A couple of weeks ago I had to drive across the Haldon Hills, but couldn’t stop to have a proper look around or take photographs. The last time I did so was when I made my second visit to the Pet Cemetery, near the Haldon Belvedere. I have a blog post about that too.
The Haldon Hills area, despite its commanding altitude, is so densely wooded that views around are hard won, and take some time to find. Driving the narrow lanes around the area gives a sense that there must be some worthwhile prospects, but finding anywhere near to them to park the car is easier said than done. On this day, 14th June 2016, I decided that if the light was good I would return in the early evening, park near the Belvedere and have a walk around, hoping that the low light would be at just the right angle for some photographs. And so I did!
I tend to drive rather a lot along the lovely Teign valley road these days, and the hills above the valley from time to time. Some of the minor roads are narrow and of very poor quality in these parts, and it is annoyingly easy to take a wrong turning, get a little lost, and not be able to turn around again for a mile or two! The steep, wooded terrain does an excellent job of hiding small hamlets and villages until the very last moment, and many of these are delightful little spots, almost certainly unknown to the majority of people who live in South Devon. The lanes between the Belvedere and Higher Ashton seemed a good area to gain some altitude and see just what might be visible. After half and hour or so of wandering, looking for some clearance, I attached a longish lens and picked out the land between where I was and Hay Tor on Dartmoor.
The light was perfect for modelling all the little details in the landscape. This is a rather different Devon many visitors do not really see: not the coast, not the moors, but steep hillsides densely packed with vegetation and undulating yet lovingly manicured fields and hedges. Hay Tor tends to be visible in most parts of South Devon and so is a useful marker point; when holding the map alongside this image with Hay Tor / Rippon Tor at the top and my location at the bottom, I can recognise the folds in the land, the little hills, the copses, the valleys, and see how everything fits. Somewhere in this expanse, though not visible from this point, thanks to all the folds in the land, are Christow, Coombe, the Canonteign Falls, Trusham, Hennock, and Lustleigh, not to mention three reservoirs. The River Teign is nowhere in sight here, but it runs far further than the entire length of the view, and much of what can be seen in this photograph drains into it.
I walked a few hundred yards further up the hill, set up the tripod rather riskily near the edge of the minor road, and recorded the lovely light, getting lower and warmer now, filtering through the leaves on some of the broadleaf trees. Hay Tor is still in view, high on the hills between the two trees.
As much as I loved the tree shapes and little leaf details and colours, I simply had to scramble down the bank a little to gain more clearance. Nothing had changed significantly from the view a few hundred yards further down, but the foreground fields were undulating in different patterns, the light was lower and ever so slightly warmer, and there were a few deer on the land just below me (perhaps not visible at this resolution, but easily seen in my original).
There was no way to remove the leaves and branches from this image, and I wouldn’t really want to, because it gives some idea of the secretive nature of these viewpoints in Devon – and it always feels to me a rather elusive, challenging to access, but very rewarding landscape.
The original images are very detailed, and clearly show telegraph wires crisscrossing the land in this and the first image. I would never clone them out and remove them, because in making a ‘prettier’ picture I would not be acknowledging the way we now live and have altered our landscape – I would far rather the images retain their integrity.
Before returning to the car I wandered briefly into Tower Wood, having seen a few Bluebells there as I walked past earlier. I felt the very low level of light (the sun was setting at this point) would back-light them attractively. For what it’s worth here is one of the photographs I took there.
Whenever I visit the mountainous regions of the UK (and sadly it’s not often) I inevitably climb to the highest point I can, get out the map (or in the Lake District the relevant Wainwright) and identify all the other peaks I can in the distance, and I believe many others do the same. I wonder why. To take the example of the Lake District, I have climbed a good number of the fells, some of them several times from different routes, and part of the compulsion to identify is to seek out the familiar outlines of these peaks first without looking at the map, like searching for an old friend lost in a crowd.
In this complex Devon landscape, though, it is a little different. Most of the features here are accessible – often with real difficulty – but many are not, because they are privately owned; there are some rather exclusive properties here standing in their own grounds, often of considerable size, including, obviously, farm land. These property owners have views we cannot see, however much we might want to. For me, at least, a scramble through some dense woodland to a fresh new ‘reveal’ opens up at least a little more of this beautiful county I wouldn’t otherwise see, or an aspect of somewhere familiar that I hadn’t previously been aware of.