I have a wild passion for the north Devon and adjacent Cornish coast. I farmed, twenty years or so ago, on a bleak windswept moor overlooking Lundy and the Atlantic. During this time the boys (my sons) and I explored every wind-blasted ridge, each hidden, veiled, greenly-secret valley; walked along peregrine-lifting cliff tops and discovered unknown coves. We collected driftwood from winter storms, and, against a backdrop of wild seas and towering rock faces, would make a fire and cook sausages – sizzling, spitting hot – and bake, deep in the glowing ashes, black charcoal-crisp potatoes. Never, ever, will food taste better than it did then. We, all of us, nurture a hunger, a need for the raw, shattered beauty of the place.
Yesterday our walk enfolded much of this. A valley, opening up to spring with tender shoots of dog’s mercury, primroses, wild daffodils and strokes of snowdrops. Buds swelling; hazel catkins, tremulous and quivering; soft, silky puffs of pussy willow and our first butterfly – a comma. Following a stream we come to ‘my’ oak – a friend for over twenty years, he pulses with a warm strong heart beat, extraordinary in the strength and length of his entwined limbs. Recently I’ve felt he is beginning to diminish: I hope I’m mistaken. On down to the coast; layer upon layer of squeezed strata erupted in the birth of a dragon, the coast line littered with the detritus of his crowning. The bass rumble of the seas pounding, turning rock galaxies with an energy immense – suddenly swallowed, stilled by the soft edge of the dragon’s bed. The last part of our walk takes us inland again, up cool hart’s-tongue lanes enclosed by wind-bowed withy, to the Old Smithy.