A week ago I gave my wife a lift to Pinhoe, just outside Exeter, where she needed to attend a meeting expected to last for a couple of hours. Despite working in Exeter (in a previous life) for more than twenty years I know very little about the landscape to the east of the city (or to the north for that matter), and so the plan was simply to park the car, look for footpaths on the large scale OS app on my phone, then get out and walk for a while. As always, I look for the green lanes, because I’m addicted to them, and so headed uphill at the first opportunity. I found myself on a pathway skirting a disused quarry, just listed on my map as ‘clay pit’. I followed the fence line first through a tree archway, then more steeply uphill, where there were glimpses through the fence to the expanse of the old earth works (with some new housing being built beyond it}, and uphill toward the church. There was some new tree and hedge planting and the walking, though a little muddy, was easy, gaining height quite rapidly.
I soon reached the church and Beacon Hill beyond it, and took in the view to the south, with the church and Beacon House as a foreground. Beyond lay the the Exe Estuary and Exmouth, and more directly south, the sweep of the Haldon Hills. The middle ground was crammed with housing old and new, a bit of the M5, further churches and woodland, and the unmistakable sight of the incinerator at Marsh Barton, which helped me to fully orientate myself!
I’d spotted a path on the map, above the Beacon, which sounded promising: one that lead to the delightfully named Dandy Lane, which I remembered reading about in one of Valerie Belsey’s green lane books. It hadn’t sounded very suitable for the trainers I was wearing, but I thought I would take a look anyway. I made my way up Cheynegate Lane, noting a public bridleway sign near the top that was leading back downhill through an alternative route, which I would investigate further when I’d found Dandy Lane. The lane soon reached, I crossed a minor road (Church Hill) and walked a few hundred yards down a very steep Dandy Lane, before finally deciding I’d have to come back with knee-high wellies one day! I trudged back up, wondering where I might be able to clean the worst of the mud off my trainers. I only had to retrace my steps for a short distance after re-crossing the road to find the bridleway sign again. I checked the map and all seemed good: when I had fully descended I should be no more than a quarter of a mile away from the car, so with this in mind I took the lane.
The route back down exceeded my expectations, not only for the solitude, the quietly lovely woodland landscape and soft autumn colour, but also for the sheer quantity of mud! I’m not sure I took entirely the right path, because I was nowhere near as close to Pin Brook as the map expected me to be (!) and I appeared to approach the ford at the base of the woodland from entirely the wrong angle, but it was all completely delightful. Oaks and beeches in rather restrained autumn colour; dozens of teasel growing tall and bobbing in the wind; a wildly meandering path (it might have been just me). I made many more photographs than I show here, but this is enough for now.
Having descended some way, a climb up another green lane was somehow inevitable. The map identifies this one as Pinwood Lane, and it was rather a surprise, to say the least. Steep, very wet indeed (did I mention mud?) and with an extraordinary number of twists and turns. And then suddenly I reached a field gate on my left, the lane became more of a rough road (and still muddier) and a quarter of a mile further a line of new-ish houses appeared beyond the trees! Then another bend to the left, and there were houses on both sides. I was walking on a lane that was bisecting the Beacon Heath Estate and a short distance later it met a tarmacked road through the estate and the lane was ended. Why I should have been so surprised that ancient lanes survive between housing estate roads, I have no idea, I suppose I simply wasn’t expecting it. The immediate environment of where we live is so often taken for granted – I’m sure people local to this area are well aware of what the landscape has to offer beyond their estates, but ‘fresh eyes’ to an area can still find these places captivating.
I turned back toward the direction of the car along a main road. It began to rain, and on my left was a gated view to the Clay Pit area where I began. It seems it will soon be… another housing development.