The sun is shining again and the whole countryside is thrumming with the whining moan-drone of tractors franticly mowing.

Uncut pasture

A five day window of fair weather expected, and there’s an explosion of activity. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for everyone that still has to get their harvest in.

So different to the weekend and Monday, which were dreadful – the darkest dark, cold, with torrential rain – we felt as if winter was sitting upon us.
Fed-up with staring out of the window and wondering if I’d ever complete the jobs stacking up (liming and muck spreading are the next urgent ones waiting in the wings) we decided to go to Braunton Burrows for a total change.
Braunton Burrows is about a 1000 hectares of amazing sand dunes near Barnstaple. Its uniqueness and biodiversity has made it a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Robert wanted to look for a grove of aspens that have established themselves in a slack in the southern part of the Burrows (he’d been involved with the conservation and protection of the burrows a good many years ago).

Robert has a fascination for aspens – their place in folk law, their clonal reproduction (a grove in the USA is purported to be one of the largest living organisms in the world), their beauty, and the unique wildlife they support.

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We pick up lunch of fish and chips from ‘the best in the south west’ chippy in Braunton and bump our way to the car park. It’s as cold as a winter’s day – gun grey skies, steely buffeted seas – and a wind so strong it moves sand in constant undulating ribbons of icing-sugar chiffon along the beach and across the dunes. Sand crunches in our mouths, whisks into our eyes, blinding, grinding. Noses running, ears throbbing and lips blown back into thin grimacing lines, we push forward against the wind.

Once amongst the shifting, whispering sand-scape of gigantic, blown-out dunes we are protected somewhat from the wind and can begin to explore this bewildering, other-worldly place.

We walk across short, rabbit grazed turf; a carpet of aromatic purple thyme dotted with pink-flowered Restharrow and the delicate lemon yellow of Mouse-ear Hawkweed. Crunch over hard sun-baked lichens dotted with spikes of vivid blue Viper’s Bugloss and purple-blue Gentian.

In the wet dune slacks plants such as meadowsweet, bog pimpernel, marsh helleborines and mosses squish under our feet growing in damp profusion alongside small tangled bushes of creeping willow and privet, whilst shells of the rare Amber Sandbowl Snail litter the ground in their hundreds.

We don’t find Robert’s aspens, becoming ‘pixie mazed’ (totally disorientated!) but return home scoured and burnished bright, inside and out, by wind and sand – ready for the week ahead.


Six-Spot Burnet moth, Braunton Burrows