Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free, Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea. – Sidney Lanier
Today’s short walk from Instow up the Tarka Trail coincided with the South West Coastal Path through Barnstable, and we parted ways with it for the last time on this journey at the bridge there, as we turned right to walk out the other side of the town to Goodleigh. We met several distance walkers on the Path coming in the opposite direction, and we smiled, but didn’t engage with them. We know where they are heading. It was as though we were disengaging ourselves from the Path, and its people.
The whole walk was only 16km long, almost flat, and nearly all of it was along the tidal reaches of the River Taw. We cornered the riverfront at Instow, marvelling at the amount of sand Storm Hannah had lifted over the sea wall onto the road, and gingerly negotiated the slippery rocks on the tideline.
The Tarka Trail then had been constructed as a kind of causeway, which runs in a straight flat line to the bridge at Barnstable over 10km of saltmarsh and tidal mudflats.
The joy of today, unlike our Dull walk, was that the marshes were alive with birdlife. Curlews and oystercatchers probed under the mud with their long beaks then flew off in flocks, with their unmistakeable whirring and peeping cries. Two beautiful white egrets, nervy despite the fact they were feeding some distance away from us, took flight in alarm. Swallows perched on the poles of jetties, taking brief breaks in between their aerial forays for insects. The air was full of larksong, and reed buntings called to each other, full-throated. Our first woodpecker hammered insects from trees in the adjacent strip of woodland.
Channels of water twisted amongst the sea purslane and marsh samphire all the way up to the bridge at Barnstable. Reed-beds sometimes screened the river. On the landward side of the Tarka Trail’s cinder track there are water-filled ditches, and willows with their roots in pools of standing water. At Fremington, where we stopped at the old station café for some clotted-cream ice cream, another river joins from the south. There is a mosaic of habitats all along this river. It is one of the two North Devon sites for the green-winged orchid, although we didn’t see any.
Despite the wilderness all around, the Tarka Trail is still paved. After 10km, I needed a coffee and cake break in the Bike Shed café at Barnstable. Stephen promised faithfully not to drool over the bikes on sale or talk too much about them, and he nearly managed it.
The last part of the route took us out of Barnstable and on a quiet country lane to Goodleigh. We really have turned off the coastal path now, and away from the water. We will see tidal river briefly again at Bristol, but we will not see the sea until we reach Fort William. Part of us feels wistful, as there is always something wild and open and ‘nothing-withholding’ about margins of water, and especially the sea. Part of us is eager for the change.
Stats for today
Otters spotted on Tarka Trail: 0
Rare green-winged orchids: 0
Orchids indeed of whatsoever kind: 0
Consoling cake slices: 2