Penstave Copse and Didworthy – part 2
Instead of turning left then, head straight on, through a tiny yard and on up another lovely track for five minutes. Immediately after the first gate, a thin earthy path leads into the ancient woods on the left. There’s a laminated notice on a tree; it’s written by the new owners of the wood, Richard and Beth, explaining that they are working the woods to restore ground cover and under storey with the intention of encouraging the song bird and small mammal populations. It also says that we are very welcome to walk in the woods which is great news – if only this were more common.
And it’s a beautiful walk too; a narrow red earth path twisting through a tangle of gnarled trees, with a haze of bluebells on the ground, before we cross an ancient field boundary and head steeply downhill to reach the river. There’s an arch of bigger beech trees here, through which the path passes as it turns to follow the Avon, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. The sunlight is filtered through the soft green of the new beech leaves above, and the river still feels like an upland stream; dropping fast and noisily through enormous, mossy, granite boulders on the right.
We walk on, dropping slowly downhill, past a summer house built out on stilts over the opposite bank of the river, before re-joining the road at the bridge. Over this, and we turn left towards South Brent. There’s a short section walking along the lane now, but it’s always quiet as it doesn’t really lead anywhere, and it’s particularly so now. We see no traffic of any kind as we walk through tall beeches, along the course of the river before climbing steadily uphill, with views out to Brent Hill to the side, before reaching a gateway on the left.
This is one of the entrances to Penstave Copse, owned and managed by the Woodland Trust, and with open access for the public. The Copse is a little over 20 acres of woodland and open meadows, easily accessible from the village, and Marloe and I spend a lot of time here; there’s a maze of small and larger paths threading through the trees and along the river and its an easy place in which to wander.
Today though, we head down and left, to take in the best of the flowers and the river. The smell is remarkable; the tang of wild garlic which is flowering everywhere here, mixed with the sweet smell of bluebells. And there are a lot of bluebells – great drifts of them filling the meadows we’re walking through as we head, first gently then steeply down to the river again. It’s calmer here and there’s a series of idyllic, deep, brown, still pools punctuated and fed by rapids and small waterfalls. For a dog who likes swimming as much as Marloe does, it doesn’t get much better than this and she’s in straightaway. Its great to watch the huge pleasure she obviously gets from this, her tail wagging furiously under water before scrambling out and, inevitably, soaking me as she shakes herself dry.
After a while she’s had enough, and we follow the path along the river, which is rocky at times, before leaving the woods and crossing an open field to another stile. This leads to Fat Man’s Alley – a long, narrow footpath bounded on the right by a high, bulging, mossy wall and on the left by another wall and a drop to a private ornamental garden and working waterwheel. We soon pop out onto the road at Lydia Bridge where the river drops through a picturesque series of falls and where the local youth come to jump from the narrow hump-backed bridge into the pool below. There’s a faded metal sign on the wall which warns ‘drivers and persons in charge of locomotives … against the passage of the bridge without the consent of the county surveyor’ by order of the clerk of the peace.
Finally, we cross another stile onto the final path along the river, passing through a stand of more enormous beech and horse chestnut trees and on towards South Brent. The path pops out in the centre of the village, which would be the best place to park and start the walk from if you didn’t live here. For us it’s a quick 10 minutes back up the hill to Yonder Cross and home.
Before that though, and before we leave the river for the final time today, there’s another pool – we’ve sometimes seen a heron standing here, but not today – and, with an enormous splash, Marloe launches herself in for one last swim…