In April 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I posted a black and white photograph of Holloway Lane (South Devon) on Twitter that I’d taken in autumn 2019, and it proved a popular one. I hadn’t had the time to really explore the lane or the area, and had been looking forward to doing so in the spring, but the lockdown prevented it. I doubted I would be able to go back until winter this year.
Since then a lot has happened. The lockdown eased slightly, but we were working hard to get our house ready to sell, and trying to downsize. Around the same time my right knee / lower leg was giving me extreme pain, usually whenever I took a steep walk: uphill was painful, downhill was almost unbearable. I reached for my walking pole (I only have one) on a fairly frequent basis for the first time in over 10 years. At the time of writing I’m still waiting for a physiotherapy appointment, but somehow during all this I did manage to explore the lane and where it leads, and linked it with a second lane, St Andrews Lane, to return back to the forest. I walked that route on 26th June, taking about three and a half hours to walk its 5 miles! In my defence I stopped many times to take in the area, and to take my photographs (there will be more than 30 over these two blogs but I took many more). And secondly it is very, very steep in places, and my leg was numb with pain by the time I hobbled back to the car. Both lanes are rocky, shaded and cool, and walking Holloway Lane especially gives a feeling of tunnelling through from the 21st century to the Iron Age. Alongside there are occasional views to be had for anyone willing to scramble up the lane’s steep ‘walls’, and on the day I walked it, the hazy bright light of rural south Devon was a startling contrast to the almost total cover provided by overhanging trees as I headed down. This was once a busy trading route from the Exe Estuary to the Haldon Hills, Chudleigh and Newton Abbot, and is just about wide enough for a horse to pull a cart. I don’t suppose this has happened in the last hundred years or so, and doubt it ever will again.
The lane begins not too far from the Haldon Cafe, and there is some gentle tree cover, just before the ground drops away.
From here the descent beckons, and it is pretty dramatic! The light is swallowed almost like water down a drain.
Before too long I noticed a short, steep little track I could scramble up to my left, with a little clearance between overhanging branches. I took it and was rewarded with a view to the land outside the lane.
I slithered back down to one of the darkest sections of the lane, dwarfed by trees that had plunged their roots deep into the edges of the lane to hold fast.
A further twenty or so minutes of this, and I was hopeful of some further glimpse of the world outside. Another short track to the left, and some further tree clearance showed I was losing altitude quite quickly.
The ground was becoming more level and less stony and rutted, and for ten minutes or so the lane seemed a little narrower too, but certainly it was getting lighter.
And then, on my right, quite unexpectedly, there were fields, hedges, open space, even a view to the Exe estuary, and lots of open space. I could just make out some livestock.
The sheep seemed every bit as surprised to see me as I was to see them.
The lane had really levelled off by this point and I knew from the map that I was reaching its exit.
And then I was out and looking back. A temporary barrier was marking the junction of Holloway Lane and the wider Cumberland Lane at Black Gate. This is also, of course, the beginning of Holloway Lane for some, and those walking it for the first time might assume it is a narrow but quite level, leafy route. I turned my back to it and walked on, not really knowing what to expect of what lay ahead.
There will be a part two to this blog, and I hope it won’t be too long before I write it, but we’re now in temporary accommodation and in the process of moving house!