ferns; barely a road at all – I’ve never seen any traffic on it. We come to a large house and in the adjoining field are four young pigs. They’re curious (or hopeful of food) and come over to the gate where we’ve paused; Marloe’s never encountered pigs before so there’s quite a stand-off as she dares herself to get closer to them, before we’re able to move on again.
We continue along narrow lanes, turning north around the lower slopes of Brent Hill, before taking a grassy path across fields on the left. This leads, after a couple of stiles to Lutton – a few houses – too small even to be called a hamlet – where we head left, steeply downhill along a stony farm track. At the bottom is a stream with a ford where Marloe splashes and drinks, and a tiny stone bridge which I use to cross.
From here, it’s steeply uphill for a while. It’s hot work, but there are distant, tantalising views of Brent Moor and Shipley Tor in the distance ahead, and the rushing noise of the River Avon in the valley below and to the left. The track levels out, and narrows, until it’s a single track between hedgerows covered with wild flowers, and a view back over the village and the South Hams.
It’s been therapeutic and a great pleasure to spend a lot of time on foot in my local landscape over the last couple of years; the moor and the lanes and paths leading up to it, and to have the time to linger and notice what’s around me. The flowers in the banks either side of the track are lovely, and come up every year in the late Spring, but it seems that it’s only since I was forced to retire, and even more so since I started walking with Marloe every day, that I’ve really appreciated the beauty that’s around our home. Somehow, in these uncertain times, the constancy of nature reasserting itself on seasonal cue, regardless of what else is going on, is reassuring and calming.
This year I’ve really enjoyed finally learning to identify and name the flowers and plants that I’m walking among. So far today I’ve spotted periwinkles, wood anemones, forget-me-nots, herb Robert, speedwell, cuckooflower – these names seem to belong to a different age – and cow parsley (which wasn’t around a couple of days ago but is now in flower everywhere) along with several flowers I can’t identify. All the lanes we’ve walked through have been lovely, but this path is particularly special with the banks either side bursting with colour: blue, pink and white – the combination of bluebells, red campion and stitchwort which is so typical here at this time of year – punctuated with startling patches of yellow creeping buttercups. I pause, despite the dog’s desire to push on, and just enjoy the moment – it’s truly lovely.
We continue gently uphill, with Overbrent Wood to our left and heathland to our right, the noise of the river a constant below us, and soon we are on the edge of Didworthy, and passing between opulent houses and gardens to join a metalled track again. In the early 1900s this hamlet was the site of Didworthy Sanatorium for Consumptives (latterly Plymouth Chest Hospital) which, at its height, had beds for 130 patients. It closed down in 1968, and the buildings were converted to residential use; many of the houses here retain a faintly institutional air.
We head on downhill to a crossroads and a spring (more dog splashing). From here, a left turn is the shortest way to start back to South Brent but there’s a short extension, which is particularly lovely at this time of year.
Continued in Part 2